When I was 9 years old, I found Stephen Chbosky's novel 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' on my sister's bookcase. I had a natural curiosity for literature as a kid, largely due to my parent's strict nature and refusal to pay for cable TV. Any kid in the 90's without TV can tell you about making your own fun. For me, fun was flipping through book series' such as 'The Box Car Children', 'Sweet Valley', 'The Bailey School Kids', and 'Nancy Drew'. This particular day, I spotted a new neon green paperback in my sisters bookcase. I snuck it off its shelf and into its new home in my bunk bed, where I wedged it between the mattress and the wood frame for safety.
I remember reading it and feeling indifferent. It was whatever. I put it back on the bookshelf and moved back to 'The Babysitters Club'. I didn't get it. I wasn't ready to understand it yet.
Four years later, I was navigating my way through world war 3, more commonly known as middle school. The dreadful years that we are forced to define ourselves. Unlucky for me, I was a fucking nerd. I had just gotten braces (in addition to my glasses), never watched tv or played a single video game, was in every honors class and even the Knowledgemaster Club - it's like chess club but worse. I even gave up my lunch period so that I could be in both the Orchestra and Band. Arts were extra curricular.
I came home one day after getting my braces tightened, feeling like the ugliest gremlin of an angsty human wreck. So I shut my self in my room and cried. No one was ever going to like me. I was never going to have friends. I didn't belong anywhere. My alligator tears were symbolic of the beginning of the teenage angst years. You know, when you cry about nothing and everything at the same time? Through my tears a bright green book on my sisters bookshelf caught my eye. I remembered reading it a few years ago, but I didn't remember what it was about. "Maybe it was time to revisit," I thought.
I pulled the book out from its neighbors and took it to my bunk bed, where I read and I cried until it was over. I knew then that I was a wallflower, and I knew that I was going to be ok.
It's interesting how our teenage selves often know more about us than we know about ourselves now. When I was 14,15,16,17, I knew exactly who I was going to be, what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. I had a reason to wake up every morning. When we get older, we start to compare ourselves to the expectations we had as teenagers of our adult lives. Am I married yet? Do I have a dog? Am I an astronaut? No. No. No. It's hard not to be critical of what we've become. Every year I grow older, it feels like one more year of failure. When I was 17, I thought that I'd be married at 23 and have a dog and a beachside apartment. The real 23 year old me doesn't have a real job, or a dog, is in debt from student loans, and the last thing on my mind is having a boyfriend. I can't even take care of myself, how am I supposed to look after someone else? Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? How did I get here? Charlie knew.
“So, I guess we are who we are for alot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. It's not the our decisions in life that define us - it's what we take away from them. How we pick ourselves up from failure, how we rebuild our lives after things have fallen apart, how we deal with pain and suffering and sorrow and loss. What we find and learn about ourselves from love and lust and laugher and friendship. The particles of our being. These reactions, effects, affects define us. The billions of decisions we make each day compose us. And every once in awhile, you'll catch a glimpse of yourself in a sure moment - a moment of confidence and clarity - an ultimate understanding of who you are and what you've become. "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."
Drea Sobieski, New York, NY, 2008, Silver Gelatin Prints 1-8