Life is a storybook, with an entirely different cast of characters in every edition you read.
What we experience in one moment--whether good or bad--will come back to us tenfold, powerful enough to change the direction of the tides or shake a foundation to its core. Perhaps even powerful enough to push our story towards a different ending, depending on who is telling it in the first place.
I’m at a spot in my life that so many like to call “the best days of my life,” where I am free to make the mistakes that are supposed to teach me all the lessons I need to learn and understand by the time I’m an adult. This learning phase, such a necessary stage in the process of growing up, introduces a cast of people who come in and out of our lives and--through pain, pleasure, perseverance, and pragmatic reasoning--mold us into entirely new human beings.
I am not here to lie to you and claim that this phase of my life has some kind of unending tragedy; I have just as many highs as I have had lows. But I am not going to describe a narrative where I have only found the best of myself and others in the faces of my high school classmates and other peers.
I've written a variety of articles in the past describing my experiences with abusive exes and mean girls. Some of those pieces have caused retaliation and backlash at the hands of people who haven’t liked the way I portrayed them: the fact is, we may play roles in the narratives of others that we find unfitting and unfair. It happens to all of us, and no matter the character you play in someone's life, your character is needed all the same.
I know that I am not the heroine of every story I have encountered. I know that in some I am the harlot or the witch--or even a peasant who resides in the background of someone else’s personal fairytale. The thing about living a life around other people is that the story you live is not the only story that exists. Right now, while you are doing one thing, seeking to achieve one goal and maximize your own personal potential, someone else could be striving for something almost identical--or drastically different.
There is no singular way to tell a story, just as there is no singular correct way to spend your life.
In today's society, with the rise in social media platforms and expanding use of technology, each of us have begun to live in our own “personal narrative bubble” where we consider that the only reality is the one that we create for ourselves, and all outside forces will cease to penetrate the walls we have crafted. We see no need to recognize or understand the other side of the story, the plot twists that we do not witness, and the endings that we ourselves cannot understand.
As both the author and protagonist of our own lives, we get to decide what we pay attention to, and far too often, we focus only on ourselves, on our own tragedies and triumphs. When we forget that the villains are heroes in their own minds and that protagonists are not always righteous, we fail to understand that our lives are not entirely our own.
I know that the boy who tore my life apart through abuse and manipulation has his own personal demons he is overcoming, and often the dragons inside him manifested themselves into a reality he could not control on his own. In those moments, I became the dragon for him. If in those moments I could be both the thing that he loved and the thing he had to destroy, I was willing to take on the role he needed me to play, even if it was something entirely different from what I needed.
I know that the group of girls who spent their free time bullying me, concealing their identities behind the wall of cyberspace in order to paint me as a ravenous harlot, have paints of their own on their faces. In her own mind, the girl who accused me of stealing her prince cast herself as the tragic damsel in distress once the lions came thundering into the den, even though in my story she was the lioness.
I know that the prince I love only seeks to dream himself to great heights. I know that he believes all choices are final and set for eternity, though in his desperation for closure he has baited and cajoled my own personal demons back out into the open, where they hunger and plot to feast on my own grand dreams.
I know that the queen inside of my heart is lingering, and someday she will be back again.
I can only hope that one day, the man I once loved slays the true dragon that is destroying him, the bullying tyrants find the maturity to forgive and let go of their foolish ignorance, the prince gives the princess back her wings, and the queen finds the courage to fly again.
In each cast of characters we play, every action or dialogue we share, we are growing as both people and protagonists--in our own story and in those of others. Though our roles may change, we cannot forget that you will never know how it feels to be somebody else until you strip away who you think they see in you and realize the truth behind the costumes that we wear. With each day, the plot thickens and we grow not only older, but hopefully wiser as well. It is the characters that refuse to learn the lessons they are taught who lack depth; it is the characters without depth who will fail to live meaningful lives.
When we begin to realize the great potential life holds for us if we love instead of hate and tell stories from all sides, we will finally find ourselves able to grasp at a narrative that resembles the truth. After all, true ending cannot happen without some growth in between “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After.”
Don't forget to hug your dragons.