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the atrophy of identity
I was always the protagonist in my stories.
Not because I wanted to be a hero, no—
I never had such high expectations of myself—
but because I so desperately craved the
selfless sorrow of the being the chosen one.
What appealed to me was not that the protagonist overcomes all odds,
it was that they had odds to overcome,
and I cast myself in this role,
not because I thought I was strong enough to face all odds,
but because I knew I wasn’t, and that was part of the appeal.
Tragedy was a language I knew so intimately
for no other reason than I was obsessed with tragedy.
I looked forward to the night so I could lie in bed and pretend I was dead,
my eyes shut because the dark was never dark enough,
my stuffed animals a line at the edge of my open casket,
dressed in fictional black, while I attended my own funeral,
because a protagonist is always broken
and what better way to break them than to feel them die?
The most important lines of a story are the last,
because the beauty of life is that it always ends
and the beauty of a story is how it ends,
and the most powerful endings are not only profound, but honest,
and to me honesty meant the hero did not survive unscathed,
and what is more profound than a sacrifice of a soul for the sake of the world?
Each morning I sacrificed the universe inside my soul to the gods of reality,
and part of me died so perfection could persist—
a perfection created by my inability to exist and my inability to admit it,
my soul is sewn shut with a triple backstitch of unspoken words,
and it cowers at the light that shines through the gaping cave that is my mouth,
because it takes far less courage to build, save, and destroy entire worlds
than it does to exist in my own.
I became so good at shrinking myself to be unobtrusive,
at erasing myself for the sake of pointless accommodation—
I lived my life like you would in the middle seat of an airplane,
legs crossed at the ankle, arms tight around your body
to contain the multitudes of yourself to an infinitesimal space,
a self-created suffocation for the sake of everybody else,
because god forbid you take up too much space,
but on the blank pages of a story,
there are no elbows to brush, no toes to step over,
only endless lines and letters and possibility,
and as a protagonist how could I take up too much space,
when I am the space, the lines, the letters, the possibility?
but I always confused are with should be,
forever conscious of the difference between inside and out
because thinking is alone, but speaking is bravery,
and in the words I utter I become the shadow that this world casts upon me,
the gleam in my eyes touted by my own inhibitions,
because my colorful thoughts are too luminous for sound and breath,
but they are the perfect paint for a story,
and so the words I write are thoughts breathed to life,
and my protagonist has a full, working set of lungs, where I do not.
There is an entire vocabulary of sounds I cannot breathe,
help being one of them, and hurt,
because hurt turns my world inside out,
and help turns the world outside in.
either way, the boundary between selfish and selfless is blurred,
out becomes no different than in, up becomes no different than down,
yes becomes no different than no,
and no has never been a sound that I could breathe,
but so petrified did I become by any question of want
that no became the only sound I could breathe
and it resonated from my mouth in a whispered shout
and I retreated into my room and into my bed and into the quiet
because I became so damn good at caring about everything else
that there was no care left to give to myself.
When you are so afraid of what the world sees,
you yourself ceases to exist within it,
and so there was nothing left for me but to create my own,
and I cast myself as the protagonist to give me a self to perfect,
along with the lungs to breathe the words of my light-fearing soul
and the pain worthy of an origin story and the space needed to exist
because I had lived my life asking who am I in the eyes of the world,
and what better way to know the answer than to show them myself.