The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think, the way they see themselves, the way they see the world — you can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.
The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person—without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.
When your mom tells you that “young women should be soft,” with stained lips and pretty curls, listen. Soft, she says, like the girls she points out on T.V. Pour over magazines, looking for a way to sandpaper your rough edges. Read articles on how to flirt, how to find a foundation for your skin tone, and how to know if he likes you. Resent your hair for the way it flips. Resent your chin for being prone to zits. Resent yourself for being too large, too loose, too much. When your mom comments that you’ve put on weight, apologize.
Your final year of high school, meet a boy who prefers secondhand shirts to the ones his mom buys him on his birthday. Take his offer to drive you home and say, “Yes” when he asks you if you like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, even though you’ve never listened to them. Find yourself in his car multiple days a week, bobbing your head to the voice of a soft singer and lazily talking about places you’ve never been. Prioritize sitting with him by a lake and smoking cigarettes before doing your homework. Come home reeking of secondhand smoke and guilt as your mom asks you why your grades have dropped.
When he asks you to spend the night, call your mother and lie. Tell her you are sleeping at a friend’s. Laugh at how easy it is. Feel lucky as he giggles your name beneath the covers before rolling on top of you. Stay still beneath him until he returns to his side, panting, as you swish the word “virginity” around your mouth. Laugh at how easy it was to lose.
When he tells you that you wear too much makeup, feel foolish all at once, like you should have known the thick eyeliner you carefully smudged beneath your eyes that morning was too much. Mutter an apology as you excuse yourself to the bathroom, where you can wipe most of it off with a rough paper towel. Go weeks with a bare face, until he touches your arm in the hallway and says, “You look really tired. Is it just your face or something?”
When he wants to try something new, do not ask him if it will hurt. Be soft. Be still. Keep telling him you’re okay. Tell yourself it will be over soon. Remember something you read in a book once, a piece of advice English mothers would give their daughters on their wedding nights. Follow it. Just “close your eyes and think of England.”
Do not apologize to your friends when they ask where you’ve been. Convince yourself you’ve really been busy. Invite them to hang out with you and your boyfriend. Swallow the uneasy feeling in your stomach as you pretend not to see them cringe. Tell yourself they don’t know what they’re talking about when they say you’ve changed. That you have changed, but only because you wanted to.
After graduation, ignore your mother. Ignore your friends. Ignore the well-meaning teacher who went out of their way to tell you, “Some things seem right, but they’re not.” Move in with him. Laugh and talk about sleeping in the same bed for the next 30 years. Drink coffee together in the mornings, walk hand-in-hand to class afterwards. Eat dinner in front of the television, idly watching reruns before getting bored and leading each other to bed.
Learn that he gets angry when you come home later than expected, even if it is only twenty minutes. Learn that he does not seem as cute when he’s drinking when he does it every night. Learn that his voice is not always a soft coo, that sometimes it is a bellow that will leave you red-eyed. Start considering showers your alone time. Start pretending you are already asleep when he touches you in bed. Tell him you love him. Forget what it means.
Find yourself getting lost in your town on a regular basis. Regularly leave your home and wander for hours, until you are somewhere you’ve never been, never seen. Berate yourself for walking aimlessly again, but do not feel a pull to find your way home. Remind yourself it wasn’t always this way. Remind yourself that you used to be the sort of person parents said had “a good head on their shoulders.” That friends used to admire you for declaring that you loved being alone and would likely never get married, not when the divorce rate is so high. That a while ago, you were a girl who knew nothing about studying billboards and magazines and newspapers and library books for a way to leave. Remind yourself that you used to be so rough around the edges, so full of spitfire and desire, so full of plans. Ah, but this is how you changed for love.