Paper People

I finished reading Paper Towns. That’s a big thing for me, considering that I never finish the books I put down halfway through. Last summer I tried to read it. Probably the summer before that, too. I love to read, but I also suck at it. I get bored easily. I get distracted. But, I pushed through because I told my closest friend that I would.

So I did.

The ending is what got me. Because although I am late to the party (like nine years late) and I’ve seen the movie a few times, it was the type of ending I needed exactly when I needed it. Sometimes things mean more to you if you discover them during a certain time in your life. This was one of those things.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with Paper Towns. The main character, Q, has always admired a girl, Margo, from afar. They spend one thrilling night together, she leaves weeks before high school graduation, and he tries to find her through clues she leaves. When he finally does find her a thousand miles away, he realizes that he was in love with the Margo he imagined, not the girl she actually is.

I think that’s the main idea of the book — that people aren’t always who you think they are. The people around us live fully complex lives, but we fill in ideas of what they’re like, and when we actually meet them, our hopes fall down because they’re different.

What’s weird about that, is I myself am more paper than I am real. People imagine me a certain way just like I imagine them a certain way.  And that isn’t what terrifying to me. What’s terrifying to me is that sometimes I get to see people as they actually are– they magically turn from paper people to three-dimensional people — I learn all of their secrets, and share things with them I’ve never shared with anyone else —

And then they leave.

Usually, they leave for normal reasons. We both get busy, and we lose contact. And while they were once beautiful, real, three-dimensional people they fade to paper once again. Because although maybe at one time I knew them, people change. I change. And all that’s left are the memories. Unless our paths intertwine again, all that remains of them is the idea I have of them. They’re only living the life I imagined them to live in my world, and more than likely, that’s not the one they’re really living.

I think that’s even scarier than not knowing someone and imagining them to be a certain way. I’ve done that before, and it’s not fun when I find out someone I thought I’d get along with isn’t the perfect person I thought they were. But finding something real and then losing it — getting a glimpse into how someone really is, and then not staying in touch — that’s scary.

I have a hard time not making assumptions about these people I meet who return to paper. Maybe he’s happy with his new girlfriend. Maybe she’s all stuck-up now. But how do I know? All I see is their one-dimensional shadows. Memories are important. But they get twisted. They fade. Little details get filled in with gray paint.

Time heals. But it is also cruel.

I imagine people I used to know in a way they’re not. People begin to image me the way they think I should be — not the way I really am. But I am so much more than a paper girl.

I’m living a life people don’t imagine. And when you throw social media into the game, real and fake gets a lot more tangled. I try to be genuine online, but really, this isn’t me. Even this blog, my words that occasionally spill out — this isn’t me. This is what I want you to see. And it’s not because I’m trying to hide some part of myself deep inside. Rather, I don’t trust the internet with my problems because I’d rather trust real people. I want my best friend to sneak onto my top bunk in the middle of the night to hear about why I’m sad. I want to hear every nasty, difficult detail of her life. I want to give people hugs, and sing songs with them, and go on adventures, and cry with them when it’s all over.

If I put all of myself out on the internet — if I become more real and less paper to the many people who get ideas of me — my genuineness becomes less special between me and the people in real life who I’m close to. Even if I tried harder, I’d never be my full self on the internet — only a shadow of myself. I’d rather be a paper girl to the world and real girl to the people I’m close to than a real girl who shows glimpses of herself to everyone.

It is strange to be paper. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought of myself that way until now. In some ways it’s awful. But in other ways, I’m happy to reserve who I really am for the people I really care about. I’m sure the thought will always bother me a little. But right now, I’m okay with it.

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