There was this boy I knew in high school. Average height, blond hair, blue eyes, always wore his varsity jacket. He scored crazy high on his SATs, getting the math part totally perfect and coming close on the verbal. He had two sisters and a brother, and he drove one solid minivan.
Oh, yeah, and I was in love with him.
The night we met, I found out his name, where he went to school, and what sports he played. That was when I decided I wanted to marry him. Astonishingly, he did not feel the same way. But I persisted. I was like a hangnail, I was. Impossible to get rid of, constantly annoying. Even when he tried to forget about me, I made sure there were constant reminders of my belief that we were meant to be together (phone messages, notes, a mutual friend dropping "accidental" hints). After awhile, he relented and got to know me as a friend. It was probably both his biggest mistake and best decision.
To him, I was Annoying Girl Who Inexplicably Loved Him. To me, he was Amazing Guy I Would Someday Marry.
By becoming friends, however, and having to bother getting to know each other, I found out he had a strange and quirky sense of humor. That he laughed too loud at movies and ruined every romantic moment by shouting something obnoxious and irrelevant. I learned that while he didn't love the idea of accounting, he knew he'd be good at it and wanted to be successful in life. He loved funny movies and he was really good at making me laugh when I was having a bad day.
About me? Well, quite honestly I have no idea what he found out. I never really asked him, because I was so busy being shocked by the fact that this guy, this Amazing Guy I Would Someday Marry, was an actual person. His name was Joe and the things he said and did reached into my heart and made me feel tingly.
For awhile, I tried reading into the nice things he said to me. Things like, "Your hair curls up in a crazy way at your temples. I call it your Squiggle," and, "Why don't you ever just be yourself around your friends? I can tell when you're pretending," said to me, "He notices me! He sees all the things no one else does. He loves me!" Because I was still rooting for my first impression to be right, to be real.
And then one spring night, he told me he wanted to ask my best friend to the prom.
I had spent all my time trying to force a theme into our relationship. I wanted it to be romance. I wanted it to be true love. But that's not what it was. It was friendship. And I had to acknowledge that as much as it pained me, the two characters in our story took the plot in a different direction.
We can't force themes into our lives. We can't take the things that happen and make them mean whatever we want them to. Rather, we have to look at the things outside of ourselves to find meanings. Whether they're real people, characters in books, or characters we write. If you want an authentic story, fiction or nonfiction, the characters will be different from each other and have minds of their own. Their interactions will build the plot. Sometimes, it will be exactly what you want. Other times, it will serve a crushing blow. But most importantly, it should be surprising. Stories are meant to mirror real life, and real life never turns out the way we think it will.
Because if it did, once I realized that Joe liked my best friend and not me, we would have drifted apart, lost touch, or maybe I would have forgotten him. But I never did. I never could. And it turns out, he didn't forget me either. We lived our lives, we wrote our stories, until one day, we came back together. And I don't think it took him more than five minutes to tell me that seeing my face was like "coming home."
In less than a year after that, he asked me to marry him.
I think it's always best to let a story unfold in the way it's meant to. Let it surprise you, or make you cry, or be angry, and let it live. A story, truly, has a life all its own, as unique as the people in it. And it's only once we look back on it that we see the themes that truly matter. Not the ones we tried to make happen, but the ones that did all on their own.
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