Recently, I was thinking back to my sophomore year of college. Now a year older, I am far more mature and have grown as a person in the past year.
I found some of the writing I turned in for my first writing class at Geneva. Being the 19-year-old dumb ass, my favorite thing to do was turn in first drafts. I knew my writing wasn’t awful. I had gorged myself on positive affirmations from my faux-popular Wattpad account.
“Damn, this story hurt me deep in the BEST WAY POSSIBLE! I love it, keep up the great work!!” (Firelily2111)
“UPDATE!!!!!!! please do a part two, we are so not dead. I mean, we’re Loki’s bae. We’ll come back to life like he does, duh.” (Marvelchick23)
“I really relly really really love this storyy” (mich_elle_09)
Needless to say, my ego was practically obese by this point. My self-confidence? Through the roof. I was god. My professor? What did he know? I could think up situations or ideas first and worry about what characters to jam into place later. My peers? Who were they? Did they have 490 Wattpad followers? Psh. I didn’t think so.
A deadline was approaching to turn in another story for Fiction Writing. I had an idea that I was about a page and half into. Then I trashed it because even my esteem wasn’t bold enough to turn in the pile of garbage I had.
So I fell back onto a story I had written a long time ago. I’d started it when I was 16 and tweaked it here and there anytime I came across it. It got to the point where I didn’t have to change it. It was too good.
Then I submitted it, to a college sophomore level writing course.
I should’ve recognized as I was walking in, smug as can be, the awkward silence. I should’ve noticed no one would look me in the eye.
I’ve often been on the other side of second-hand shame. The phenomenon usually occurs when someone painfully unaware of social cues tries to add something to a conversation. Other times, people admit something deeply personal that doesn’t fit in the setting they decided to share it in.
The effects are instant. People go rigid. The awkwardness in the room seizes their limbs. The only thing they can move is their eyes which scream for someone to say something. But no one does. The only person moving in the room is the one who doesn’t feel that all the air has left the room. Everyone else is feeling all the shame that should be burning the outsider to a crisp.
It was my turn to be the outsider. My turn to look around at all the frozen bodies and wonder why no one was showering me in praise. I had shown the story to one of my friends before class and she had given me feedback I had completely ignored. She simply didn’t “get it”. I was sure when we workshopped it, everyone would tell her how wrong she had been.
The Text Itself:
Yeah, I don’t want to share any of this mess. It turns out shame can come back with a vengeance.
I don’t know what to tell you about this.
But, I guess what should clue you in on where this story is heading by the names of the characters.
First, we have Jimmy, the boy next door love interest. Real original, I’m aware.
And second, we have Fate Allen. The girl unlike other girls. She didn’t wear much makeup. She stood in the corner with her brown hair and “scarlet stained tips gently brushing the bridge of her nose”.
Oh buckle up, buckos. It’s about to get so, so much worse.
The scene starts with Fate (yes that is her name) in a party. I left the age of Fate up to interpretation but imagined her in her mid twenties (Old enough to know the world and be tired of it. You know, as every sixteen-year-old sees life).
Fate is waiting on the appearance of Jimmy. She’s hiding by the bookshelves, glancing up every time she thinks she hears him. Finally she does:
A loud laugh filled the room, the sound nearly stopping Fate’s heart.
He had come.
Two wide, brown eyes left their solitude behind pale white palms. With a slight bend of her spine, Fate peeked around the corner of her bookshelf. Hungrily, her eyes scoured the room, searching, craving-
He was sitting on the couch directly diagonal from her. His crisp suited legs were crossed casually in front of him. Easily the best dressed man in this establishment, with his sharp tuxedo and winning smirk. His hair was ruffled roguishly, tufting adorably at the top of his head.
If you’re not gagging, I don’t think we’re reading the same thing. Go back and take another look.
You back? Great. I could apologize but I won’t. The queasiness I’ve been feeling since I found this last night hasn’t gone away. Shame feels a lot like expired Sheetz’ Mac N Cheese.
The story has three separate scenes that are flashbacks. Why? Because as any good fanfic writer will tell you, nothing adds to your story like backstory that you didn’t set up whatsoever.
Two of the three focus on Jimmy and the other is too worthless to even mention. The ones about Jimmy were based loosely on interactions with a boy I grew up with. Don’t worry, I spiced them up with melodrama and angst.
The first sets up Jimmy and Fate as childhood neighbors and ends with him lightsaber-dueling her off a hill which breaks her arm.
True love, am I right?
I think what really adds to these scenes is the transitions.
Fate closed her eyes immediately, the sudden flash of pain from that day coming back to her in a rush. A child’s scream echoed in her mind.
Her right arm twitched psychosomatically but stopped as white hot shame rose within her. She forced herself to erase the thought from her mind before the embarrassment drowned her.
It’s like I had a word of the day calendar. Psychosomatically? Really? Yes. Really. Can you tell I watched too much Sherlock growing up?
The next scene is what Fate sees as her only chance to have gotten with this guy. It goes something like this:
Fate: “Oh! Hey J-Jimmy!”
Fate: “It’s b-beautiful, isn’t it?”
Fate: “Goodnight, Jimmy.”
Jimmy: “Goodnight Fate.”
That is definitely how humans interact. There’s description dumped in to try to distract you from realizing that the entire interaction occurs over a span of thirty seconds. Because if the reader stops and thinks, they’ll realize that the author basically smothered Jimmy and that this story has more plot holes than a Netflix Original show.
The story ends with Fate leaving the party. She stands on a fire escape staring up at the moon for longer than needed before walking off the edge of the fire escape to fall to her death.
No longer would she be a slave to her emotions. No longer a slave to her whining heart.
She would conquer it.
She stepped forwards, the smile fading from her lips, knowing that at last, she had won.
I thought this was a little TOO edgy for my class and added a sentence about someone grabbing her arm at the last second. It was completely tacked on and everyone knew it.
My professor wrote the word “melodrama” more times than I care to remember on his response sheet. I stashed that review away in a backpack and refused to look at it for months.
But he was right. Maybe when I head home after the semester ends, I’ll find his comments and be able to make it through reading them without collapsing on my carpet wishing I could melt away.
Maybe I should take a page from Fate’s book and find a fire escape.