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I Am A Loser: And Other Things I Learned From “It”

Dear Rose, 

I’ve tried to find the lesson or the meaning in everything in front of me all my life, in order to let go of the past, but there’s a part of me that’s afraid to look too close. A part that really wants to shut the book before I got to the ending, because I knew I was going to have to be the one to write it and I didn’t think I knew how to resolve the conflict. But I think I get it now, being the bigger person, and apologizing for the way you made someone feel, even if you didn’t mean to. And standing up for yourself for the things you were afraid to say, but shouldn’t have been. We’re still the same person, Rose. It’s almost scary, how we haven’t changed at all. But all we’ve been doing for years is focusing on all the ways we’re different.  I have a feeling that you think I don’t know you anymore, but I want you to know that I do want to. And the parts that I might not understand, or you don’t think I will, I want to. I try so hard, in the ways that I know how. But I didn’t let you get to know me the last few years. I shut you down, deep inside. A lot of people say that about me, that I am hard to get to know. We were always so close, but not quite there, and the distance we had to go always seemed to lead to road rage, instead of enjoying the ride.  One of our favorite things to do, when everything starts moving too fast, is find places that slow us down. The ocean, the forest, the tallest trees and the creeks running underneath. Maybe some weed. We could never stop running if they placed us on middle ground, couldn’t stop banging on our drums until we found some place where the music stopped and we could hear ourselves think. We were best buds.

But the bigger the world got for me and you, the smaller it got for me. I was just so sad when our family didn’t work out, and I felt small. I felt like my world got ripped in two. It was always one or the other. Win or lose. All or nothing. My limit seemed to be two ends of one infinite line, and I didn’t understand the middle.  Do you know that bipolar disorder is more common in the United States than any other country in the world? 4% of Americans as compared to 2% in other countries, show symptoms. Probably more, for people who don’t have access to help. I started to think about why that might be.  Why is everything in America black and white? Why are the United States colors red, white and blue, but we only care about the first and the last? Why does everyone have to choose between taking a risk or hating the fall? Why is this country built on dreamers and realists, zeros and heroes, men or mice, lovers and fighters, nerds and jocks, athletes and cheerleaders, artists and architects, builders and breakers, movers and shakers, fans and haters? Is that a coincidence? And why is white in between them, a color that isn’t really a color at all, but a reflection and spectrum of all of them at once, a rainbow of possibilities and differences. It also just so happens to be the thing we chose to exemplify love in all its forms.   

Why does this hypocritical country keep making us choose between the worst of its polar ends? Why do they make it so hard for people in the middle to win? It ends up being very lonely for everyone. And the more I started to think about it, the more I realized many people in my life have symptoms of bipolarity, not just the disorder. Namely me. I probably have symptoms of a million things with no one label, but that doesn’t make them feel any less real.  What is it about the world we live in that fosters this rollercoaster of emotion, and how do we stop it? This attraction to people just like you? To people so much different? To the best and worst of who you are, so much that you end up having to choose one? This country is composed of polar opposites, a two party system where angry, godlike, manically powerful politicians work hand in hand with deeply burdened, empathetic, depressed ones, and no one ever wins. Misery loves company, and that company is making millions.  They ignore the people in between them, they find the differences before they find the similarities. They can’t choose between the dream or the reality. They can’t acknowledge the elephant in the room, that some people have it better or worse than others but we all deserve the same rights to be themselves and be successful.

There’s a saying that in order to get past your biggest fears, you have to face them. And we often look for the things we dislike about ourselves the most in other people, or the things we wish we had and end up resenting. I surround myself with people that I end up pushing away, because they remind me of the things I wish I could change about myself. I find them all around me, like a self-fulfilling prophecy where I always feel alone and always end up alone, putting myself in relationships and friendships with people I think are too similar to me to bear, too different to reason with.  I find the worst in you, Rose. And I think I do it so I can continue to be sad about the worst in myself, so I don’t have to get better, so I don’t have to face my fears about what my future would look like without the sadness that seems to follow me. I give up on the things I’m afraid to fail at, or the things I feel judged for, or the things I am resentful towards. I don’t make apologies because I am afraid they’ll be rejected. I run instead, towards the things that make me feel small, for the things that make me feel ordinary, I settle for a life I think I’m supposed to have, outcomes I think I deserve. Heartbreak, anger, grief, broken bank accounts, sexism, punishment, divorce, death. I make choices that don’t do anything good for me, and then blame everything else but myself for them, because the pain of thinking I’ve failed is something I don’t know how to use as fire underneath me, but something I take personally.

I was so afraid of being wrong about my poor choices all this time, that I feigned being right, but you were always louder than I was, and that’s hard to argue. You’re loud and you interrupt my thoughts, you make me mad and make me feel silly. You make me different and I hate you for it. It’s even harder to tell you when you light me up or do something really beautiful, because I’m scared, it’s like you might not come out again tomorrow, or maybe you’re just making fun of the love I have for you. You take things all the wrong ways sometimes. I can’t seem to make even a small criticism or a correct one without you feeling like an awful person, rather than one who maybe just messed up a little bit. I can’t give you an inch without you taking a mile. You push at my buttons in a way that makes them break, instead of just being gentle. You’re still just a little girl, deep down. I have not been a very good guardian of your spirit.  If I ever told you these things when they happened, I felt like you’d blame yourself rather than give me a sincere apology, so I just didn’t ask for one. I thought I didn’t care, but I think I do. Even coming from you, who I always underestimate when it comes to using their words. That’s the thing about people like me. We will always care, even if we don’t want to. It demands to be felt, like a pulse, the way we love other people even when they don’t love us back. Or when we refuse to believe it.

 You are me. And we made it through.  And YOU are my favorite person today, when you’re all grown up. You’re a woman with the heart of a little boy on the playground. You’re funny, smart, charismatic. You are a master in debating, a true friend, and you‘re one in a million. You are born in the year of the tiger, you roar like you rule the world. Your name is holy, a godly word for “flower.” You find soulmates everywhere you go, and they find you, too. The most important thing you’ll ever do is find yourself, and that’s my favorite story to tell. But I think I finally have to tell you mine, a secret that I’ve kept inside, even though I know it’s nothing you’d expect me to hide. 

The most important story I ever told was in middle school, a lesson about a little boy named Ben. He lived in a closet under the stairs that he couldn’t come out of. He had one secret, a really good one, but he thought this secret was something that made him not good enough for all the great things about him.  Ben didn’t realize that his big secret was what made him special. It was what made him happy. It made him lovely. One day he finally got his happy ending. But it took so much longer to find it, when he let the world stand in his way. He didn’t have the hindsight to move mountains and sail stormy seas to get back to himself. And isn’t it lovely to be loved by the one we love? Why hold back?  I was watching “IT” the other night, and I think the movie finally makes sense to me in all the ways it didn’t when I was your age.  I believe in a world where everything can mean something, even something small. And something small can end up meaning everything.

Somewhere out there, the universe is telling us that every moment of our lives is connected, and nothing is as it seems. There is an insurmountable truth, a story full of words somewhere beyond your reach. You just have to find it. Often, the best parts just so happen to be found in the moments you’ve lost everything else. And they don’t fit in your head, but in your heart.  Not just feelings, but something tangible  beating in your rib cage. A noun for the thing that you fear the most. One, or two, or twenty adjectives, for the thing you love the hardest and the thing you can’t forget, even if you want to. Lyrics for the thing you’re most ashamed of, your worst critics, your biggest dreams. Poems for your family, your friends, the tears you cry, the bridges you burn, the laughs you share, the secrets you thaw. Bits of the past, the present, and the future all rolled into one, the things you run from and still run back to. Your hometown, your childhood, your bad habits and hidden vices waiting in the margins. Your biggest talents and the best of your vocabulary, when the sensations are ineffable. These words are the things that make you who you are, the things that make you iridescently whole and human. But there is darkness in a feeling so overwhelming. A  tethering of language you will never be able to control or undo, a thing you’ll never quite understand. The sadness of it sees you, and it follows you like a rain cloud. That feeling always knows what you’ll do next, and deep down you think you deserve the worst parts of it -make or break. You wish you could take all the ugly words in the world and leave them behind, letting them fall between your fingers like sand. You’re not really supposed to see the whole story all the time in front of you, but sometimes, it feels like you’re the only one who can. Sometimes that same story demands to be felt.

But if you do ever read it up close, if you understand it isn’t real, but that it’s meaningful,  and important, and yours, you can save the ending. You can learn from it, and flourish beyond it. You can realize the plot line doesn’t have to define you, that you deserve the best things you can feel, that there is nothing better to feel than love, but love is not better than nothing. That you don’t have to walk on eggshells trying not to wake it up. This story is one I’ve been seeking without knowing it, in Friends and in Parks and Recreation, in The Office. Especially the one where Michael finds Holly again, at the best views they can find. I found myself driving around aimlessly, crying and laughing and listening to music the other night. And I keep driving to my favorite places, places I went with you. I thought I wanted to be Jim and Pam, but I don’t. I’m an annoying Kelly, and I’m an arrogant Ryan. And no matter how hard they try to fight it, they are the best story, in the end. Love always wins. The story doesn’t have to own you, or control you. You can’t change it, and you have to let the best parts go sometimes. But it will always, always get better. I heard it before I saw it in 2018, in the back of an ambulance. I’ve had the urge to follow the voice who told it ever since. The words for the story I wanted to tell have been bubbling up in me since 2018. That was the year that I almost took my life, and this is the story where I take it back.

 My Grandpap, the biggest loss I’ve ever known and the greatest gift I was ever given, told me lots of things. That knowledge is power, not to do anything stupid and not to be a smart ass. He taught me we should all look out for one another, that I should treat others how I want to be treated, and that it costs nothing to be nice. The best thing about him was what he left behind, in poems and pictures of the family he made. Some of the last words he left us were  “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.” (He didn’t write them.) They were right. Whoever wrote it, at least. But I didn’t realize it, or see it, until being in the hospital, or until I lost my mind, or until I screamed for the things I needed, finally loud enough to receive them, but losing everything I ever wanted in it’s place. I thought I loved myself then, but I didn’t. I just was just hating you, for all the things I didn’t say. So much that it got blurred with love. I’ve been fighting a war inside me, and I fail every time. I feel like such a loser, when in reality, I’m just a lover.  Loving myself today is frankly fantastic. I feel like I can see stuff before things happen. I feel like I am breaking cycles and breaking down my own walls – like an architect of my future. It feels like all the colors at once are living inside my chest, singing to get out.  I love myself more than anyone ever has or anyone ever will, I love the little girl I still have left in me, and I’m confidently insecure about all my flaws. I am not the worst things I have ever done, my worst memories. I am not the boy who looks like me, or tells me what I wanna hear, but is never your type. I’m not the life I didn’t ask for either, but that stuff usually gives me luck, and I’m grateful. But I am also not the only one who understands me, I am not the only one who sees me or hears me waking up in the middle of the night for a cigarette.   

I know now, what my point in writing this was. I don’t want anything out of it. I don’t know there’s anywhere left to go. I have no requests, no apologies. But I’m tired. I’m tired of being angry and hard-headed and missing you from far away, leaving you to mind read the love in between my lines. I’m tired of being quiet. I’m tired of walking on eggshells, trying not to say too much or take you out of context. I’m tired of trading what I want for mediocre friendship, which will never be enough. I don’t even feel like I have anything to offer you. You’re so much more than me.  But I know I do, because we all do, and even if it’s not something I can share with the people I like most, at least I can tell myself that I will always be my biggest fan, and I will always remember the best of my story, not the worst. I’ll always believe in the best of life. My good and bad and red and blue country, and the rainbow that reflects in my chest, shining like sunlight to the people I allow to see it.

 My name is not Ben. I don’t know my full potential yet, or what fires and freezes will stand in the way of my story having a happy ending, but I know what I’m not.  I’m the only one of me.

And I’m not straight. At all.

This is probably the least interesting thing about me, but the most important, because I always wanted to prove to you I’d have a wedding that would look like your dream one day, and I wouldn’t mess it up. But weddings and marriages are kind of stupid, just parties and pieces of paper, and you don’t need them to know you have something special.  And you know what else I know?  I know I am not alone, and I know you would have loved me the same if I had never told you my story. And you probably aren’t gonna know what to say, or you might never say anything at all, because it’s kind of awkward and weird now. I might never hear from you. But I’m okay with that now. I can miss you from far away, and love you from far away too.  But I’m glad I did tell you in the end, because now you see who I really am, and everything about me makes more sense.  “Your hair is winter fire, January embers.  My heart burns there, too.” I’m going back to Derry, every day, for the rest of our lives. It’s not that scary, I promise.  You don’t have to come, but if you can, I’d like that. 

Samantha Smolko

West Chester '21

Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies student at West Chester university. Interested in the arts, writing, and being a women’s and LGBTQ+ ally.