Of fresh starts, running away, and good storytelling.
“So you told her your story of betrayal. The truth.”
“Yeah. And she asks me, ‘What would you wanna say to them?'”
“Like in a hypothetical conversation?”
“Yeah, exactly. And I kinda freak out.”
“And then you broke up with her..?”
“No no, that’s not why I broke up with her. But it gave me an idea. An idea that would develop into something that would change the rest of my life.”
“That would lead you here.”
“I see. So what does that have to do with your um.. career crisis and stuff?”
“Slow down, man. I’ll get there.”
“Alright, alright. So how did you answer her question? Tell me about this hypothetical conversation.”
“Well the thing is, I already knew what I would say. I’ve already transcribed this… ‘dialogue’ onto paper so many times, like drafts of a screenplay.
‘Which draft will be used?’, I often wondered. I kept writing and writing.”
“Did you ever use any of them?”
“It was too painful.”
What is it, that I already know the words, but it still burns to say them?
I practice my lines for months, in some desperate attempt to be cast for the role. Yet the stage-fright still has its conniving way of sneaking under my skin.
I stand paralyzed in a lonely stage in front of a dark, empty audience, save a couple silhouettes. My shaky breath is too loud. Who decided that my microphone should be on. Now my fears are amplified for the world to hear.
“So you just.. didn’t ever talk to them.”
“Yeah. I couldn’t do it.”
“So what was this revolutionary, life-changing idea of your’s?”
“It was this thought that.. perhaps, we live in a world of cruel bloopers. I figured that conversations never play out the way we plan them. The characters always go off-script.”
“I mean, that’s one way to see it.”
“The scripts that I write in my head are always more preferable than what actually happens on-screen. Even if the scenes are hard and painful, I’d write them in an exaggerated, overly-dramatized fashion, which I prefer for some reason.”
“It feels better than the real thing.”
“Yes. So I obsessed over this concept and I found myself at a crossroads, which I often do. It seemed like there were only two paths that I could take: to live in a world of fiction or to lose my fantasy and live in the reality of the present.”
“Is that why you moved to the East Coast?”
“I’m afraid it was. That was how my new life as a recluse began. I immersed myself in this new, unfamiliar world, where I could start a new life. I could write my own story with new characters, new narratives, new plot twists. I even considered changing my name.”
“Damn. I had no idea. And how did that go for you?”
“It was exciting at first. Euphoric, almost. I was drunk on this idea that no one else could write my story for me anymore. The pen was in my hand and no one else’s. I reveled in this idea.”
“And the people back at home?”
“Well… I cut them off. I kind of just disappeared from their lives.”
His brow tenses ever so slightly. I look at the icy waters below us but I feel his concerned eyes pressing on my face. I don’t know if I like this feeling.
“What happened, then?”
“I started writing. I indulged in my newfound freedom. I had a fresh canvas to work with and I took advantage of that.”
“Fiction, I presume.”
“Mostly short stories and what not. If you recall, I shared some of them with you a while ago.”
“Ah yes. They were pretty good. I hafta admit, I was quite impressed.”
“Yeah? Cool thanks, I guess replying four years late is better than never.”
“It’s whatever”, I mutter through my smirk. I knew he liked my writing.
“Wipe that stupid grin off your face.”
“I’m gonna throw you off this bridge.”
“Hm. That would make an excellent opening scene. I’m gonna use that. Thanks, man.”
He rolls his eyes.
“You’re welcome. You were saying?”
“You crashed my train of thought.”
“You were writing short stories and…?”
“Ah yes. I was on a writing spree. My mind was overflowing with inspiration, it was almost too much. I could barely keep up. It had been a while since I created art that I was proud of.”
“Hm. Seems like Brooklyn did a lot of good for you.”
“Yeah. Everyday, the city had something new to offer me. New tools, new paints, new brushes to work with. It was a wellspring of creativity and innovation.”
“I wish more people thought of us that way.”
“That’s another thing. I had fallen so in love with this town that I almost felt this need to show it off to the world. I wanted people to realize its hidden beauty.”
“I suppose. It was complicated – wanting to show off my new home while covering my footprints so people in my previous life wouldn’t discover my whereabouts.”
“Did they ever find you?”
“A few did. They tried to get in contact.”
“What did you do?”
“I did what I knew how to do best.”
I nod again, slowly this time.
“You lied to them.”
“Well in fiction, you take the truth and you sort of… bend it. Twist it to your liking. Paint it with different colors.”
I can feel his skepticism. It is sharp.
“Do you regret that?”
“Sometimes. At the time, I had become so infatuated with the city that I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. My scars were still fresh. This was my new life and I had no intentions of going back.”
“That’s fair. Do you feel that your new self is incompatible with your old city?”
“Very much so.”
“I think I can understand that.
You mentioned previously that you had become a recluse?”
“How so? As far as I could tell, you were still interacting with human beings when I met you.”
“Haha well, maybe not a real recluse.”
“Then what? A fictional recluse?”
“I figured I could have people in my life, so long as I didn’t have to get too close and personal with them.”
“And what did that achieve you?”
“Robbery. I was scared that if I shared too much of my story, if I had let someone in too much, they would steal my pen. Because that’s what tends to happen. I didn’t want someone else writing my story again. It’s too painful.”
“Don’t you already share your stories though?”
“Yes, but only the fictional ones.”
“For a while, people were nothing more than free ideas for characters I could build and write about. I would have a meaningful conversation or two with a new ‘friend’ and leave the rest to my imagination.”
“That is… fascinating.”
“That was the scariest part though. I needed to know them enough to have something to write about but that usually meant sharing myself with them as well. So once I had enough ‘content’ to work with, I would draw the line and keep the friendship from going anywhere further.”
“So… people were just creative fodder for your short stories.”
I look back down at the waters.
“You’re a sick man. A genius, but… sick.”
“Was that all I was to you? A resource you could exploit for your writing career?”
“I may have used you for a few of my characters…”
“Fuck you. I want them back.”
“I’m sorry. I really am.”
“You know, you’re so scared of having your story stolen from people… but isn’t that what you’re doing to everyone else? You earn your friends’ trust, they share their story with you, then you take it and run away without ever returning the favor.”
It made too much sense. Maybe I should jump the bridge now.
We sat in the silence together.
“You know, it’s okay. You can use my story if you want. I don’t mind.”
“Yeah, man. I’ve shared so much of it anyways. I trust you. You’re still an asshole, though.”
“Wow. I’m… baffled.”
“You know, as good of a writer as you are, your scars still sometimes show. I could always tell you were in pain.”
“Hm. I suppose fiction can’t hide everything.”
“There is a fine line between writing fiction and writing lies.”
Wow. I think I almost throw up.
“You know… you were always the most inspiring and the most difficult character I’ve had to work with.”
“What do you mean?”
“You always give out your story so freely… It confused me, yet it amazed me. I was always afraid I’d have to respond in kind. At the same time, it gave me plenty of content to work with. Maybe even too much. Too much truth. I was scared of it. So I decided to stop using it after a while.”
“How long has it been?”
“Years. I looked to other people for stories instead.”
“I bet my story was far more exciting.”
“Well… actually, yes. Remember what I said about how fiction is written?”
“Bending the truth?”
“Yeah. Well, I eventually ran out of truth to bend. If I could only get so close to my friends, there was only so much material I could use. I could always find new friends but I grew tired. I was meeting new people, only getting to surface level, and running away.”
“Especially if you’re trying to be a recluse. I ran out of juice. And that would drive me into the deepest pit of writer’s block I’ve ever had. I guess I’m still in it. And I never figured out how to escape.
My stories became stale and colorless.”
Another moment of shared silence. The sun had set for a good while now and the city slowly ignited its nightly skyline glow.
“You know what. I think you have what you need to escape this hole you’re stuck in. I think you know what to do.”
I wondered, how much of this story was real, how much was fictitious? I thought about this new life that I had spent years inventing and how I had ended up in another dead end. I thought about why real life was so terrifying to me. I saw truth as fire and I still live with the burn marks.
“Stop writing fiction?”
“No. Stop writing bad fiction.”
“There’s nothing wrong with writing fiction, my friend. But the best fiction is real fiction.”
“Ah. The great Albert Camus. How could I forget.”
Perhaps I had been asking myself the wrong question.
How much of my life is fiction, how much a lie?
I thought of truth as fire still – that had not changed. It was dangerous. But maybe if I allow myself the risk of playing with explosives, I just might be able to make fireworks.
Talk about grip strength. The pen is slipping from my hand.