rom-com protagonist (a short essay)

When I was younger, I loved reading love stories. I was obsessed with them–arguably because I had absolutely no experience with real-life relationships. I think that made it better; like how movies about high school are always more fun to watch if you haven’t been to high school yet.

I thought that was where I wanted to focus with my writing. I was gonna write contemporary teen romances, because that was what I was really into at the time. About complex characters, who had usually been through it, who clicked together like little pieces in a puzzle, who made each other feel like all the stuff they had gone through was worth it. I still love writing those kinds of dynamics; they’re pretty compelling. And love stories were how I learned to write. It’s a little part of my roots, I guess. (Nope, nope, that feels really dumb to say as a fifteen year old, forget I wrote that.)

Anyway–I still love writing love stories. But at some point, I guess I just fell out of love with reading them; somehow it just feels different. Now, when I read these kind of stories, all I feel is sad, because… I just don’t get it anymore. Now I am a big, tough, scary teenager or whatever, whose biggest dreams include being able to afford rent and food without working a job I completely despise. I don’t know when that changed–I guess it’s really true, that thing they say about how growing up just means giving up on your dreams.

It was a lot easier to romanticize the idea of having a high school romance when I was in middle school and never left the house. But when you’ve actually met other teenagers, the idea suddenly becomes a lot less appealing. In romance novels through, it’s not all really about the central relationship–it’s about the characters both finding someone who helps them make their life better. They have friends, and dreams that come true, and challenges that are always faced and not always overcome. I think that’s really why I fell in love with them. I don’t need a fairy tale relationship. But I think everyone needs a family, someone who loves and supports them no matter what, whether that’s a parent or a friend, whatever. Someone who fights for you, against all better judgement.

I don’t think I’ll ever give up though. Not in my heart of hearts. I think I’ve just… gotten really jaded, as a way of protecting myself. Because I’m not where I thought I’d be right now, and I’ve messed up in a thousand different ways, and I tear myself down because I’m scared to be noticed. And also scared I’ll never be noticed. I think it’ll pass.

I think I’ll learn to be soft, some day. I hope I will. I hope even half of the things I used to read come true. I hope I get to fall in love, and someday I don’t spend most of my time worrying about survival. I hope I prove myself wrong, and I stop caring what other people think, I learn to walk through the hard days, and linger in the good.

Because deep down, I still believe in happy endings. Not the perfect Hallmark movie kind, where within an hour and fifteen minutes, our protagonist learns her lesson and lives happily ever after. But the real kind–the kind that you have to really fight for, the kind you choose every day. Joy and love, hewn by tired, dirty fists. I mean, I have to–I’d lose my mind if I didn’t.

2019

I don’t know if I’m alone in this–but I still get surprised when I glance down at the clock on my computer. You know that feeling you get in the new year, when you have to write down the date for the first time, and there are just a couple seconds where you’re like, there’s no way that’s right. It feels so clunky, and futuristic… and then you move on with your life. After a month, you get over it.

I don’t think I ever stopped doing that when 2020 rolled around.

I remember in middle school, I was writing this book series set in 2024, the year I’ll eighteen. I wrote out all my worst fears for what that year would be like as a way to process them. It was a dystopia, but the end of the world was only happening in the protagonists’ peripheral vision, as she built a life with someone she loved. And in theory it would have been awesome. But I could never figure out how to execute it, even after years of trying. I’d grown with that project, and not in a good way; everywhere I looked, all I could see was smudges of old ideas long since outgrown, that I couldn’t extricate from the narrative no matter how I tried. I can’t say I’ll never revisit the premise, ‘cause it was a pretty good one. But giving myself permission to scrap it was a very good decision. Anyway; I couldn’t fathom the idea that I would ever live to see the 2020s. I knew, logically, I’d be in the protagonists’ shoes one day, but that doesn’t mean it ever quite clicked in my brain.

But here we are. It’s 2021, and I feel like I was celebrating New Year’s Eve last week; the memory fresh and bright, and ridiculously optimistic. I know it’s been more than a year since that night, but I don’t even care, because in my mind, I am playing Monopoly with my friends and counting down ’til midnight. I am happy, and scared, and alive, the whole world spread out before me. I wonder, sometimes, what might have happened for me, should the pandemic not have happened. Would I be a happier person in the long term? Would I have been more or less successful? Sometimes, I wonder. Even though that kind of reasoning feels really self-centred and pointless, like my hypothetical success was the real loss here, which it most definitely was not. So then, I do my best to shut down that train of thought.

But every time I see that fucking date on my phone, I can’t help but feel like I should be doing more than I am. I should be some kind of international success by now, I should be preparing to publish my first novel, I should be raking in views by the thousands. At the very least, I should have a concrete plan for my future. But I don’t.

I feel like as soon as lockdown happened, I went into survival mode. I doubt I’m alone in that. Honestly, as it goes, I was really lucky; three months of isolation and that was it. But those three months were some of the worst in my life. It’s been a long time since I’ve plummeted into depression that deep, if ever. It took all my energy not to fall apart–and I went into denial. I told myself things I knew were lies, and drilled them into my head–that this was going to last forever, that my friends were good as dead. I know that sounds counterproductive, but I needed to grieve, and it’s pretty hard to grieve someone who’s technically a twenty minute drive away. I needed to rush through the stages, all the way to acceptance, and go on with my life as best I could. It was the only thing that was holding me together.

I never got closure on that year. There was no end-of-year assembly, no milestone to cross in this new, strange world turned upside down. In my mind, I am fourteen, and about to graduate ninth grade–planning to do another open mic, or maybe put on my own event that summer. I’ve just done WE Day, and I’m so proud of myself. I think everything is going to be better now.

But in reality, I’m going into grade eleven next year, which means I’m pretty close to being done with high school. And I have a job. And everyone is asking me what I want to do with my life, and I don’t know how to answer. And sometimes, I feel like I may as well be a grown-up already. But other days, I feel like I was born yesterday. I have so much to learn, so many different interests and skills to develop, and the idea of being an adult in a couple of years makes me want to hide under the covers and never come out. I’m gonna be learning to drive pretty soon! And then I’m gonna move out, maybe I’ll get a job or start a business (side note: something I’ve been considering a lot of late), and I’ll share an apartment with a friend or something, and… I can’t even fathom past that. Wow.

Ever since the New Year’s Eve of 2020, it feels like time is slipping through my fingers like sand onto the floor, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I feel faded, like a cheap knockoff of who I used to be. Is this just how my life is gonna be now?

Oh god, am I about to become one of those people who peaked in high school? I really hope not. That’s gonna be my goal now, I think. Do not peak in ninth grade. Like, I did some cool shit that year, but oh dear lord, if anyone catches me bragging about that when I’m a fully grown adult, please pull me aside and very lovingly tell me to get a life.

Lots of love,

Lorna

what do you want? (an essay i wrote a while ago)

My name is Lorna. 

Next year, I’m going to be starting my sophomore year of high school. 

And I had my last day in therapy yesterday.

I write stories. I have a podcast. This November, I spoke at WE Day Vancouver about mental health, in front of tens of thousands of people. It was one of the most terrifying, exciting, and freeing experiences of my life.

I really love animation. I’ve been an avid reader since I can remember. I used to be a huge Potterhead. I write fanfiction. 

I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and dysthymia–a form of depression. It’s been almost two years now, since I first sought out help. But it feels like it was only yesterday I texted a crisis line, hiding in my room after school, trying to cry silently. It wasn’t long after that I ended up in therapy.

It feels like my whole life is blurring around me as I speed through the years. How did I end up here? Why does everything have to be this scary?

Sometimes, I think I’m not a good person.

Sometimes, I think I don’t deserve to have anything.

Sometimes, I think I’m perfect. Think the entire world is rolled out before my feet, ready to be conquered–but I never really believe that.

I feel like I’ve spent my whole life, wishing to be someone else–someone perfect. Whatever that word even means. 

When I was five, I wanted to be a princess–not really because I wanted to, but because the other girls thought it was the cool thing to do, and because I wanted to fit in with them more than anything. I bought pink dresses from the thrift store, and tossed rose petals down the aisle at my aunt’s wedding.

When I was six, I wanted to be a grown-up. I wanted to be smart and successful and cold. I wanted to be angry and bitter and callous. I wanted to be a coroner or an actuary or some other similarly well-paying job, and marry a rich man, even if I didn’t love him. Because then, no one could push me around–right?

When I was seven, I wanted to disappear. Wanted them to stop looking at me for just one second, giggling as my breath grew faster and faster, and the blood dripped down my chin.

When I was eight, I wanted to normal. I wanted to be just like the other girls, with their makeup and trendy Justin Beiber backpacks. I wanted to have crushes, and giggle behind stairways, and be loved. So loved.

When I was ten, I wanted to be funny, and frivolous, and just a little bit mean. And maybe I was just a little bit miserable, but only in the way I ever showed to a few select people at the climax of the story.

When I was eleven, I wanted to be a fangirl. I wanted to write fanfiction and fanart and have braces, and big, frizzy hair, and stay up until 4am. Because wouldn’t that make me happy?

When I was twelve, I wanted to be beautiful. At least, in the typical sense of the word. Did yoga workouts, and counted calories and cut carbs out of my diet for… two months, or so. I think before I cracked. I couldn’t do it anymore. 

When I was thirteen, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to say profound things about capitalism and the state of our society, and write pretentious short stories and win awards and be interviewed on the radio.

And now, at fourteen years old… I want to be professional. I want to be a businesswoman, constantly “on the go” with Starbucks in her hand, walking around in stilettos all day and somehow not falling over. I want to stand my ground at meetings; I want to change the world. I want to see my face in billboards. And know that I built this empire up from the bleeding ground.

But don’t you see? None of those things are real. None of those things would really make me happy, in the end.

I’m so focused on the future I barely notice the present, passing right by me.  So focused on building up images of myself I’ll never be able to attain that I never bothered to figure out who I actually am.

Yesterday, my therapist asked me if I even wanted to get better.

And I don’t even know the answer to that question.

I mean, in theory, if course I do. Of course I’d like to not feel so terrible all the time; or be able to walk through a school hallway without having a panic attack. But when it actually comes down to it, I’ve never not been like this. I’ve grown up so entangled with the the monsters in my head that I don’t know how to live without them.

So what do I want?

Do I want to be a writer; throwing myself into a career that might not even work out? Do I want to post my stuff online, and get myself into a career in social media, knowing there’s a chance it might not be sustainable–even though some days, it feels like being online this much is slowly destroying me.

I feel like I’ve slept through most of my life. Because if I live with my head in the clouds, I’ll never have to think about what’s going on around me–never have to actually take the steps necessary to get to those places I want to be so desperately.

Like I’m waking up, three seconds before a full-on collision, paralyzed at the wheel.

And I don’t know what to do.

I always slip into talking about my mental health in the past tense. Like it’s something I’ve conquered, and you can do it too, if you just believe in yourself and find a support network and go therapy! And stuff…

But I tried those things. And they didn’t work–not in the way I thought they would. I mean, yes, I’m better. But that doesn’t mean I in any way consider myself “recovered.” 

I am confused and scared and lonely. And life just keeps throwing punches, every time I think it’s done with me.

But… I want to live. Despite all of the times I’ve questioned it. I want to advocate for better mental health support, especially with young, elementary-school aged kids. I want to write stories and poems. I want to make public speaking a part of my career. I want to make spoken word tracks. I want… so many things.

I want to live in an apartment with the people who make me happy. Really, really happy. I want to go travelling. I want to meet people and learn their stories. I want to know what it’s like to be happy. 

And right now, I have all of those things, still ahead of me. All the possibilities in the world. Which is you know, terrifying. But… it’s also freeing, in a strange way.

I’m alone in this, now. I don’t have a therapist to hold my hand. That’s my job. 

This is up to me.

And I can choose to be like those before me. Who sat around feeling hopeless, trapped in their own indecision. Or I can stand up. And step outside. And try.

I can try.

Maybe I’ll fail. But… I mean, at least I’ll have given it everything I’ve got, right?