Throughout my life, I’ve had a problem with romanticizing people. I saw strangers as fiction, something I could mold and shape and create. I'd see a girl on the bus with short blonde hair and wire-rimmed glasses and I would write the story of her in my head. I’d touch my own messy red hair and imagine her like the protagonist of a story. She’s an artist, with a journal full of vibrant thoughts and doodles. She plays the guitar and writes songs about eclipses and stars. One of her walls is covered with Polaroid pictures and sketches of the waitstaff in crowded restaurants, another home to a bookshelf full of heart-wrenching novels. Her name is Sam. Then when the train comes to a screeching stop, Sam walks off with a Chemistry book in hand, sipping on a hot chocolate that leaves a faint whipped cream residue on her lips. She bumps into people unapologetically. it's then that I realize she’s no more a work of fiction than I am.
Or the boy at the coffee shop, with short curly hair and ripped jeans and a pale blue sweater, always stuttering when you talk to him or biting his lip nervously. I like to think that he has a German Shepard puppy named Van and that he only wears blue on Wednesday. Yellow on Monday, green on Tuesday, blue on Wednesday, pink on Thursday, Orange on Friday. Weekends are a mystery. That he likes caramel macchiatos and walks on the beach and people with nose piercings. Then he’ll come in one day with a girl. She's shorter than him, with shoulder-length cropped black hair and round brown glasses. No nose piercing. No piercings at all. I’ll think about how wrong I was, how I wrote him into the wrong story as the wrong character with the wrong love interest. So I would rewrite him. He works in a library reshelving books and loves getting lost in their seemingly infinite words. That he could cook and bake. Sing and dance with grace. Then he knocks his nearly full cup onto the ground and the clean white mug shatters against the ground, staining the tile floor with his coffee. Not exactly graceful. But it didn’t matter. I imagined him as this perfect boy, only to see he wasn’t. That he had flaws and issues. That he could love people I wasn't able to see him with.
At first, I feel robbed, like I was given something precious only to lose it. Like I’d been betrayed, stolen from. But how can you lose something that was never really yours? How could someone who’s never met you, betray you?
I met a girl named Mack in the third grade. She had brown bushy hair tied back in pigtails and a dress the color of the sun. Her teeth were straight and white, unlike my own. She wore colorful dresses and tights with funky patterns. I envied her, the confidence she seemed to have no matter what she looked like, or how silly she acted. At the same time, I only ever wanted to look at her. Even in class when the teacher would scold me, or during recess when I would trip and fall in the grass, staining my new pants. My gaze would always stay on her. Her, in all her benevolent radiance.
I drew her in my imagination, sketching out her character like an author. In my head, she was a pastel fairy, who wore tulle skirts and knitted sweaters. That she owned frilly socks and danced in the rain. I admired her from afar for a few years, my eyes trained on her as I appreciated her unintentional grace, wishing that I could somehow be her friend. And on one particularly lucky day in sixth grade, she asked if I wanted to sit with her at lunch. She was wearing a big lavender hoodie and denim shorts and had shiny pink lips that grabbed my attention. When she extended her hand to me, I could see the sparkly blue nail polish she wore. With my freckled cheeks flushing pink and my lips producing slurred words thanks to the god-awful braces I wore, I accepted and took her outstretched hand, loving the way her fingers intertwined with mine.
I continued to sit with Mack for a while, meeting her friends and allowing myself to grow like a flower within her sun-like atmosphere. Her protective gaze gave me everything I needed to become more confident, despite my braces and tangled hair and never-ending Harry Potter trivia. Soon, I began to sleep over at her house and take walks with her to and from school. It was quite startling, to see the person you viewed as the epitome of grace and beauty transform into someone who wore orange striped socks and had a chapstick collection. She was flawed, and it took me many, many years to realize that. She hated the way her eyes looked, even though to me they sparkled just like she did. She didn’t like rain, even though in my head I painted her as a person who obsessed over it, sitting at the window admiring the rivulets running down the window. I’ve come to terms with the fact that people aren’t inherently incredible just because I envision them so. They’re not characters from books. They’re strange, unpredictable, multidimensional, and anything but perfect. They aren’t a fiction I can make for myself. I had to accept that.
But I think I prefer the Mack that wore her shirt inside out sometimes, who cursed loudly when she stubbed her toe, over the Mack that spent her time drinking bubble tea and painting watercolor landscapes. I think I’m finally starting to fall in love with normal. I may love the Mack that I drew up in my mind, but I love the real Mack more, the one who loved me back. The girl who kissed me at her birthday bonfire while my forgotten marshmallows burned beyond recognition. The one who held me when I cried over a failed a test, and spent long nights studying with me when I was anxious about an assignment, even though she could barely stay awake. The only issue with falling in love with the real-life version is, someday they’ll have to leave, as mine did. And you too will be left alone in a never-ending pool of people, dreaming and wishing for the girl that always made you feel so safe.