Sofia Sears, 16, CA
Dead Girl Walking
I am an alien in high school, I often believe. The hallway at school that becomes littered with clumps of teenagers sticking onto one another like gum on a shoe, the children all oblivious to the game they become so engaged in. Me, playing Girl in the ritualistic, cultish game of High School, a game I never truly agreed to, a chess board so cluttered with confusion, with remains of girls I used to be, the girl I am, the myriad of girls I want to be, and me, stuck, in the middle, unable to ponder anything beyond the chess board.
I sit in my bedroom, with the melancholic relief of the Smiths.The supposed comfort the stress-candles my mother bought me create, the crumpled remains of ideas strung in post-it-notes and annotations lining copies of The Bell Jar and Slouching Towards Bethlehem, trying not to think about all of the things I’m not doing, all of the lives I’m not living, all of the girls I could be and am so blatantly not. The words of others, the lone consolation, the only solace to be found, the worlds and lives of others, with such infinite identities, is all I can stomach. Joan Didion once wrote, “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be”, and this sentiment rings particularly true in high school.
The girl whose eyes wander absently from test to clock, day after day, to the monotonous hum of high school, a washing machine, back and forth, a perpetual cycle of wash and dry, of exist, exist, exist. The girl whose knuckles throb with the plague of pencil-marked skin, dry eyes, exhaustion devouring her whole, the unwavering tedium something poisonous. The girl whose limbs sag, like wilting branches of a pine tree, the heaviness relentless.
I exist as a teenager in 21st century capitalist America, a world so vastly unique, so ruthless in its forceful, prideful ideal of self-sufficiency. I am not allowing myself to be sixteen because at sixteen, I feel I should possess a concrete identity; an unchanging, stable concept of Who I Am. I am not allowing myself to be sixteen because sixteen is the present, and my thoughts must be consumed solely by the promises of the almighty future. I am not allowing myself to be sixteen because I must be one person, when, in fact, I am a fragmented, fluid, colorful disarray of so many different people, but a girl afraid of her own incoherency. This is the heaviness that weighs the United Adolescents of America down: we fear our incoherency, and so we rely on fictional worlds to save us from living through it.
I watch Heathers with my friends and find solace in Veronica Sawyer’s self-confusion, in her lack of proper placement, in her awkward shoulder pads and interesting combination of cynicism and quixotic longing to belong. I watch Wes Anderson films and find myself wishing urgently that I could run away, fade into pastel backdrops, the music quirky and melodic, whisking me away from this little hell, the unbearable present. I absorb art as wholly and as often as possible, the sole escape. The only place I can be more than I am is in art. The singular haven for self-confusion is in worlds that don’t exist.
This girl I am is not the girl I always will be. This fluidity of identity presents something infinitely confusing and beautiful. The girl with feet refusing to stop their tripping, clumsily stepping in puddles and over boundary lines. The dizzying, trembling moment, the softness and fluidity of it, something one can never hope to grasp onto but must allow to wash over oneself, this being the disconcerting age of adolescence, and what America has attempted to deconstruct.
Unraveling slowly amidst the chaotic exhaustion of the purgatory that is high school. In this self-confusion, in the endless noise that surrounds you as you unsuccessfully attempt to Find Yourself, it becomes easy to lose sight of the fluidity of self. A conclusive, concrete self at sixteen does not and cannot exist, but hell if we will allow this certain truth to permeate our impeccably fabricated identities, hell if we will feel comfortable in this uncomfortableness.
I lost my best friend to disconnection. It goes unspoken, but disconnection, this great, heaping amount of space abruptly shoved in between two people, breaks people apart easily at sixteen. I talked to this girl, her curls wild, her smile inconceivably free, a pop of color in the midst of grey, and she hadn’t the words to explain. Her dark eyes met mine and she shrugged, unable to explain the distance that had flooded our friendship, excuses meaningless, artificial. I wished to shake her by the shoulders and force the truth out, to discover the reason for our lack of connection, to hold onto some certainty, some logical error, that disintegrated our attachment. She didn’t have a reason, though, and neither did I.
The soft memories of moments spent together, moments that mean nothing, somehow. Moments lost to her afterthoughts, that linger in my psyche unbearably. The person I became with her, and the identity I forced myself to discard after our dissolution. Her and I, walking through the park, exchanging a fragmented flurry of epiphanies and laughter, an interaction so intimate, a familiarity so unspoken it can only be achieved through friendship. Cups of tea clasped between languid fingers, heads against soft pillows, watching American Horror Story or talking about nothing. Two young, introverted girls, finding a home in close amity. Her words and mine becoming that unique language spoken solely by only sisters. How this came to end, an enigma so complex and inexplicable, a knot come loose off of an anchor in the night, slipping from the boat, and the boat, drifting outwards to waters previously unexplored. And the knot, stuck in the sand, unable to follow.
In the eye of the storm, me, sitting quietly on a beanbag, book trembling between tired hands, watching mindlessly as adolescence occurs right in front of me, words shouted obnoxiously, sounds of feet against concrete and careless slammings of lockers, dropped pencils and perturbed sighs, all of this background noise a raucous, staccato symphony of teenagehood, of sixteen. I can’t help but feel that my instrument is not working. Is there a way out of the game? Is the only way out through? Is getting out a plausible reality? This is no simple answer. This is a creation built to withstand the perilous throes of adolescence.
In the years of twelve and thirteen, the sudden whirlwind rereading of Harry Potter, believing that this fantastical world within crinkled pages would one day save me from my own dull adolescence. Expecting that enigmatic Hogwarts letter to come and whisk me away from adherence to the mundane expectations of teenage-girlhood, to transport my sorry self away from the dissonance of my brain and the high school dances, high school classes, high school selves, high school everything. Wishing ardently to enter a Defense Against The Dark Arts class with my Ravenclaw sweater ruffled by my rushing through echoing, grandiose halls, arm in arm with my friend Hermione. As if the definitive and glorious label “wizard” would save me from the confusion of being confused. As if Hogwarts and Dumbledore would turn me into someone worth my existence.
David Bowie’s death, the world collapsing into a universal silence at the crushing grief of losing not only one man, one inconceivably brilliant human being, but a multitude, of losing David and Ziggy and all of the myriad, discordant selves he took on. The unanimous grief, overwhelming teenagers everywhere, this one person who allowed us to explore the fragmented pieces of ourselves, to adorn ourselves in whatever persona we wanted, dead.
As of last year, I found Joan Didion, and Sylvia Plath, and all of these different humans, all of these numerous, extraordinary words, and stories, to find myself in. The reliance upon the identities of others in order to find my own identity is no fading pattern, but instead, a rhythm I have learned to master. Losing touch with a couple of people I used to be, but never losing touch with the person I will become. Reading words that will never belong to me, but words that will touch something hidden in me, and allow me to write my own.
I try meekly to piece the crinkled photographs back together, to construct a picture impeccably stable. The self is no picture, though. The self is a collage. The pieces no longer fitting into the same picture, choppy lines, a disordered portrait of the Person I Am. The portrait incomplete. The ambiguity is frustrating. “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be”. The many people I once was no longer exist, no longer can touch or blemish the person that I will become. A collage of selves, pieced together through retrospect, after contemplation and loss.
If I disassembled myself, I’d find a disconnected puzzle, one that lacked rhyme or reason, complete with multi-colored parts; fragments of ideas and selves. The couple of people I used to be, meshed into one implosion. I wanted to be a doctor, a seeming culmination of intellect and selflessness. I wanted to be a photographer, someone able to capture the things that could only go unspoken. I wanted to go into science. I wanted to go into writing. I could never decide on one infinity.