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We are not exhibitionists.  We are confessors.  We express excruciating moments with carefree wit.  We use writing as a means to an end, the end being someone else.  If we laugh – if others laugh – those things will leave us.  We can rename those things as if they never were the way they were.

I would not have been so shy that the first day of school was the worst day of my year because my parents named me Lauren, but called me Laurie, and I had to tell my teacher when she called attendance.  I would not have been so afraid to ask to go to the bathroom that I peed in my pants in the library.  I would not be the one who came home on the first day of seventh grade with her bra up around her neck because she didn’t know how to ask her mother how to adjust it.  I would not be the one who asked, mortified, only to hear her mom laugh while telling her friends about it later.

I would not be the one who stole candy from her babysitter’s car.  I would not be the one who was certain that no one liked her.

I would not be the one who ate her way through law school instead of leaving.  I would not be the one whose dad’s cousin raved about her mother’s beauty, then told her she looked just like her father.

I wouldn’t be the one who found a napkin stuck to her boot last night after walking across the bar to the restroom.  I would not be the one who won’t finish writing the novel that tells the truth.  I would not be the one who worries that nobody will comment on this introspective nonsense.  I would not be the one who worries that people will judge.

You won’t be the one who didn’t go to your prom.  Or who was beaten up by a younger kid when older meant stronger.  You will not have been short, fat, frizzy-haired, tall, skinny or a late bloomer.  You will have had perfect skin and teeth.  You will have been friendly with puberty.  You will not be surprised when people like your writing, or think you are pretty or handsome or want to spend time with you.  You will not be the one who ate lunch in the library, or played fantasy games, or collected stamps or could not talk to boys or girls.  You will not be the one who read words but could not say them.

I will be the one who Brian chased on the playground so he could kiss my hand in its red mitten.  I will be the only freshman to have had a part in the school play.  I will be the one whose first submission was published.  I will be the one who makes people laugh when I tell them about the worst things.  The things I think of 20 or 30 years later.  The things that still don’t make me laugh. Not really.

We write ourselves into different stories and then edit.  And edit more.  Until the original is disappeared.  Mostly.  Run your fingers across our scars, knotted and raised.


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Lauren Becker LAUREN BECKER is founder and editor of Corium Magazine. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Tin House, The Los Angeles Review, Wigleaf, and The Rumpus. Her collection of short fiction, If I Would Leave Myself Behind was released by Curbside Splendor in June of 2014. She lives in Austin, Texas.

55 Responses to “The Things We Would Not Be”

  1. You are the one whose words others want to read. You are the one whose work dares to be true. You are the one with the dirty mirror, scars etched in the grey. You will never be silent. You will never be homeless.

  2. margosita says:

    Love it. Glad you hit publish.

  3. Great post Lauren!
    Is there anyone who is really cool and isn’t all those things?

    I’m the one who after peeing in the bathroom of a hip/trendy bar, accidentally tucked her skirt into the back of her CONTROL TOP panty hose (no underwear on, a run in the hose so that my fat ass bubbled out) and walked through the bar totally unaware.

    I’m also the one who got out of a hot tub in a women’s locker room and vomited and then passed out NAKED in her own vomit.

    I”m also the one who at nine-months pregnant wiped out across the marble floor of a department store and landed belly up and unable to move for a few minutes until a teetering ninety-year old man half my pregnancy weight hobbled over and tried (tried, tried, tried!) to counter balance me and pull me up.

    I’m the one who got her period the first day of eighth grade when wearing skin-tight sheer white pants that let that blood flow and spread like a paper towel ad. (And I think that every girl who gets a period is this girl at some point in her life.)

    I could go on forever here. Thanks for sharing your life with us!

  4. i wish i could rewrite those things for you, jessica … some are funny (not so much the pregnant one,) and maybe i only speak for myself, but i think that how we felt when those things happened never really disappears. (btw, i did the tucking the back of the skirt in, but i was wearing leggings. i think the guy who informed me was more embarrassed than i was! thank you for putting yourself out there with me!

  5. Jessica Blau says:

    There should be an alarm on skirts or underpants or something, right? My daughter, a tiny, little thing, did that the other day (leggings, too), but I caught it before we walked out the door.

  6. barry says:

    good stuff lauren. dont sweat it, ive pissed myself so many times i stopped counting.

  7. Greg Olear says:

    Ah, but all of those things are what make you — what make us — interesting. To have peaked in high school is a tragedy.

    Welcome aboard!

    G

  8. I don’t know… part of me thinks that maybe you don’t get to edit as much as you’d like to so the story is more interesting for the other readers.

    Pity the poor narrator.

    • no pity, please! otherwise, i think your assessment is right on, simon. i suspect we think everyone’s self-revisions are better than ours. still, nobody believes i am inherently shy. i am, however, pleased to report that i use the restroom when i pee at the library and learned how to properly adjust any clothing that needs adjustment …

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    You’re right. Confessors, not exhibitionists. I’m still waiting to feel forgiven, though.

    • marni — i think (and I think you know) that you are forgiven. it’s the *feeling* that stays with you. and with me. and with the collective *you* i talked about, i think. we laugh at those things and write about them as though they don’t matter, but the feelings that return with the memories … i am not sure they are ever completely gone. maybe that’s not an entirely bad thing?

  10. Ben Loory says:

    personally i prefer to think of myself as schizophrenic. psychosis has a dignity neurosis somehow lacks.

    i was the flag in the flag day play. i wore a red white and blue shirt and answered questions about my history and design.

    • i hope you still have that shirt. and remember, you *did” have the leading role. also remember that your self-selected schizophrenia has not totally revised the memory of wearing that snazzy shirt. I expect to see it in a fantastic ben loory story in the near future. after it’s been edited a billion times …

      • Ben Loory says:

        actually, now that i think about it, i was only the flag for the first half of the flag day play. karen smith was the flag for the second half. apparently they didn’t think i could handle being the flag alone for the whole thing. whatever. i’ll show them some day.

        • it was probably just a long play and your teachers were concerned about dehydration.

          or karen smith … oh lord, i can’t believe what i was just about to say. i’m sure karen was a very nice girl and there were no casting couch shenanigans.

          i have faith in your capability to be a flag all day, if you wanted. in fact, i would like to see you try.

        • Ben Loory says:

          karen smith was always a precocious girl, but still, it was third grade, so if there were any casting couch shenanigans… well… i don’t even know what to say about that. todd solondz could probably come up with something.

          i hate to let you down, but i’m actually pretty sure that no longer have what it takes to be a flag all day. unless i can be a flag draped over my chair, or lying in my bed. then i could be a flag til the end of time! the flag of my home state of unconsciousness.

  11. Amanda says:

    I *wish* I’d been the kid who peed her pants in the library because she was too scared to ask permission to visit the toilets. Instead, I was the kid who peed her pants in her own chair at her own desk in front of the entire class, lined up in rows, because I was too scared to put up my hand in case the teacher thought I wanted to solve the math, and I didn’t know how to work the conversation back around to the real reason, which was that I just needed to ask and say the word “toilet”.

    All those little agonies–and, the most amazing thing about them isn’t so much that they have incredible half-lives, surviving long into our adulthood; rather, that every one of us has a list of little agonies, and so many things show up on mine, yours, hers, his, hers too, and also that guy’s.

    : )

    • the library was only one example. i had pretty much the same experience as you — suffering worse embarrassment because I was scared to speak.

      after one such accident, my mom washed the “loaner” underwear for me to return to the school nurse. i shoved them in the back of my desk and threw them out at the end of the school year.

      i can be overly sensitive. i thought i might have been the only one whose “little agonies” still visited, though to much lesser degrees. thanks for that last statement, amanda. maybe i’m not the only one who appreciates the recognition.

  12. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    So poignant, Lauren.

    What can’t be redone can at least be reframed. Horrible moments get changed with perspective. Writing is sort of like alchemy. Take bits and pieces, distill something new about one’s life, and see things with humor, understanding, peace, acceptance, etc.

    • hi ronlyn: your summary is lovely. my point is just that, though time and greater life experience put those moments into far more appropriate perspective, sense memory always seems to evoke a little bit — usually quite tiny — of the embarrassment and hurt I felt at those times, and it has definitely served me well in writing fiction! i.e. though not a true story (i’m terrible at science,) writing this one certainly had some truth to it:

      http://www.foundlingreview.com/July2009Issue3Becker.html

      thanks for your thoughtful comments!

  13. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    Lauren,

    After this ending: “We write ourselves into different stories and then edit. And edit more. Until the original is disappeared. Mostly. Run your fingers across our scars, knotted and raised.” I will read everything you write.
    Most of us were you, you know. The cheerleaders and the girls who got the leads in the Pirates of Penzance and the boys who consistently threw the winning touchdown…they don’t write.

  14. you know, i sort of think that even the cheerleaders and quarterbacks might have their own stories they’d like to revise … anyone want to confess?!

    sorry to do this again, but i wrote a tiny piece (just over 100 words) about a *perfect* girl that i think kind of fits your/my observations:

    http://www.keyholemagazine.com/digest-files/2009-10/keyhole-digest-2009-10-interior.pdf
    (see middle of page)

    i have a feeling it’s universal to pick at the scabs of our mistakes. some of us more than others, but a little bit for all. what do you think?

    and thanks so much for the kind words, irene — i don’t take compliments well (surprising?) but i appreciate them and look forward to reading your work! (am new as of last month and have lots of catching up to do …)

  15. Mary says:

    Man, everyone is tying me in knots today. I find this piece warm and moving and comforting. Thanks for writing it.

    • hi mary: knots don’t sound that warm and comforting. i hope they are like arms, protecting you. thanks for reading it.

      • Mary says:

        Hmm. You’re right. Knots don’t sound warm and comforting. I guess I meant that all the pieces on the front page of TNB today are pulling me strongly different directions. It’s a really strong day for TNB, don’t you think?But your piece in particular had that sense of “you are not alone,” and… gosh. sometimes we just NEED that.

        • it IS a strong day for tnb and i haven’t had a chance to comment yet. as for my piece, if anything, i was the one who was reassured i was not alone, and you’re right. sometimes we really just need that …

  16. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Yeah, this piece is so completely great, I hardly know where to begin. I would not be the guy who would just leave it at that.

    • hi nathaniel: wow. i don’t know what to say, either. i didn’t understand your second sentence at first. duh. be that guy — what you said was more than enough. thank you.

  17. Katrina Gray says:

    Lauren–so raw, so real. Thank you for writing what I wish I would have written.

  18. this is why i sometimes think i’m not meant to be a writer – i was like andrew clark in high school…except i was a stud football player not wrestler. i did love to tape guys’ buttcheeks together, in and out of school. i owned that school, man.

    good stuff, lauren. for real.

  19. Angela Woodall says:

    I might be interested in writing about the literary journal mentioned in your bio and “East Bay on the Brain.” If you want to chat about them please e-mail me. I write a column called The Night Owl and have wanted to talk about the literary activities in Oakland now that we have more bars than bookstores.

  20. Ethel Rohan says:

    Wonderful essay, Lauren, thank you.

  21. [...] The Things We Would Not Be by Lauren Becker on The Nervous Breakdown [...]

  22. Gloria says:

    When I speak these truths in my writing, I do it with slap-in-the-face honesty. I tell the thing that hurt the most, like squeezing puss out of a festering wound. I do it first for myself and to pay homage to The Truth, then I go back through and worry away the parts that may make a reader shy away from it. I’ve always thought about writing the parts that will truly offend the people who were there with me (read: those who would sue me for seditious libel or slander) in my someday work of fiction. Like Anne Lamott advises, I will give them all teeny-tiny pee pees. To myself I will give ultra-toned biceps and wisdom – both of which I’m still working on in real life.

    This was beautiful to read. Thank you.

    • the teeny-tiny pee-pees thing is great. i think mine get a little bigger every time i write the truth. i’ve found those things i write that people respond to most are the things that include squeezing out at least some of that pus. i squeezed out a lot in this piece and am grateful to people like you who didn’t judge, who didn’t laugh without sympathy/empathy and who told about their own stuff. i am jealous of your toned biceps. i’ve given up on those but i’m there with you working on the wisdom thing.

  23. Tony DuShane says:

    uh, get that novel finished! great stuff.

    i read ur pee story, now you gotta read mine: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/tdushane/2009/11/life-affirmations-of-a-suicidal-writer/

    great seein you last night.

  24. Ducky Wilson says:

    Really beautiful. Thanks.

  25. [...] Lauren Becker was kind enough to share an essay she wrote for the Nervous Breakdown with me, and I feel it captures the why of writing these pieces. It’s called The Things We Would Not Be. [...]

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