The Broken Character and Me
I have always enjoyed the discussion of real life vs. the fantasy world that you and I create.
In our fantasy world we give our hero obstacles. Sometimes we make them weak. At times they are so frail that the obstacles we place in front of them are much too large for them to handle.
But in the end they always succeed.
I have always been attracted to the broken character. You know what I’m talking about. They hit rock bottom but somehow, against impossible odds, find a way out of it.
Yes, this story has been told countless of times both on-screen and between the pages but I wonder how much of this broken character that we love to hate comes from the real world trickling into our creative minds.
The broken character entered my mind last week as I was reading a Facebook post from a former high-school classmate.
He was the kind of kid who always had a camera. Throughout our years in school he captured some wonderful moments that otherwise would have become nothing more than a lost memory.
As I scanned the photos cringing and laughing my thoughts of yesteryear came to a screeching halt as a photo of a young girl from my class entered the page.
There she was.
I always had a hunch that the characters I wrote had bits and pieces of me in them. Now I am certain that those tiny bits and pieces are much larger than I dare to admit.
Her name was Annie and I adored her the moment I saw her. On that day of our freshman year when her young eyes caught my attention a romantic tragedy was born and I was the star.
For four years I tried to say hi. I attempted conversations or accidental meetings. Friday night football was always a goal to make polite conversations while conveniently sitting nearby.
But alas, none came to be.
Every year I began with high hopes. We would become study partners, I promised. I would sit next to her on the bus during field trips or I would pass her in the hall with a smile and a hello.
But my hellos turned to a mumble and my smiles turned to jelly. And the field trips? I sat in the back while she sat in front.
A broken character falling flat on his face.
But all was not lost. It was our senior year, weeks away from graduation and an all class photo in the football bleachers was scheduled.
As I stood in the bleachers I noticed her and a friend running late. I wondered how close she would be and would I somehow find a way to say hello before all of us said our final goodbyes.
As she made her way to the bleachers I noticed her friend pointing in my direction. To my right a perfect room for two lay waiting. Why was there room for two? Are you kidding me? I’m not ready for this!
She stood to my right. Her shoulders rubbing mine. For the first time in our four years she stood closer than ever before. A classmate called out an idea for one person to relax their arm on the shoulder of the person next to them.
It would be cute, they said. Warm, fuzzy and memorable, they promised.
As the photographer yelled ‘Ready’ Annie laughed, I froze, her arm resting on my shoulder with me forever imitating a lost deer staring straight into the headlights of a runaway tractor trailer. Within seconds the camera clicked.
The broken character forever caught in his finest moment.
Six years later I remember buying a gallon of milk at our town’s grocery store. Suddenly a little girl ran into my leg, her mother following close behind. Through the mother’s apologies and the little girl’s giggles the mother stopped and realized who I was. It wasn’t long before I remembered too.
In that moment Annie and I laughed and embraced.
The broken character I use to be had long passed. The frozen glare long thawed as we slowly made our way to the end of the store.
I followed her to her car as we shared our post high-school stories. Her and her husband lived in Idaho but had come out for a short stay. Her hair was shorter, her eyes brighter and our high-school years seemed so far away.
I placed her groceries in her car while she tended to her daughter. Annie grabbed my hand and wished me well and drove away for a final time. In that moment I realized that the pieces that were once broken had mended and were right where they belonged.
Now I understand why I create the characters that I do. They are me and a girl I once knew. Well…..kind of. They are yesterday and today trickling into my mind, through my fingers and on to the pages that you read.
Is that what writing is all about? Is it all about the layers of our past working their way out of us and onto the pages we create. I hope so. How about you?
Happy Friday Everyone!
10 thoughts on “SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY”
Lovely piece. I’m sure many can relate to high school heartbreak. As adults, we sometimes brush it off as if it’s trite, but when you’re living through it…oh god, the pain! If you ever need to tap a deep vein of emotion, find a teenager in love. There’s a reason Romeo and Juliette is a lasting paragon of romance.
For me, one of the scariest things about being a writer is that rightly or wrongly, people assume your characters are some kind of window into your soul. Some, maybe most, are. But some are not windows; some are mirrors where the image is reversed. Most often these characters are our stories villains – our evil twins, our polar opposites, the people we fear we could become had things worked out differently.
It’s nice to see how the passage of time heals and strengthens. Thanks for sharing!
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I was hesitant to write this. Who wants to hear about someone’s high school heartbreak but than I realized it’s a common story, plus it relates to what we do. I was still wavering on my choice of topic until I read your post.
You said exactly what I needed to hear.We place more of our past into the characters we create than we realize. Our characters aren’t created but recycled from tiny layers of long ago memories. We have the ability to recreate our biggest fears and sometimes our greatest accomplishments into the work we do.
Thank you for your thoughts.
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Wow, beautiful story. I was wondering why, this happen, with the first attraction. Why not with others. Or, with the first experience, we just gain courage. Or, maybe, something connected with past layers. I think, I’ll shy this girl, anyway, even after so many years.
The complicated life known as our youth. Looking back I’d say it’s a necessary evil. We experience so many things but the key is to learn from them. If that happens than all the evil’s we experienced were necessary. Thank you for stopping by, my friend. Glad you enjoyed it.
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Very nice glimpse into the past, raising an interesting question about why we write what we do. I know that for me, the people in my past seem always to be with me, if only in my dreams. It would be cool to bring them all together in a book someday. Hmmm. My fifth grade teacher meets my horrible boss … the school bully has to sit next to my mother … my parish priest meets my ex-boyfriend … what fun!
You had me laughing. I want to see your story of your mother sitting next to the bully. I will buy that one.
I just had a terrible thought: Imagine my grandmother taking me by the arm, dragging me to Annie and telling her how much of a sweet boy I am. Oh boy. Talk about a horror story. 🙂
We can bring the memories back and sprinkle them throughout our work. It is part of the magic that we create and sometimes that magic is for our eyes only. A tiny moment where dreams do come alive.
Thank you for stopping by. Good to see you.
Wow what a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I think our characters are a patchwork of our lives and memories, as well as of those we know and meet or even just watch walking by.
Like you I am a fan of broken characters, though sometimes (just somtimes) I don’t let mine overcome the obstacle. I would hate to think what that says about me lol.
How awesome that you got to have that moment again with Annie.
Thank you, Ari. I hesitated at first but I’m beginning to see how common this is.
You allow your broken characters to stay broken!? They may haunt your dreams. Be careful. 😉
Isn’t it amazing when, as adults, we see how all those awkward and traumatic moments we experienced in our younger days have shape who we are now and how much we’ve grown into ourselves? And you have the added gift of being able to take that experience and turn it into something creatively meaningful. Once again, outstanding post!!
Angela, you made my day. Thank you. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back and whisper into the ear of our younger selves that all is good. Hmmmm…..I see the beginning of a novel. 🙂