“The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.”
“What the fu–… Dakota, is that you?”
“No, it’s Charlotte. And it. Is. Blurry. The picture you took of me and Ben Walker is BLURRY.”
She might as well have discovered that I killed her cat. In the twelve-year-old mind of my best friend’s little sister, whose opossum named Dolores always gave her luck, this was unforgivable.
I burst out laughing, my flushed cheek pressed to the phone.
“Oh Charlotte, I’m so sorry! I was shaking so hard it must have screwed up the picture!”
“My hands were shaking! C’mon, Charlotte, ask Dakota, she knows—“
“You can’t fault me for this! He is my lover.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
She hung up.
I continued laughing, dropping the phone and looking at my wall, where the perfectly crisp, freshly inked photo hung. He wears a boyishly cheeky grin, hair still wet on his forehead, eyeliner still smudged. A navy hoodie peeks out from under his beige jacket. His eyes are mischievous; his head bent, ever so slightly towards me, snuggled perfectly under his arm, a head-and-a-half below him. My hair is freshly cut, my eyes freshly rested. His shoulders go on forever. The grin takes up my whole face, almost touching the breast of his coat. You can’t tell from the picture, but I have my arm around him too.
Slowly my smile faded. I met my eyes, then his…—then achingly, mine again. I turned away.
“It is his butt on the posters.”
“How do you know?” I asked skeptically.
“Mollie, I was two feet from the stage. I know.”
I fingered my chin, considering the possibilities, as Dakota and I pushed through the Place, my most hated and most loved: Times Square.
“Hmm, that is a very convincing point. But it might require further study. You know I am always willing to help—Jesus H. Christ, these goddamned tourists!” I growled, clawing my hands in strangling motions behind the pack, gawking like guppies at the Abercrombie and Fitch store. “What the hell is so wrong with wherever-they’ll-finally-go-back-to that they have to come here?”
“Wherever-that-is doesn’t have Ben Walker. We do.”
I resisted the urge to glomp her in the middle of 7th Avenue.
“And that’s why I love you.” She opened her mouth to speak, and I rapidly interjected: “But not as much as Ben Walker.”
She laughed and bumped my shoulder.
“And that’s why I love you.”
It all began when we met in seventh grade, two chubby-cheeked girls who still thought calling a guy “hot” was a dirty thing.
My whole life I had liked and admired—she taught me to love. Madly. Passionately. With a lack of restraint that would border on the creepy if not for the girlish twinkle that came with it. It began with “Rent,” an obsession incepted in her crappy Riverdale middle school and transposed onto the welcoming receptacle of Anderson. Since I had seen “Peter Pan” as my first Broadway show, I had been to maybe one or two musicals a year. The year I met Dakota, I saw “Rent” eight times. She made it to thirteen.
We belted “La Vie Boheme” in the yard, doodled Mark and Roger in our notebooks, and bent conspiratorially over our laptops as we discovered what it meant to have a celebrity crush—many crushes, in fact, as the majority of the principal cast bewitched us like dark chocolate.
Today, Dakota and I are on first-name basis with a vast number of famous people: Matthew, Jonathan, Michael, David; Idina, perhaps the most glorious of all. Throughout middle school, they dominated our conversations. Even though now we are schools apart, they are our strongest connection. I know where they were born and who their friends are. I have more pictures on my computer of Michael Fassbender than there are pictures of me on Facebook. At parties I wish constantly that I could be home, snuggled in bed with them, pouring out my secrets without etiquette, without words, without regret. When I still loved him (a love which has long since passed), Dakota drew me a portrait of Jonathan Groff. I put it on the wall above my bed to make me smile.
We feed off each other.
Ben Walker was a new phenomenon, because my love for him grew gradually. Dakota had convinced me to join TRaC with her, a teen reviewer’s program with the perks of free theatre tickets and the mentorship of a professional playwright. I weighed it against my declining sleep bank, my sliding grades, the climbing hours I spent on AP Euro every night. But I hadn’t seen Dakota, or a Broadway play, in months: school was swallowing my obsessions, and I didn’t know who I was without them.
We saw five shows with TRaC; “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” was the third. The first time I saw it, I was intrigued by the tall figure in viscid guyliner and those tight, tight jeans. The second time I saw it, several months later, I was enamored by his penetrating yet boyish eyes and rock star’s confidence. By the third and final time, a week before it closed, I was manic, shaking, crazy for this man who I had Youtubed incessantly and listened to on the train with my eyes closed, mind far away, thinking of his fiancé (Meryl Streep’s daughter), his sense of humor (he was a stand-up comic), the way that every single man with a slim build and dark hair that brushed the roof of the train could, might, possibly be him.
That third time, I finally got to meet him. I stood at the stage door with Dakota, Charlotte, and our friend Julian, craning our necks and shooting big smiles at the rest of the cast to hide what everyone already knew: we were not there for them—we were there for him. It was to be expected, maybe, in a production that hinged so heavily on the presence of one man. Just like the man he played, he was wild, magnetic, perversely attractive with blood splashed across his shirt, yet filled with some darkness that made him all the more Shakespearean and divine. The role required a goof and a god all in one, and he gave both in spades.
We could sense Charlotte and Julian rolling their eyes behind us, but Dakota and I didn’t care. For once, at the apex of our desire, we could meet the focus of it.
He emerged while I was taking a picture with another actor; I saw him out of the corner of my eye, and it took all my willpower not to dash away and spew my fangirl juices all over him.
Julian went first, then Charlotte, then Dakota. I experienced the same symptoms as I did the morning of my AP Euro exam: my palms were sweating, my lips twitching in a nervous dance, my hands and legs vibrating like chainsaws. When finally it was my turn, I stepped forward with my most unhinged, shit-eating grin.
“Could you sign this please? The show was fantastic, really, really amazing. This is my third—and this too?—this is my third time seeing it, and you are just amazing, really, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life, and that last scene was just really, really amazing and so brilliant and my mind is blown every time I see it—do you mind if I take a quick picture?”
That poor man.
But he was not awkward, or nervous, or frantically screaming for his life. He was smiling.
“Yeah, sure, get over here,” he said, and before I knew it I was pulled into the most arresting one-armed hug of my life.
“The paparazzi,” he mused, as all three of my companions held up their cameras. I concentrated on keeping my breathing even as I mirrored the hand he had on my shoulder with one on his back. Even through many layers of clothing and the chill fall air, he was warm. I was surprised at how well we fit together, my 5’4” to his 6’3”, my shoulder on his ribcage, my head against his shoulder. He held me tightly, like an old friend, not an archetype of the creepily fawning teenager whom he must meet hundreds of times a night. Despite the trembles in my legs, I was suddenly at ease—this human contact felt right. I was not looking at his wide shoulders or lazily confident pose or movie-star grin. For 15 seconds, he could be someone I knew. For 15 seconds, I was there.
The cameras flashed, and we vanished.
Obsession is not healthy; I don’t need Ms. Weinwurm or a health textbook to teach me that. The best 15 seconds of my junior year have been the fulfillment of an impossible dream—even though I have fulfilled nothing and remain today as empty as I have ever been. I can see the poster, his signature large and sprawling, from my pillow before the lights go out for the night; the picture of us hangs above my desk, so in those desperate morning hours I have something to smile about. But it is a perverse smile born of a flimsy happiness that comes from a reality that I don’t want to consider.
I could write a dissertation on the origins of my psychological flaws. I could write about once loving sports because my dad loved them; talking to him late at night because he would let me stay up; fearing his voice in anger over the crash of thunder. I could write about the brother who is becoming too much like me, in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons. I could write about my need to protect but be protected, as if I have earned a life so perfect. I could write about how my mother married her sister who is just like her father, and has spent her whole life regretting it.
I could write about Dakota’s parents, who laugh and talk and sleep in the same room and don’t need a locked door to understand each other.
“If he yelled like this before you married him, why did you?”
“Not like this. It wasn’t like this.”
I live on the belief that somewhere there is something more. When I am depressed or overwhelmed or even just bored, I picture myself there. It’s usually in a different time, across oceans, where there is nothing but grass and sky and you could run for days without finding another human being. The unattainable is easy, and perfect, and safe; it does not, every day, find some way to make you love him again, and then every night slam you back to square one.
I find myself there.
There, where we do not say the same things for years, do the same things, but somehow never find the courage or the convenience to make something new.
My loves can become new every day. There is no chance of corruption, or disillusionment, or degradation of what originally makes me look up and away from myself. If there is a scandal or a blemish on their character, what of it? I do not see them except in the images taken by others. If I had to spend one day behind their eyes, maybe I wouldn’t see their world with such a rosy hue. I wouldn’t think so much of their soft eyes or strong arms, but would see that any man is like any other man: flawed, weak, scared, haunted, and a slave to himself.
When they are as real to me as they can ever be, I make them into stories. I know where they are born, and who their friends are—then I fill in the pieces. I give them early happiness with a family who loves them and longs for nothing more than a polite, damaged daughter. I give them a sport to play to make them long and lean, but a humility that keeps their heads from growing. I give them a lust for life and love and a sensibility to know my rights from wrongs. I give them honesty. I give them self-assurance. I give them selflessness to keep me selfish. I give them understanding. I give them convictions, and the strength to see those convictions through. I give them smiling arms and a belly laugh that bears no hint of malice. I give them compassion, and empathy, and broad hands spread wide to keep me from the rain. I give them romance and starlit eyes that look ever outward.
I give to them all of myself in the hope the someday there will be someone there to catch it.
 Repeated twice, through squeaks.
 No hope left.
 Weatherly, now Fassbender too
 The ass-bearing playbill.
 My poster from the original Public Theatre run, before it was extended—five times.
 He is looking increasingly desperate.
 It’s sad, really. I had always prided myself on being a levelheaded, alternative person, who doesn’t bow down to the whims of pop culture or mindless fangirling. And look what I’ve become.
 Holy shit, holy shit, holy shitshitshit!
 In heels.
 I checked
 My health teacher
 and hating them when I began hating him.
 so I would love him more.
Age 17, Grade 12
Stuyvesant High School