Untitled Number 43
by Rachel O’Connell
I was a writer.
That’s what I told people when they asked me why I carried my journals everywhere.
It was what I told them at college orientation when we had to ‘break the ice’ by sharing facts about each other. I never truly listened to anyone else’s facts or stories. I was too focused on reminding myself: “Tell them you are a writer. Tell them you are a writer.”
If I didn’t run the line in my head, I was nervous I’d forget it forever.
Being a writer was all I knew. It was my excuse for being a social outsider.
It was my excuse for being sad on rainy days and anxious on busy days.
For crying on subways for no good reason.
It was my excuse for being me, basically.
And it wasn’t like I was working on a book that was keeping me this busy. Most of the time I didn’t even have a short story in the works.
As time progressed, the list of untitled and unfinished documents on my folder began to increase. It became an anthology of my true self. Diverse, insightful, and yet, unfinished.
The mouse on my word document beeped in and out of my sight. It waited. It kept time like a broken heartbeat. But still, no words seemed to creep out of me. I stared at the screen as my body seemed to understand the current weight of itself. I was a writer, yes. But my work would forever be nothing more than “untitled.”
I began to seek refuge in little thrills to keep me alive. Inspiration.
I would complain about how my friends didn’t understand me. The ones that did just didn’t understand the struggle of being a young writer. Of feeling the need to write a story that originates beyond yourself. A story that could have the ability to inspire people just like so many writers had inspired me. Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Herman Hesse.
I change my name on Facebook to the alias of some historical writer.
I change it again. Now I’m Boz. Now I’m Eric Arthur Blair. Now I’m Lucila Alcayaga.
I changed my birthplace to some distant city in Chile. Now I was a political activist. I had fights to recount in the verse of poetry. Women would stand tall at the sight of my word. They would call me brave in the magazines. It almost hurt how badly I wanted to be these people.
The name I was born with is nothing more than something that confines me. Rachel O’Connell rests upon my computer dashboard as another empty prospect. She is digitized into a work untitled. Untitled number 43. A blank sheet of white paper.
The inspiration began to break. I would never be anything like these people.
I stopped writing shortly after that.
I was distant and selfish, every short instance seemed to me, a tragedy.
My friends rolled their eyes. They couldn’t keep up with me. I tried not to talk about it, and instead focus on doing the things I was supposed to do as someone in my early twenties.
We spent weekends drinking and I took secret pictures of us trying to capture this freedom. Pictures of us crowded around the bathroom sink, someone laughing a far-away laugh. Pictures of us outside, holding warm beer cans and looking up at the sky. I couldn’t remember what I was thinking of when I took these pictures. They were silly, and out of focus. Unartistic. I loved them for how little thought I had put into them. It was my first real masterpiece.
This is the closest I ever felt to being a character in my own stories.
Liquid courage makes me want to fly out of my skin.
I smiled at my friends smiling. It’s just drugs, They tell me. This feeling of freedom is because of drugs. This thought made me incredibly sad.
Where was one to find lasting happiness?
“I want to be saturated,” I keep telling them.
“I just want to be happy.”
“I just want to be me again.”
“But you are you, Rachel. You need to learn to love yourself.”
Once, a boy I had wanted to kiss told me that I was a good writer, but everything I said was nothing more than a cliché.
I didn’t deserve the life I set upon paper.
Beyond the books, I was nothing more than another pretty girl.
His words hurt me so much that I kissed him.
Poison can taste like lemonade when your body is yelling for a drink.
They didn’t invite me to many parties after that. I was too depressing, too insecure.
“Just take a few days to get yourself together.”
I wouldn’t have wanted to go anyway, I was too busy lying in bed counting all the people that walked past my window.
I would sing to myself; “Que Sera Sera….whatever will be, will be.”
But what was to be? I just needed to get to the next chapter to understand what would happen next.
I wish I’d known how to take care of myself back then.
No one had ever talked about mental illness with me. When I was a child, I remember my mother being sick with dengue fever. If you don’t treat it, it only gets worse. Her face was pale and her body was weak. She spent days in bed, surviving on nothing but juice and water. The year my mother was sick, 300 people had died of dengue fever in Pakistan.
She didn’t die, but she was barely alive.
With depression, you die on the inside long before anyone has noticed you were even sick in the first place. No one calls the ambulance. No one brings you flowers to your bedside.
Sometimes, they rub your back as you cry yourself to sleep.
Sometimes, they whisper “things will get better,” in your ear. I wasn’t listening. I was too busy reminding myself that I was sad.
If I forgot, what would be left of me?
Those were the worst days; when I forgot.
But like my Mom got better, I too found my strength.
I remembered what I had been meaning to remember this entire time.
I was a writer, and journals saved my life. I began logging in every time I was sad. The paper listened. It let me draw. It let me scribble. It understood like no one else ever could.
In a year, I had managed to fill up four journals with poetry, stories, feelings. The books became a road map for my emotional growth.
Looking through the first couple of pages was painful, but slowly, the pages began to fill with more stories, more color. It was private and beautiful, and it was the story of myself, saving myself. I had created the most beautiful book I’d ever read, and what made it most beautiful was that it was no one else’s but my own.
I had finally become the main character in my own story.
When people ask me why I keep writing, even though I haven’t been published, I tell them that it is so that I understand myself.
When I get rejected for my submissions, I am not discouraged by them. I’ve already written the greatest book; and that book carries the story that I have been wanting to discover this entire time.
So, I tell people I’m a writer, and they nod their head and smile. Just one of so many writers trying to make it out there in the world.
If only they knew that being a writer is less about creating words than it is about words creating you.
I am a writer working on a book that has no structure, and no defined ending.
But isn’t that what makes it so beautiful?