Defining Loss In Fiction

When I was beginning to tell stories, I was guided by and obsessed with loss. Maybe the young are drawn to the emotional weight of things they have no experience with and no business experiencing. The characters I liked to read and watch would fight so hard to end up with the person they loved most, only to have that love snatched away by menacing figures, insurmountable circumstances or seemingly at the whim of fate. It captivated me. None of the emotional weight could have been borne by me in any relatable way, yet those experiences seemed like my own. I can remember losing sleep at night worrying about the things not described in the stories. Open-endedness drove me crazy with empathy aimed at purely fictional worlds and people. What happened after the last printed word was even more compelling than the story itself.

Without the context to process the things I was feeling, I was left with relentless anxiety. In my elementary and junior high years especially I would try to pull the experiences out of the stories I loved into the world in which I lived. It was so important to be able to recreate the hopelessness that seemed to permeate such a vast amount of our cultural literature that various scenarios would be projected onto classmates and friends. Love triangles sprang up out of imagined crushes. Quarrels with friends blossomed where no genuine conflict existed. In trying to force what I thought was an adult body onto the framework of childhood, I lost out on actually understanding the one I wanted to experience and experiencing the one that I didn’t give a second thought to.

To me, turmoil was the equivalent of adulthood and all of those stories were supposed to prepare me for an adult world filled with unforeseen consequences and heartbreak. Those experiences had to become real in order for me to tell them back to a new audience. I had to make them real. So that’s what I’ve been doing with myself for pretty much all of it. For every wonderful thing I’ve come across, a tragedy had to befall it. I discovered that very few large catastrophes could be manufactured because very few events feel momentous when they are happening. Falling in love doesn’t happen all at once. It might begin with singing along to the same song or allowing someone to go in front of you at a checkout counter. In the same way, the end also takes us by surprise. For a minute there will be no question that you can be yourself around someone and suddenly they have decided that the self you have realized isn’t the person they want to be with. There won’t be a horrible fight, just as there won’t be a horrible car accident to take them from you. They just won’t be there anymore by decision.

Romanticism in the form of young love does nothing to account for the endless subtlety that the adult world operates in. While the realities of losing someone in a tragic fashion are not met by reading about star crossed lovers, neither are the actual emotions of navigating a relationship in the modern world. I was completely unprepared for when I first fell in love and then realized I wasn’t in love at all. With each new potential relationship, my definition of love would change and it would be so obvious that everything before it wasn’t love, but now the real thing had begun. And none of that was true.

The worst part was that the drive to create tragedy had not been extinguished. All of the grandiose expression of soul mates worked under the foundation of a promising relationship. Perhaps subconsciously, though I suspect not, it was important that I still create the feeling of loss that had driven me to feel with such intensity. That’s why I would spend time with a woman I had no future with when I had a girlfriend at home. That’s why I would let someone use sex as a weapon against me. It’s also why I have no concept of what a healthy relationship should be like despite having parents who have been married since their early twenties.

I don’t want to tell those kinds of stories anymore. I find I don’t want to tell any stories anymore. Writing and storytelling have become methods of my destruction. While there are certain realities that deserve to be preserved in the form of a novel or a cartoon, I worry that it won’t make any difference. The world of adults is always filled with fantasy for children, no matter how accurately portrayed. The simple fact that it is unknown lends itself to the fantastic. Because of that I’ll always be trying to imagine what adulthood is like and keep wondering if I’ll ever know when I get there.

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