4: The True Self

“Your mask is slipping.” — Souichiro Arima, Kare Kano

Yuki was flawless.

Or at least that’s what everyone seemed to think. She was smart, responsible, and well-liked; and she never showed a sign of ill intent toward or around anyone. Pretty much the only thing she was missing was the technically good physique, which didn’t seem to matter much where I grew up except when it was used against people like me. What did matter was that, even by the nigh-unattainable standards set by those around us, she was good. (Remember, I was the one who listened to rock music, and toyed with hair dyes whenever school was out of session.) Even I had a hard time arguing that she was a paragon of virtue. As much as I hated the thought of anyone being better than me, Yuki was the sort of pious girl that showed herself as such, but somehow made you actually believe her. We were never especially close; for that matter, unlike Emma and me, we really were never even friends. She didn’t give me any real impression that she was judging me, either, though, and if anything we just stayed out of each other’s ways rather than really interacting at all.

The one connection worth mentioning was that throughout junior high, I had a massive crush on her friend, Lauren. I didn’t really talk about this often, mainly because it went about as well as pretty much every other romantic interest I had between ages 5 and 18, and because the people around me enjoyed bringing it up too much already. And around freshman year I somehow got the idea came that maybe if I got on better terms with Yuki (meaning any terms with Yuki) she could help me figure out what I was missing with Lauren. Now, since I didn’t exactly have normal-people people skills, I thought the best way to bring the subject up was to just hope she would notice as I continued being depressed about Lauren. (Insert a reference to how senpai will never notice you here.) After all, she loved everyone, right? Certainly that kind of thing would matter. Now, I’m still not sure which part of this plan was worse, or why in the latter case I expected sudden clairvoyance on her part. But the important part is that like most of these tales, this backfired horribly. To begin with, I took this not only to its logical conclusion, but past it. For this to work, it would mean someone cared. If someone cared, why would I need to keep agonizing over someone who didn’t? This being me, I took that to its extreme and simply jumped straight into pining over Yuki instead. (Shrinks refer to this as “transference.”) Predictably, it didn’t really end up any better. I continued wishing for someone I could see as close, and she just found all the attention to be bothersome. She never went to quite the lengths of my more aggressive detractors, but she made it clear she wanted nothing to do with me.

For all her talk about how much she loved God and loved everyone around her, she was a bit selective in how she showed that “love” to others. I was seemingly even more of a pariah to her than I was to everyone else there. To begin with, she hated that I continued to make any effort to hang out with her. (In fairness, in a class of 15 it’s hard not to be around each other often.) In her mind, dealing with me was enough of an issue to her that she no longer enjoyed being at school. (Hopefully the irony in her saying this to the class chew toy isn’t lost on you.) From then on, she actively ignored the fact that I was there, stopping only when required to acknowledge my existence for something related to classes, or to occasionally scold me for something she saw as a flaw or a bad decision. My personal favorites are the time that she thought I was only interested in her for her body, based solely on the fact that we’d all just recently started noticing these things, and the time that she told me I was “very mean” over a single offhand remark, somehow ignoring the fact that she’d been watching me get bullied on a constant basis almost literally since we’d met. (Ask me again how much I love irony.) She’d also have a habit of talking to friends about just how much of an annoyance I was, even in ways that had nothing to do with her. For all of her talk about how everyone held value, I was like some sort of blind spot. Meanwhile, for the only time in my life I actually considered playing in traffic. After all, there’s something especially isolating about being the single exception to someone’s universal love of humanity. (You might notice a parallel here. The most crippling thing that came from Ramona was the suggestion that I have no friends.)

Eventually (several months later) this chapter of the story ended the same way that it started. I connected with a girl named Rachel, and repeated much of the same process that set off the chain of events with Yuki, only this time toward someone who was actually my friend. (There’s not quite so much of a story to this one. We were friends, I wanted to be more, I fixated on that, and it fell apart. In a way it was a microcosm of events with Emma, except that we actually made up somewhere down the line and things went back to how they’d been.) What would come next was a fixation of a completely different kind. Being, well, myself, I couldn’t seem to keep from going over every detail of what had happened, until I came to a conclusion.

It wasn’t real.

There was no way that someone so concerned about the well-being of others could so vehemently disregard another human being. Her piety was, at least on some level, a puppet act that served to win the approval of those around her, and not something that required her to give a damn about “the least of these.” Oddly enough, there was something satisfying about it, as if I’d discovered some kind of secret that no one else was paying enough attention to pick up on. Of course, anytime I spoke of it, it would come out in a manner that vaguely sounded like venom. I wouldn’t even speak her name if I could avoid it, simply thinking of her as “Everybody’s Fool.” (2004, anyone?) Of course, no one else would see the contradiction. (And why would they? It’s not like they saw me as any more of a person than she did.) Some simply suggested that I was only saying this because she didn’t like me. Mind you, in a way they weren’t wrong. It was a twisted subversion of everything she stood for so outspokenly, but I hated her because she first hated me.

Yuki was the first person I ever did truly hate, and even now it’s a distinction that only one or two others have ever managed to earn. (And no, Ramona’s not on that list.) And let me be clear: that’s toxic. It’s an obsession, no less consuming than love can be, and one that consumed me more than anything else has since. Twisted as it might be, though, even this holds meaning; it became the first thing in my life that I ever found truly inspiring. She became my first experience with what would later become my typical writing process: something would be either so depressing or so enraging that I couldn’t sleep, eat, or breathe without channeling it into something that has actual worth to it. (Years later, as a music student, I was asked to define what art meant to me for a class assignment. My experience with her essentially shaped that definition, one that holds now: art is the act of creating value from suffering.) What came out of it ended up being the first song I ever finished, and actually the first creative thing I did that I was sort of proud of. Without Yuki, odds are that none of you would be reading this.

This whole story is something of an origin: the first instance of someone whose opinion I actually valued treating me like nothing. She succeeded at making me feel something a number of others had tried and failed to (you know, an utter lack of self-worth), and she didn’t even notice that. Whomever I might have had a thing for prior to Yuki, I was always more worried about not being liked than I was about being hated, let alone ignored. With Emma, Ramona, and just about anyone else I could tell you about that details my own obsession with loss, I was essentially reliving the same trauma I had here. But it affected my way of looking at things in more ways than just that. She caused me to put some actual thought into the conclusion that running away from my problems wasn’t a cause worth dying for. I might have taken much harder looks at passing trains if not for that when everything with Ramona happened.

It was also one of the first things I really tried to bury. I could never admit to anyone what was behind the way I talked about her, even to Emma. For that matter, especially to Emma. Being as be open with her as I generally was, telling her would have meant acknowledging it myself. (This, actually, was literally the only thing I ever told her I didn’t want to talk about. I still sort of wish she’d asked me twice.) And with a few exceptions, being reminded of high school at all is still a bit rage-inducing. It’s sort of like Fight Club to me, if only in the sense that I do not talk about it. But these things are always easier to ignore than to actually deal with. It took a year and a half and her pushing it out of me before I could talk to Stacy about Emma. I could never talk to Emma about Yuki. Even now, I still tend to call Ramona by a pseudonym to anyone who knows about these (though that’s one’s more self-preservation than active avoidance). Even though a lot of these events influenced my later interactions (or in Ramona’s case, highlighted it), acknowledging these people as people and these events as parts of my life meant talking about damage, and I’ve never really known how to do that.

Things didn’t stay the way they were, though. The following winter after we graduated, we saw each other at a youth group event (back when I still frequented churches) and surprisingly enough wound up talking — and about Flyleaf of all things, at that. (I still find this funny — two people who grew up around fundamentalists, completely at odds with each other, bonding over rock music.) We’d end up conversing now and then about nothing in particular, until one day what had happened came up. I’m not even sure how, offhand, just that it somehow involved my love for screwing with people. At any rate, it turned out that she’d been meaning to settle things for a while but was worried that I hated her (to be fair, she wasn’t wrong on that part) and wouldn’t care what she had to say. (If I’m being honest, I might have cared, but just would’ve had a difficult time believing her.) We ended up agreeing that we both screwed up and wound up on terms that one might even call “friendly,” if in the “high school classmates who never keep in touch anymore” sort of way. Yet anytime I so much as vent about those times she somehow ends up seeing it, and usually telling me something about the value of letting go of things, even if people there, herself included, showed a failure to treat another person like… well, another person. Not that I think it’s that easy, even for people who don’t obsess. Still, it’s only now, when a situation has basically forced me to look at the influence of experiences, that I’m even addressing most of these, much less processing them in any tangible way. (Thanks a lot, Ramona.) If nothing else I guess it’s progress that I’m doing that at all.
“You want to know how I got these scars?” — The Joker, The Dark Knight

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *