Editor’s note: Katherine just turned 20, which means she no longer qualifies for the job of “teen diarist.” Don’t fret, though—she’s not leaving us! She’ll be writing other kinds of things for us from now on.
Can you give me a kiss, Brisen? My baby cousin obliged, leaning forward and surprising me with a huge wet kiss on the mouth. A few days later I had a fever. I reassumed the habits of my younger self, the one who spent summers and breaks alone in my room like a sickly shut-in, even though I was not sick. Now that I was genuinely ill, I feared that people would think I wasn’t, but I didn’t have the energy to perform my sickness as proof. I got dizzy and lay down, reminding myself that I’m not always like this. I am not what my parents (and I) think I am.
My grandmother and I recently road-tripped to Florida together. On our second day of driving, we stopped at a Texaco station. I stepped out of the car to stretch and was held in place by the hot humidity, the first real warmth I’d felt since September. A heron suddenly appeared in front of me like a figure from a dream, as if he had brought himself into being in the flash of an eye. He looked dirty and cheap. In the gas-station-snack world he would be those barbequed pork rinds that are actually Styrofoam peanuts with powder on them. I was staring at him when my grandmother, not for the first time, said, “I want to teach you how to live dangerously.”
“Please do,” I said, but I wasn’t sure what she had in mind. Did she think I should be going out more? On this trip, I accompanied her to everything she asked me to, and I always had fun. I asked her to do stuff with me, too, and I made sure I talked about the kinds of things I do at school. I felt like it was clear that I’m decently active, but I guess not?
She repeated her exhortation Sunday morning at brunch. I told her I didn’t know what else I could be doing toward that goal. Did it have to do with parties and alcohol? I told her to visit me at Smith next year—she could hang out with me and my friends and see how we are. (This is the best fantasy life I’ve ever created.) She could live dangerously with us, I said, insinuating that there are stories I just can’t tell her, the way she has stories of nights out that she won’t go into detail about, even when I ask. There are definitely things I won’t tell Mimi, but they’re not the kinds of stories she’s looking for.
“I’ve been the wild card in certain groups,” I said.
“I just want to see you live more dangerously!” she said again, but, as is typical for her, didn’t go into detail.
Maybe she meant dating? I just turned 20, and I have never dated anyone. I have neither kissed nor been kissed. I have expressed interest in no one (and vice versa). I have flirted with very few people (and vice versa). I feel mutual attraction with very few people. I’ve had potentially delusional inklings that some of my friends’ parents have been attracted to my energy, and sometimes that feeling, real or imagined, was mutual. A boyfriend would help my case, but that’s not something that’s currently available to me. I wasn’t about to try to pick someone up on a weeklong trip to Florida with my grandmother—that would probably be too dangerous for her. Should I have told her about my crushes? I hate telling people about that stuff. It makes me feel like some large part of me is being ripped out of my body. “I have a crush on every boy,” I falsely moaned to my friends at sleepovers in middle school and early high school, to make them laugh and to get them to stop asking me about crushes. So I can’t tell Mimi about my crushes. Crushes are a safe space, a private space, but there’s something melancholy about them.
Should I have told her how once, in a darkened pizza parlor in Arizona, sated with pizza and drunk on the feeling of deep bonding that one can only feel after a week of camping, doing construction work, talking about God around campfires, and not showering, a boy turned to me when no one was looking, caught me wiping tomato sauce off my face, and said, “God, you’re so pretty. Like…gorgeous?” When I didn’t respond immediately, his expression dimmed and he said, “Did you know that?” And then I continued to not respond. I did not move or change my expression or make a noise. I just sat there and stared at him for a minute, then I stood up, walked slowly to the bathroom, and bent over the toilet to vomit. I didn’t end up puking, but I stayed in there for a long time, sure that I would.
I didn’t tell her this story, because although it might convey an air of possible “danger,” it would also inform her that I am incapable of interacting with people, and therefore incapable of “living dangerously.” My parents would probably agree with her. They think I’m a shut-in. And I am sometimes, but not always, not even most of the time, and on the whole it is not as pitiable and boring as they suggest, nor as tragic or final as I sometimes feel it is. It’s so many different things at different times.
This diary doesn’t help my case with my parents. But I choose what I write about here, so it’s my fault, really. This is the persona I so often choose to show the world. I hold it up and turn it this way and that before my peers like I’m on QVC showing off a gaudy ring. Depending on how the light catches it, it can look elegant, tragic, funny, inconsequential, pitiful, embarrassing, brilliant, dignified, dull. When I look at it in the privacy of my room, I can see how much of it is me and how much is a lie.
I think I live pretty dangerously now. I accept every invitation to hang out; I get out of my dorm room as much as possible. And since I read Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, I’ve been trying to avoid ending up like the main character, Lucy Snowe, stuck in isolating circumstances and habits. God, Lucy Snowe. Has looking in a mirror ever made me feel as much like I would vomit everything in my body—my food, viscera, bones, and deeper layers of skin, until I am paper-flaked to pieces by heavy cotton—as this book did? Lucy’s story aligned with my reality in many ways, reflected my perception of experience, and scared me enough to convince me that I should change the way I live and how I experience, consider, and choose isolation. Lucy takes pride in being emotionally removed from things as they are happening, but she is uncomfortable being alone. I am trying to lessen the distance between myself and things that are happening around me. Lucy dresses in dark, plain clothing and suppresses her personality; I want to dress more distinctly and to act more social in general. At one point Lucy moves to a foreign country to work at a school. While there, she is forced to interact with a lot of people she doesn’t like—people who are mean or thoughtless or who strongly disagree with her philosophies about life. One of these people is a man who clashes with her about religion, among other things. In spite of herself, she falls in love with him, and they get engaged. I would like to be more open to getting to know all kinds of people, instead of giving up as quickly as I usually do when something doesn’t instantly click.
My family thinks I never leave the house, but I always did and still do. Mimi wants me to experience more danger, but I’ve always felt it everywhere. I’ve faced danger and acted despite it many times, trying out for plays and dance shows in high school, and going out a lot even though it’s often, if not emotionally grueling, at least incredibly distracting.
There have been times when I’ve lived less dangerously, but those have had their own rewards. Every day I’ve ever spent hiding, and every day I have tried to connect with someone, has been rich with drama.
There was the drama of the dark and necromantic world I lived in when I was younger. The moral confusion and the fire-filled labyrinth I imagined as its metaphor.
The drama at the start of each new friendship, and at the end. My friendship with Chloe, my first friend at my new school and the one I am with most often. Our difficulties and the way friendship morphs into new good things and new bad things.
The drama of starting to have a close relationship with my brother. Of helping each other out.
Of deciding whether or not everything you feel is based on something you’ve imagined. Of having my first crush at Smith in my French class and being unable to feel even the despairing kind of hope I use to torture myself, because that hinges on possibility, and I thought she had a boyfriend. Of feeling instead a kind of hope that is a fevered knowledge of impossibility.
The drama of discovering that in fact she had an ex-girlfriend, recently anointed. Getting lunch and overhearing her friend ask her how she felt about the breakup. Hearing her respond that she felt bad, but wouldn’t after this weekend. Feeling unsure if she looked at me when she said it or if her friend grinned slightly and knowingly when she noticed me watching them. Feeling that her movements were too slight to be certain. Feeling a somehow sublime feeling akin to being taken over by a fever when she tapped my ankle three times under the table when we were studying together later that day because I think the second and third tap maybe lingered. Changing my position to check. Realizing that I was probably an idiot and she was completely uninterested. Being unable to concentrate all afternoon and for days after, feeling feverish while reanalyzing our interactions and wishing I had risked embarrassment and said something, lived more dangerously. Beating myself up for everything I had said around her, and for everything I hadn’t said. For missing chances to ask her the questions I wanted to ask. Missing the opportunity to have any connection with this person. Later, I recited to myself: “I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed / And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane. / (I think I made you up inside my head.)”
I think I made you up inside my head. There are so many experiences that I might have only imagined. So many aspects of my friendship with Chloe, so many looks, so much of many things. There’s this madness that accompanies being often isolated and struggling to connect with others while also being incredibly naïve and exceptionally inexperienced.
I remember a scene from the movie Fat Girl where, in sight of her sister and the dude her sister is flirting with, Anaïs swims between the pole of the pool’s wooden diving platform and the ladder, holding them, talking to them, and kissing them as if they were her lovers. What she tells these men is intelligent but naïve: “Women aren’t like bars of soap, you know. They don’t wear away. On the contrary, each lover brings them more, and you get all the benefit.” Then: “You make me sick. How can you disgust me and attract me so much?”
When I go to bed, I feel myself expand into the surrounding darkness and feel myself walking, moving, touching surfaces as I move about with people I love. Talking to them and using my hands to touch the words we’ve spoken.
I feel fine. I’m not bitter or overly tragic, not most of the things my family says I am after reading these, just suspended swimming back and forth between my own two poles. I’m in Florida with Mimi and I realize how much I love her. A great side effect of getting older has been being able to talk to her and have her share more with me. I have my brother. I have my dad. I have school and people I like there. I have, if not an early life lived dangerously, an early life where I have keenly felt everything. And, in fact, I have had hundreds of real experiences. I’ll have more. ♦