I am stuck in a place in my mind where I am not me. I life a life of adventure, mystery, magic. It has a plot line that makes sense, the winding twists and turns of my story lead somewhere. And when I make myself snap back, when I make myself come back to reality, shaking my head so hard it hurts, I feel lost. If I don’t have a story like that then what am I, who am I? It is like the breath has been knocked out of my lungs.
So, I try to remind myself who I am. My name is Harley. I live in an apartment with my mom. I work as a family counselor. I miss the little yard behind the house I lived in when I was in England and watching the sunset there. I drink too many cups of tea a day and I read books like a person dying of thirst drinks water.
But that’s part of the problem now, isn’t it? I get stuck in the stories, I reimagine myself as the heroine. I see myself in her, so I become her. I reject the pieces that don’t fit. I conform. But then I feel lost because I no longer fit in the apartment, in the town, in this life. Even so, I am not sure I ever did. My dreams are far too big. Nonetheless, if that is the case, it only serves to emphasize the ways I do not belong. To make it worse, I feel alone. When I put the story down, my friends, my companions, are gone. I have traded myself, my reality, for a fantasy. I become a ghost of the story floating aimlessly in a life I do not belong to.
Then the voices come. The critical, “You’re still talking about that book?” The “Aren’t up grateful for what you have, for your own life?” They tell me I should be ashamed, that I don’t make sense. That I am broken for getting stuck between two worlds. That I should know enough by now to stop this childish fantasy, to just resign myself to this apartment, this job, this life. Don’t I know I can’t be in that world? That it isn’t real? That I can’t be them? Of course I do, but something in me still can’t let go. I want what they have, the adventure, the companions… How silly, how greedy of me. Jealous of people who don’t even exist.
But why? Because something deep, deep within me yearns for more, to do something wonderful, to explore, to create, to love? Because I see in them the best and worst of myself? My desire for justice and fairness. My insecurity. My creativity. My sensitivity. My perfectionism. My fear. My pride. My intellect. My loneliness. But why? Why does this make me feel so lost? Shouldn’t I be comforted by this, feel less alone from the connection? Because, perhaps, I have believed the lie that there is something wrong with me. Because I keep telling myself no.
For some reason, I can’t seem to accept where I am – whether in the apartment or in my mind, wandering to new worlds. Something told me it was wrong, and I am not one to be caught in the wrong, so I refuse to accept it. I ignore it. I hide it. But that only breeds more pain. The shame, the sense of being lost, unable to find myself. And who even said I was wrong anyway? What if I’m not? What if I accept it and let it push me forward?
Maybe if I accept it, if I let myself be where I am, I can move forward, as counterintuitive as it seems. If I sit on a bike but refuse to admit that I am on one, I will never move the pedals, never leave the spot I started. So perhaps I will sit here, dreaming, for today, of made up people and places. And maybe tomorrow I will have learned something from them, for stories have much to teach us – how to love others, how to be alone, how to see through another perspective. And perhaps I will learn something about myself from the characters I lose myself in. Perhaps when I identify with her insecurity, I will be called out to address my own. And maybe, when I see in her my latent thirst for justice, it will be the push I need to advocate for someone else. And hardest, I think, when I see those relationships I long for and fear I will never have, instead of lamenting that I can never be exactly like them, I can find hope – know that love exists and that I will have my own story, as brilliant as theirs.
It is not so easy, to live with so many worlds, so many people, in my head. But you readers, you writers, you know. Stories, when it comes down to it, are all we have. How beautiful is it, that we can feel them so deeply, can bring to life in our minds people who do not exist? And when I see myself reflected in stories, I carry them around with me forever. I am I library, full of every story I have ever heard, ever written, ever lived. Oh, the worlds that exist in our minds, the way that one life touches another.
Today I feel a little trapped because these four walls don’t look like what is in my head. But I carry those stories with me. And maybe tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, I will find the strength to accept it, to take the places where my story touches theirs and give life to it. Make my world a little more magical, adventurous. My world, in these walls, can be just as full as those in my head. Perhaps I will learn to let the stories give me the life I need to make it so. One small step or a great big brushstroke, it doesn’t matter. My love of stories is not wrong, even when I do get stuck and feel lost. Neither is my desire for more. So, I take the first step. I accept where I am. Then, and only then, can I begin the pedal and cycle away to wherever my story takes me next.