No Illusions

By
It begins with The School—in fact, it all seems to begin with The School: the beginning of the defining moments of my life, and with that, the defining moments of me. This is, in fact, the story of my search for my full definition.
I arrived at The School well preserved, packaged nicely, and newly released from the sardine tin in which I was raised. I had never worked a day in my life before this, having found middle school academia to be a stone I could easily skip, a bottom step on a ladder, and laundry a waste of my time—time that could be otherwise used for homework, of course. Not to say I wasn’t a good student; no, I was “well-renowned” for the conscientious manner in which I approached my work. Nevertheless, I stepped out of my parents’ car on September the fifth, and the only word I can find to describe myself: virginal.

I liked to think and pretend I wasn’t just a naive, scared little girl, one who had never been in a relationship, never kissed a boy (or anyone, for that matter), never been asked to a dance. I liked to imagine I was worldly, a boulevardier of sorts, which, somehow, in my confounded logic, made up for my lack of social attributes.

As they say in Dangerous Liaisons, “I have no illusions. I lost them on my travels, and now I want to come home.” The irony is that The School, the stage and setting of the best and worst moments of my life, has claimed the title of “home” in more ways than anywhere else. My illusions were only created as a mask, a line of defense, against the bustling town of TOWN, CITY —a warped Potemkin village, a carefully crafted façade. Nevertheless, once I began my travels, my illusions were quickly ripped from my hands, forcing me to look myself in the eye and confront that scared little virgin.

My actual virginity has remained intact, of course, through my short span of time at The School, but many other layers of virginity were either taken from me or freely given away. After this first year, I can no longer say I’ve never been in love, or never indulged in self-mutilation. I have never before been inclined to work so hard, balanced so carefully, or tiptoed so quietly around the issues present in my life, which flew so closely overhead. Yet, at the same time, I’ve never been so happy, and never felt so accepted or so motivated.

Looking back at my first year, I was curious of what defined me at The School. The School was, and still is, such a new, interesting, simply different place. Nothing here is the same as anywhere else. I was curious if what defined me at The School was different than at home.

In this, and nearly this alone, there is no difference between my School life and my life outside of The School.

I seem to be defined by three things in my life: my character, my religion, and my relationships.
My character is complicated to explain. I am an enigma in entirety, to myself as well as the rest of the world. There is little you need to know about me, except for that when I look into a person’s eyes, I see them. Referring to not just their image, not just their physical being, but them as a whole. This isn’t really a bit of my character, in actuality, it’s more of “superpower”, as deemed by my friends; but what makes it important are the three times I’ve met someone’s eyes, and burst into tears because of the pain I’ve seen there.
As for religion, it is an ever-present force in my life, something typically invisible but always there. It is both my anchor and my catapult, defining me and holding me to things good and right, while flinging me towards Heaven and the stars.
Relationships, meanwhile, classify my experience at The School and me alike, since so many of the holes in that personal definition become patched or filled by what is created by these interactions. My relationships have caused me more pain than is natural, and have, at the same time, brought me more joy than is normal. My relationships have grabbed my heart while it was on my sleeve and in my throat and viciously mangled it, but these same relationships have taken this broken heart and cradled, nurtured, and loved it in return.
There is one snippet of my own definition: on my list of fears, number three is never being loved.
Let me weave you a story—one which I’m wouldn’t be surprised if many will pass off as petty drama, one which I expect to be called crazy for. I don’t mind; go ahead. I’m fully capable and hold no qualms about admitting that even I’m not sure if I’m entirely sane. Just a fact of life; another snippet of my definition.
Fall term: there were six. Six close knit friends, six inseparable people. Aristotle said friendship is one soul in two bodies, well; here was one soul in six…At least, that’s how it first appeared.
It’s such a pity that men and women have such difficulty at this age remaining friends and friends alone without feeling obligated to search for more! Your typical relationship, the kind with goals and expectations beyond mere friendship, complicate everything. Emotion complicates everything, an entity whose power and intensity is constantly being both overestimated and underestimated.
I will be brief: a “dangerous liaison” appeared between the six of us, one which I did not directly contribute to, but one of which I was the center. I was the orbitee, never the orbiter. I was the orbited. A delicate web, spun by a spider of our own creation, tangled itself around the six of us, and there the little virgin stood, feeling very alone, in the center of this web, holding up six ends of the deal.
Let me explain: I was the ultimate confidant, the secret-keeper. This situation would never have happened had it not been for my presence there, yet I was never intended to be a main player in this twisted little game. I stood, surrounded by a crashing social circle, and I held up the ends.
I’ll give the bare facts.
Fact Number One: I am not a social creature—an extrovert, perhaps, but not a social creature, which warped my own perspective of the very situation in which I encouraged everyone to view everyone else’s perspectives. In my perspective, this event was bounced off mirrors and stretched, magnified, growing into an all-consuming obsession at its worst.
Fact Number Two: It’s very difficult for me to separate my actions from my emotions. It’s a feature of myself which provides constant problems, simply because I cannot help layering the subtext that reflects my feelings into everything I do. And subtext is the bare minimum. Here, “maximum” was an understatement, and my actions reflected my emotions to a tee. And, as previously stated, emotions complicate everything.
Fact Number Three: The worst moment of my life occurred at 1:10 AM, on a Tuesday night. I was on the phone with one of my best friends, who had been involved in this mess. Oh, and I’m not only referring to the social situation here, “this mess” also refers directly to myself.
What he gave me was a mental and emotional slap in the face. It was confrontation, plain and clear, and when he put the question directly to me, it was as if someone had taken my world and split it clean in half, then shattered the halves, preferably with something ridiculously hard like a sledge-hammer.
Fact Number Four: The fact that I took matters into my own hands and scratched the words “I’m sorry” into my leg eleven times doesn’t make it any better, either.
Another fact: I’ve never despised myself as much after. The self-loathing and guilt was bad enough that I accidentally self-induced a stomachache which lasted for an hour and a half, and was so bad that I couldn’t move my legs.
That is another snippet of the definition: I am a creature of emotion, whether I want to be or not.
Let me tell you a different story.
It all relates back to these wonderfully unfortunate, tragically beautiful emotions of mine! I’ve a friend, a dear friend, with a background. A history. An epic tale of which I know is tragic, and nothing else. A brilliant, dear friend, and although a newer edition into my life, one of the better ones. Yet she is damaged, and try as I might, I cannot fix that damage.
I and another friend once sat with her for an hour while she cried. I remember one single sentence. She spoke briefly, softly, with great effort and said, “Maybe I just don’t deserve happiness.”
I couldn’t stop my tears. I couldn’t show them, couldn’t let her feel worse than she already did, but I couldn’t stop them, so they ran in silent streams down the sides of my face.
I don’t know why I couldn’t stop crying. I think it was because I could just feel her pain, feel it in the hand on her back, feel it in my heart which beats in synch with hers, feel it in my soul from her sorrowful gaze when I met her eyes. Maybe it’s because she, like a select group of people I know, deserves to be loved more than anyone else does in my world.
She’s so young (a year younger than my young self, in fact). So small, so strong…she refuses to acknowledge her emotions, because she wants to be stronger. Because she has to be stronger.
I am not strong. I cannot stop my feelings from being expressed. They come out of the bag, sooner or later, and hers don’t. Hers stay in until something forcibly cuts the drawstrings of the bag that contains them.
So many people defend me, protect me, care for me, and at this moment, all I wanted was to be able to stand in front of her. To stand there, and not let anyone or anything touch her, hurt her, break down the barricades I know she’s spent so long creating.
Another word for the definition: compassion. I pride myself on being at least somewhat compassionate.
In those moments, sitting next to her, I found myself searching for a reason—a rare instance, as I search for definitions far more than reasons. But I couldn’t seem to understand anything. There was no reason for why she felt like this, yet no thought in my head of, “Why would God do this?” because the reason I was, and still am, searching for was, and still is, entirely different. Religion was involved in this reason only in the way that it is involved in every aspect of my life: ever present, but not always a catalyst. A driving force, but I wasn’t blaming God, only asking Him for an answer.
At The School, I’ve never met so many…how to phrase it…hurt people. So many people with so many tragic stories, so many unhappy endings. So many things I wish I could fix, but that are far beyond my control. Everyone has something, it seems, that tethers them with hot iron shackles to the past. Except for me.
There is nothing in my life besides these emotions to suggest that there is anything “damaged” about me—no tragic experiences, no problems, just deep thinking and the knowledge that I myself and the me inside my head, writing this paper, is and am my soul. That’s all. Nothing else.
I don’t understand why so many people, with so many tragic pasts, and so many hurt presents, are all in the same place at once. I don’t mind, of course, many of the people with the deepest wounds have a place in the deepest sections of my heart and soul. But why, then, am I here? Why does The School harbor such brilliant, beautiful disasters of people, with me still here? I am neither brilliant nor a disaster. I am simply normal, just another teenage girl. And yet, as I’ve said, in this strange isolation I’ve never felt so accepted.
Another bit of the definition: my emotions, while ever present, do not make sense. No one, myself included, understands them. I would say it’s connected to my tragic past, but I don’t have a tragic past, and this emotional…predicament, I suppose, was never present until I came to The School. I wonder if, when I’m forty or fifty or sixty-five, I’ll look back at my high school years and regret them. I wonder if I’ll ask myself why I didn’t try harder to be happy, why I let myself see things that might not even be real, and let them affect me so much.
That being said, let something sink into your skin, skin into your minds and hearts and souls for a moment: I wouldn’t change a single instance of my time at The School if given the choice. Not a minute, not a second, not the smallest bit of time.
I said it before: The School has given me the best and worst times of my life. A week after that specific awful conversation, at the same time, with the same person, on the same phone, I experienced the best moment.
There are lists upon lists of words upon words and phrases upon phrases that make up parts of my definition.
And at the beginning of my definition; what you’d find in the dictionary of souls:
Samantha Pellegrino, comma…
Noun? Adjective? Verb? Could I be a verb? Could I be an action? I feel as though I’m far more likely to be an adjective than a verb…
I used to think I was a pronoun, because pronouns are sort of like masks. Ambiguous, hiding the noun they speak of, but still understandable.
As I am no longer understandable, I think I am a noun. Hidden. Protected. Something…greater…than a pronoun, but no more important. More complicated. A person, place, thing, or idea. I suppose I’m a person, yes, and perhaps also a thing and an idea. Yes . . . I am a noun…
These experiences, this heartbreak, this joy, the mental, physical, and emotional pain, the friendships, the other things I haven’t even touched upon in this essay all make up exactly who I am, make up the very syllables, the very letters, the very brushstrokes of this noun. I have always been searching for a self-definition, and it’s in these things that I find the many of the pieces of it. These moments create who I am, and I wouldn’t change that.
I will not end with illusions: I’ve been hurt, and I’ve hurt myself. But I don’t leave out the good parts, either: I’ve been loved, and I’ve loved in return. Sure, maybe I’ve seen some things I don’t ever want to see again. Sure, maybe I’ve still never “gone out” with someone, never been on a date, never kissed a boy, never done so many other, unrelated things having nothing to do with sex or love, but I’ve done what defines my experience so far at The School, and, with that, part of me.
I could lecture you on optimism, and human emotion, the human experience, love, life, all things I’ve learned, whatever your cup of tea may be, but I won’t. I can’t give you the answers. I was never given the answers, and honestly, I still haven’t found many of them myself.
But it’s not all about the answers, now is it?
Even after all this time of searching, I’ve come to barely any conclusions. The road doesn’t have an end in sight. And because of that, I will keep walking. At points, I may cover my eyes or cry. I may want to stop, I may need to beg God for a piggyback; I may even need to sit down for a moment or two. And sometimes, maybe I’ll stop to watch a scene just a little bit longer. Maybe I’ll skip, or maybe I’ll run. Maybe I'll even stop and occasionally smell the flowers. I don’t know where my path will lead me, where it will end, or what will be at its end; nor can I guess who else will be on this path with me, and what I’m going to find ahead.
But my road is ahead of me, and I will follow it.
For you, I only have one answer to give, and for me, only one answer of which I am sure.
This is my definition.





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