One of my favorite novels of all time is the young adult classic, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Leo Borlock tells the story of his junior year of high school. It inevitably turns into the story of his first love with the new, formerly homeschooled sophomore who calls herself, “Stargirl.”
It’s a beautiful tale of nonconformity and kindness. It’s the first book I can remember crying over. I have learned some of my most cherished lessons from Leo and Stargirl’s time together. The ruthless backlash from Mica High that followed in some ways shaped me.
Once I read that Madonna owns Frida Kahlo’s painting, My Birth. She uses it to tell who she can be friends with. She apparently said, “If somebody doesn’t like this painting, then I know they can’t be my friend.”
Stargirl is my My Birth painting.
I’ve come back to Stargirl almost a dozen times in the past few months. I do read it cover to cover but afterward, I am continually seeking a chapter that follows an intense encounter of bullying. It begins,
“This was the start of a period that blurs as I try to recall it. Incidents seem to cascade and merge. Events become feelings, feelings become events. Head and heart are contrary historians. “
Before I started reading Stargirl again as an adult, I had been virtually unaware of how blurry an important period of my life is too. As the presence of my own period of cascading and merging became clearer, the period itself became blurrier. Painfully, I squinted closer at a specific memory.
It was a while ago. I had done something profoundly stupid, entirely my fault. Though I could have prevented it then and there I had no idea how to. The consequences were severe but at first uncertain. During this initial period of uncertainty, someone who I hoped would offer some comfort instead shocked me with their twisted blessing.
“I hope you know that whatever happens to you, you deserve it.”
Their words rattled through my bones and the echoes of them bounced around in my skull. If it weren’t for the beating of my heart, “I am, I am, I am,” I think I might have gone mad.
In desperation for silence, I put down Leo’s story and wrote mine.
Writing my memory was my heart’s work. I felt like a bulimic indulging in that seductive slice of cake. But the luxury of allowing myself to write, to feel ended. Eventually, my head’s work took charge. I made myself read what I had written. Rather than letting myself digest, I purged.
Up came questions of self-doubt and anger. I wondered if that person’s sharp words were ever even said. I wondered if I deserved the comfort I desired. I wondered how Leo could be okay with telling a story he wasn’t entirely sure was true. What was the “truth”?
What is my truth?
Countless times, I’ve flipped to the last page of Stargirl. In vain I’ve hoped there would magically be a new ending. Maybe this time Leo will be removed enough to get the “truth” about his, “period that blurs.”
Unfortunately, that’s not how novels work. If I’m truly on a search for “truth.” Then I must face the fact that Leo is fictional and my past is gone. Leo told the story that felt true to him. His story probably would have been different if he told it later in his life and it definitely would have been different if Stargirl told it.
I’m trying to believe that writing my “truth” – whatever that means anyway – is okay.
I want to acknowledge it’s possible that that person didn’t say those words to me and be okay with that. It’s also possible that, to me, it felt like they might as well have said them and I will try to be okay with that.
If there’s one thing I “deserve,” I hope it’s to be able to have my own story, to have my own truth.
You deserve it too,