Unsung

I.

When I was in kindergarten, I immediately befriended a transfer student from another school in the county and invited her to join my small group of friends. Instantly bonding, we soon isolated ourselves from the rest of the group to satisfy one specific purpose.

Strangely enough, our teacher would keep a stack of outdated People magazines—dog-eared and creased by childlike hands eager for any remnant of the outside world—at the bottom of the wooden bookshelf for us to play with. With vocabularies comprised of less than 2,000 words, my teacher assumed that her five- and six-year old students would not be equipped to read the better half of the articles deemed too mature for our comprehension; pictures of celebrities carrying groceries in baseball caps and enlarged sunglasses were merely shapes and colors, as were their Who Wore It Best counterparts that plagued the opposing page. My friend and I would pass the magazines back and forth during our recreational time, tracing our fingers over each image and drawing black teeth, unflattering mustaches, and ugly tattoos onto the faces of models with blue pen ink.

Magazines were a form of contraband in a place of learning. It felt scandalous to peruse them and flick through the brightly-colored pages, a feeling akin to the one that would wash over you when you caught your parents watching television in the living room when you were supposed to be asleep. I’m unsure of why our teacher thought that the addition of tabloid magazines to a child-sized classroom bookshelf was relevant or pertinent to our learning, but it allowed me to slowly develop the beginnings of a lifelong fascination with storytelling.

I distinctly remember a picture of Princess Diana—hazy from the bleaching camera flash and emblazoned with a sheen of carefree elegance—being on the cover of one of the magazines I grew to memorize like the back of my hand. The headline was elementary enough for me to read and comprehend, and soon enough, my friend and I became entirely infatuated with her. Our limited exposure to a world outside of childlike wonder and preoccupation encased us in a bubble of natural curiosity; any fragment or remnant of Otherness that we could find—a Britney Spears CD, her skin exposed and alien, a silver bracelet that we dug out from the sandpit, rusted and broken and unrevealing of its past, a photograph of a celebrity, godly, unsurmountable, and blushed with exclusivity—became worthy enough to worship.

Her title—the elegant, royal, and esteemed Princess of Wales—was the most appealing thing about her. My friend and I didn’t care about her family, her philanthropic work, or her scandals; we merely focused on the glitz of her designation and crown. We became an investigative team dedicated to unearthing information about her. I nagged my mother for particulars about anything she knew about Diana, and the only thing she seemed to report back to me were the vague details of her tragic death. Her death, which had occurred two years before I was born, came as a shock to me, and I was the first to report to my friend that she had passed away.

We became even more intrigued by her. We dedicated ourselves to solving the already-solved case and stalked the encyclopedias that dulled the bookshelf for answers. We unknowingly dramatized her death and innocuously built it up to be much bigger and intricate than it factually was. Our conversations became exclusively focused on our ongoing theories and ideas. Other than a shared fascination with rocks and dinosaurs, we spoke of nothing else.

Soon, Diana merely became an image for us to project our creativity onto. We discarded the idea of solving and making sense of her death and began using her as a central character in the stories we would verbally piece together and sketch out on pink construction paper. From these stories arose plays that we would juvenilely act out on the playground; submissive my nature, I was always subjected to the role of the dragon, the suitor, or the villain, and she always played Diana. We morphed the idea of Diana and made her fit our ideal of normalcy; in our stories, she transformed into a classmate, a neighbor, a superhero. We stretched her story to fit a fictional landscape that we created with pink crayons, apple juice, and our own two hands until she merely became a ghost lingering above our heads.

When the summer reared its head and we were finally free to explore and create outside of school grounds, I moved to a different city. I never knew of her number, or her address, or who she was outside of the classroom; the only remnant I had left of her was a photograph of us taken on a grainy disposable camera. We were school friends, and nothing more, but I kept the memory of her and our friendship—which was crystallized by our suppressed curiosities and imagination—encased in a locket hung around my neck. When the necklace rusted and I retired it to my jewelry box, the thought of her disappeared like Princess Diana. I no longer thought of her, her blonde hair, or the nervous stutter she spoke with; I only focused on the idea of her, the hazy memory of our friendship, and its imprint on the rest of my friendships that followed. She was merely a corpse of my past, an unremembered constellation left to reappear when I needed it the most.

I was always the new blood. I’d change schools every two or so years by chance; this year, it was adjusting from private to public school, and the next year, it was a school closer to my dad’s relocated chiropractic office, and the next it was a big move to a bigger city. When you were younger, your peers would be naturally drawn to the new student. Hungry for interaction, they would race against time to be the first student in your class to charm the lifeform—to showcase their limited skill talent to a new audience, to impress a new set of eyes with their Barbie Dream-House, to share the other half of their Lunchables with. As you transitioned into maturer grade levels and began developing the start of a unique personality, this anxiousness began to fade. To an older crowd, the new student was viewed as alien, foreign.

I cried a lot when I was younger. I had nail-biting, molar-grinding separation anxiety that would only be appeased by the presence of my grandmother. With my father at work, she would constantly volunteer in my elementary school’s library to prevent me from suffering through episodes in class. I have vivid memories of having to be escorted other classrooms because of my hysterics. I was not a bratty child, nor was I badly behaved; I was inherently timid, skittish, and sensitive, nervous and scared of everything and nothing at all. In the middle of class, my train of thought would avert to Worst Case Scenarios; I was a high-achieving and focused student, but my studies would be interrupted by an unavoidable encroaching anxiety (each siren that wafted from neighboring highway was headed to my flame-engulfed house, every phone call my teacher would receive was from a policeman reporting a freak accident that happened to my father, every code-red lockdown would result in fatalities to my classmates—to quote Durga Chew-Bose: “…when I notice three consecutive missed calls from my father and, as if metronomed by doom, fear the worst, my heart does not stop beating.”).

My classmates didn’t like this. They didn’t like me, either. Before this bone-splitting anxiety (which most likely resulted from a sudden adjustment to a new school and a new city) overcame me in the fourth grade, I was well-liked and admired by my peers. When I started at my fourth new elementary school and was placed into a predominantly-male class, the teacher had to set aside the five other girls in my classroom and tell them to be kind to me (I only learned of this after a classmate had spit it at me on the playground, letting profanities roll off of the tip of their tongue and color me with confusion). They reacted to this negatively and began to tease me endlessly. Only one girl in class—a new student that arrived after I did—treated me nicely. Her name was Jenny and she wore three blue barrettes in her hair every single day.

I didn’t mind. As an only child, I’ve had always been able to tolerate isolation; in fact, I preferred it. I made friends with younger students outside of my class and brought notebooks with me onto the playground. When I wasn’t invited to play kickball with the rest of the class during recess, I snuck off to the library and read whatever book was on display in the fiction section. My love for writing was born out of the blank Word documents on the outdated library computers that I would sit in front of; the librarians, who came to know me personally through my grandmother, would encourage me to write awful poems and short-stories for them and would display them on a bulletin board in their break-room.

Only one boy in the entire school was nice to me. His name was Nick and he had a mop-head of hair that he kept at the same length for as long as I knew him. Due to our similar academic standings, we were constantly grouped into the same heterogenic learning stations and were around each other most of the time in class. After three months of being at the school, he was the first person that I befriended. Our friendship was accidental and forged in happenstance, but his kindness never felt forced. He spoke to me in the same tone of voice that he used around his friends, tolerated my occasional outbursts and anxiety attacks (he’d hand me tissues when I would sit in the back of the classroom to calm down), and partnered with me when I was the last to be picked on the kickball team.

The only thing that truly bonded us together was our shared fascination with Rubik’s cubes. We mourned our inability to solve one over packed lunches, with him demonstrating how his brother was able to peel off each individual colored sticker on a 3×3 cube with a bruised red apple and a collection of produce stickers that he hoarded on the front cover of his mathematics notebook. We discussed theorems too complex to comprehend that we stealthily Googled during class-time and marveled at low-quality YouTube videos of godly acne-speckled teenagers solving the puzzle under thirty-seconds. We were obsessed with accumulating an arsenal of different-sized cubes and proudly showcased them to each other with toothy grins eager to please.

You never forget your first crush.

I was smitten by the attention he gave me. Adjusted to spiteful glances and queer side stares, I was surprised by the warmth and friendliness that he willingly showed and gave to me. He didn’t tease me. He didn’t laugh at my Barbie-emblazoned lunchbox. He smiled at me in the hallways and laughed at the jokes I’d whisper to him in line. I spoke fondly of him to whoever would listen, but I was too embarrassed to verbally profess my crush. My infatuation with him was very juvenile. I wouldn’t fantasize about kissing him or holding his hand; instead, I would take to my journal to gush over him, encircling his name with a thick layer of red ink and dotting the I in his name with a lopsided heart. Fueled by the histrionics I would study in movies (each character in Sleepover and Aquamarine exhibiting a degree of flirty effortlessness that I still strive to attain), I’d look up his last name in the phonebook and hang up when his mother answered. I’d purposefully leave my bright pink pencils underneath his desk and blush when he returned them back to me.

I admired him from afar for four years, and when I told him that I’d be moving at the end of the summer break that bridged seventh and eighth grade, he drew a heart with an arrow running through it on the knee of my blue jeans in blue pen ink. I finally washed it off on my first day of eighth grade.

III.

I came face-to-face with the anatomy of obsession in my final year of high school.

I’d been reserved for the majority of my childhood. Even though I had been involved with my school’s theatre department and I was sociable in taxing situations, I was, by nature, introverted, and I would purposefully separate myself from social interaction to sit in my bedroom and revel in my own dream-world all day. I admired my outgoing peers and would occasionally accompany them to the high-pressure atmosphere of a party or a football game—two specific beacons of social interaction within the realm of teendom—, but every outing would result in unease.

Encased in a bubble of my own thoughts, I would channel the purest of my emotions through hyperfixation. I had grown accustomed to the feeling of moving in and out of phases every three-or-so months, and fandom was a gateway to seamlessly move about them with ease. Just as quickly as I would construct a glass staircase of self-referential knowledge that proves to have no relevance outside of my own planet, I’d destroy it with with a cement wrecking ball and allow it to be overtaken by Something Else. I can list every film used in the Destruction montage in Beyond Clueless just as quickly as I can inform you of all of the muscles that constitute the hamstrings, recite all of the liner notes from I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose with ease, and connect The Milk Eyed Mender with Is This It with only two distinct links of separation. The spangled Scream and J.D. Salinger shrines that clutter the carpeted corners of my room never seem to gather dust, unlike the homely clusters of miscellany on my tabletops that insouciantly stand as shining beacons of untapped laziness. My walls, covered in a pseudo-geometric pattern of ever-changing wrinkled clippings, photographs, and posters—all print remnants of past phases, a concrete emblem of my scatterbrained existence, seem to be merely held together by the $2 Scotch tape that peels its paint right off, with only one central concept loosely linking them together—mania.

I love everything with all my heart and cling to it with no foreseeable desire to let go. In every relationship I have ever been in, I’d been too preoccupied by an fleeting obsession to be emotionally available enough to please my significant other. I’d been too confused and frightened by my own asexuality that I’d disguise my unnamed uneasiness by burying my head in an album, or a film, or a phase, or a concept. It would overtake me to the point of neglect; when I find myself being possessed by idolatry, the only way to claw my way out of it is to come as close to it as possibly can. That meant that the only way my obsession with a band would dissipate would be to see them live or interview them face-to-face. My love-affair with Beyond Clueless ended peacefully when Charlie Lyne requested me to email him the play I wrote and directed based off of the film.

I long to translate this feeling into words, into writing, into some tangible form of expression, but I am unable to. With every essay I struggle to write on the topic of fixation, Chris Kraus seems to collectively sum up everything I write into one cohesive sentence in I Love Dick. I have accepted the fact that I am simply unable to write about how important obsession is to me, about how it is an extension of my own body and a limb that I consistently support myself on. Just as no one will ever understand my near-ritualistic obsessive-compulsive habits (turning the volume down on my television two notches and up one notch six times in a row before I go to bed; telling my mother that I love her onetwothree times before she hangs up, as if the first one didn’t crystallize how much I appreciate her call; saying a prayer every time my flight takes off even though I’m nonreligious because I’ve been doing it on every one since I was three years old and the what-ifs eat me alive if I forget to), not one person will ever be able to understand how I function through fixation as if it were a glass lens that focuses my blurred vision. Each obsession is a dialect of a tailor-made language forged in passion that only I can translate—no one will ever get it, no one will ever be able to touch it. It is mine and only mine.

Like different color perception, it is comforting to know that I am the only person to hear the way Hard To Explain sounds to me—metallic and readily bursting with a warm and raucous verve. Or how I seem to be the only person in my inner circle of friends to find banality to be wonder-filled, a lesson learned from Dunbar’s pursuit of everlasting life via idleness. Or how, although I’ve seen its streets in the flesh, the music video for Joanna Newsom’s Sapokanikan is my very-own ideal of New York City’s magic, warm and sparkling and spangled with yellowing fluorescents (and how I choose to keep that ideal alive instead of the memories I have of spending summer afternoons in Manhattan). Or why an indescribable feeling of enchantment overcomes me when I drive through Marietta Street, my line of vision following each crumbling building and the offices that sit above them, carsick with eyes wide and surging with cosmic fascination, with my mother looking on in the driver’s seat, her face neutral and unfazed by such captivating sights. Or why I am impatient to listen to the music that excites my friends, unwilling to break out of my shell of familiarity (beats that I’ve committed to memory, chords thumping and screaming with vibrancy, vocals that I can mimic with my own), but I am quick to be offended when they neglect to listen to the songs I recommend with gentle calculation. Or how no one will ever be able to feel the way I do when my mother leaves me home alone for thirty minutes to run errands, how the short-lived freedom to bang on the keys of her Yamaha grand piano as hard as I possibly can and sing improvised lyrics at the top of my lungs will be the closest I will ever get to the breakdown of Soft As Chalk, and, quite frankly, to God. The feelings are mine, all mine, and only mine to hold close to my chest like a fabric of dissonant colors, with each thread unspooling, unraveling, and eventually detaching to form a brand-new heap of nothingness to create something new from.

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