I’m in the process of transcribing old (16+ years old) poetry I have handwritten in a journal to my computer so that I have digital copies of everything I have written. I started at the beginning; the first poem is about a heartbreaking encounter with my crush at 18. The second and third are about 2 other crushes (is one love ever enough?). Finally, though, something interesting comes out in the fourth poem titled “Roses and Shoelaces.” The poem is as terrible as the title mostly, and I remember writing it. I began by just writing about what I could see in my room, but it developed into something more introspective. In the fifth short stanza I write, “Oh, Emma—how adamant I was out of fear/ and truth made me silent with realization/and who is more miserable/the person who makes mistakes or/the person who never has the opportunity to?/…/sometimes I wonder if my/blood still pulses/only my unsatisfied and unacknowledged/passion proves my existence.”
This was after my Madame Bovary epiphany (which you can read about in my post “Art at 18: Three Vignettes here). It was a big moment for me–my first adult epiphany. Maybe it was depression; my epiphanies often feel ephiphantic only because of depression. This one took place in my senior English classroom in highschool. And I can still see the room in my mind, but only set up in the specific Socratic circle we were working in that day. If my teacher was sitting at 12 o’clock, then I was at 4. And it hit me so hard. I wanted to cry. I was Emma Bovary, too.
In the poem above I cover it all–I was adamantly, vocally opposed to everything that she represented until I felt like I was slapped in the face by the truth that I was everything I hated about her. And then I shut up. I was stunned into silence.
But then I get to the real meat of the poem: “and who is more miserable/the person who makes mistakes or/the person who never has the opportunity to?”
I felt like I was Emma Bovary–I had so much that I felt that I could not express. I wanted to experience the world rather than stay stuck in the bubble of my hometown and upbringing. And I felt like I couldn’t. I couldn’t go out and live. There were already too many rules holding my back, and I would have to break them to live as myself. And I felt that I was more miserable than Emma Bovary. I should have known then that I was headed for dark times. I felt that I was as miserable as she was, despite all the “good” things that I had in my life. I was so unfulfilled. I felt so empty. I had friends, family, comfort, and yet I didn’t have happiness.
Not long after I read Madame Bovary, I read another book that was very important to me: Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow. A quote from that book does a better job of describing how I was feeling than I can: “My soul is like a pawn shop. I mean it’s filled with unredeemed pleasures….” I felt like I had collected so many dreams that I could never fulfill. I knew that they “broke the rules,” but they were my dreams. And even if they were mistakes, I thought that I ought to be able to make them.
And I felt so stiffled–I felt like I was being smothered to death. I questioned if being alive was enough to feel alive. I wondered if I was living or just walking around dead. But my heart longed for more. My dreams of living my passions kept me going, just like my music and my online friends kept my going for the next 9 months. I felt like I could be my Emma Bovary self with them. I felt like I was accepted. And it felt so wonderful, but I was also secretive and guilt ridden. I felt like I was living a double life–the life that made me happy and the life that I was supposed to live.
And when I felt like I could no longer keep up the charade–when I felt like I also couldn’t have what I truly wanted–I went full Emma Bovary.
I guess I write all this because it is like putting together a puzzle. There were so many clues about what was happening to me. There were so many opportunities to see the pieces and get help, but no one could see the finished puzzle. No one knew what all those pieces would be when they were all put together. And one different piece could have changed everything. One change and the outcome could have been different. Or maybe not. There is no way to know now.
Now I can only work with what I have. Now I can piece together my story, but I can’t change it. I can only change the future by making change in the present. But I can also look to the past to determine how to act in the present in order to get to the future I want. I am still an Emma Bovary, I think, as awful as she is. I try to be less selfish, but my heart is still like a pawn shop.
Live the life you want. Make the change you need to be happy, but also know that if depression is lurking in your life, then it will overcomplicate everything. It will lead you down dark paths. It will offer you what you want and then take away everything you ever had. Don’t let depression control you. Take control of your life and your dreams. And maybe you won’t be an Emma Bovary.
I also wrote a poem on this topic. You can read “Mistakes” here.