backstory

As its name indicates, a backstory is the story behind the story. Though it does not usually concern the present tense of the main narrative, the backstory provides insight to the main narrative by contextualizing the events of the main plot. A story that includes an extensive backstory tells you not just who and what, but offers hints as to how and why.


Photo by freeway

When I started writing posts for ABDPBT, I did not think I was writing my autobiography. But as time went by, I found myself writing more and more about events and people from the past. I created the "backstory" category as a catch-all for posts that concern my life in the past. You will notice that there is a lot of cross-classification between "backstory" and the "fiction. sorta." category; this is because in some posts, I have fictionalized people, places, and events to varying degrees.

Some of my favorite posts from this category are listed below:

The full archives for "backstory" are listed below. Have fun poking around in the cobwebbed catacombs of my youth--you might want to pack some prozac just in case.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

by anna on January 4, 2011

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My brother and I had a chance to convene this past week on the topic of our family, my relationship to them, and the fact that, basically, I am a shithead with severe emotional limitations who consistently disappoints everyone around me.

It’s great when he can fly in from New York, and we get a chance to share this special time together.

In all seriousness, my brother and I are pretty close. I think it’s to do with having shared a mutual traumatic experience. I’m just kidding, Beaux. (My brother’s name is not actually Beaux, but that is actually what I call him — at first this drove him nuts, but now he has accepted it as part of dealing with me. Kind of like Diet Coke, bad driving, and Morrissey. Mini knows my brother only as “Uncle Beaux.”)

And actually, the closeness between my brother and myself is significant, given my general curmudgeonliness, and the rather glaring strikes he has against him, viz. 1) the fact that he is an engineer, 2) the fact that he has described himself as being “not much of a reader,” and 3) his stubborn insistence upon being a goddamn fucking apologist peacemaker all of the time.

My little brother is getting married this spring, and I am thrilled for him. As usual, though, an upcoming wedding in the family brings up a whole host of dormant issues among the rest of us.

++++++++++++

Sigh.

What is my problem? What IS my problem?

Because I must at least acknowledge — if only for a moment — that it is I (and only I) who has the problem here. Even if at first glance I do not believe this to be the truth, I am not so self-deluded as to not acknowledge the following facts:

  1. The family into which I was born contains four people;
  2. Of those original four, all four are still living;
  3. Of those original four, none of the four are still living together;
  4. Of those original four, I suspect that at least two consider me to be a mostly unreasonable and difficult person;
  5. Of those original four, one remains silent and/or noncommittal as to his/her feelings regarding my status as a “mostly unreasonable and difficult person”;
  6. Of those original four, one attempts to not get “in the middle of things,” but if you ask me, still tends to veer more towards the side of the other two; and
  7. As one of the original four, I acknowledge myself to be a somewhat difficult person, but not unreasonable, and certainly no more so (nay! possibly far less so?) than at least two of the other three).

Still, friends, the numbers! The numbers are against me. This troubles me. I wrote “a story” last week about how “a girl” would always be looking for somebody to tell her that she was right, in spite of a lack of an authoritative voice agreeing with her. Adulthood for me has been about reliving that moment, over and over again — trying to convince myself that I am right in the face of multiple indices that I am wrong. It is not that I am operating under a delusion that I am going to always be right. The problem for me, now and always, is sorting out those times in which I really am wrong from the times in which I just think that I am wrong, because I am so used to being told that I’m wrong all the time.

++++++++++++

Here’s a hypothetical for you.

Let’s say you are somebody who has developed a mechanism for keeping people from hurting you. The thing you did was that each time they hurt or disappointed you, you would cut off access to a piece of yourself from that person, emotionally speaking, so that each time they did something you did not like, the power they had to hurt you became a little bit less. It was not something you did consciously at first, and in fact it wasn’t until later in life that you even realized you were doing it at all. By that time, it was kind of too late to do anything about it. Because by that time, over the course of many years, your relationship had already become what it was going to be, through the give and take of two people’s bullshit, over the course of years.

Life went on, and you reached your early twenties, and a relationship had become fairly stunted through the fault of two parties — the somebody and the other person, because there are at least two sides to any story, but we only have access to yours here.

Now there’s a thing you’ve gotten yourself into that is a giant mess, a disaster. This mess is completely of your own making, and you know it. But you need help with because, well, you are a mess. You are a disaster. And you turn to that relationship, the stunted one, because even though it is stunted it is still a primary one, and quite honestly you don’t know where else to go. And you do get help. You want to be very clear: you get some very crucial help, at a critical time. But that help comes with conditions and limitations, and it is parceled out in the manner of an essential basic requirement. It does the job, but it falls short of the emotional support that you craved (hoped for? against hope? even if you had no right? given the status of the relationship? to hope for it?). And in that moment, something clicked into place for you, an understanding of sorts — but also a door closing, probably forever, after that moment, even if it would take years for you to realize this had happened.

Slowly, over the course of a decade or more, you would then start doing the things that would make people call you unreasonable and difficult. Sending birthday gifts, but neglecting to call on the actual day. Going several weeks without calling at all. Failing to notice if someone stopped calling you. Not attending various events. Forgetting things. Not doing as much to participate as you once had done. You don’t feel good about any of this, but it is easier to not think about it, so that is what you do. You start to think that maybe you are unreasonable and difficult. But then thinking that of yourself makes you angry, because you feel like if that is the truth — if you are unreasonable and difficult, then it is because you were made to be that way.

When the anger gets the best of you, then you start in with the blame. You start thinking that maybe your own issues and peccadilloes had put the final touches on your own unreasonableness and difficulty, but that surely somebody had to have helped you with the broad strokes, because they would have been laid down at an age when your tiny arms would not have been able to lift the brush on your own.

But most of the time, there isn’t any anger or blame. There is just guilt, and the earnest desire for people to stop expecting you to become somebody you were never meant to be.

Best Of The Best

by anna on December 21, 2010

When she was a child, her parents would dress her up in branded clothing from the university where they had met. They would take her along to football games, on pilgrimages back to the campus that she began to think of as a holy land of sorts, littered as it was with beer cups and demonstration flyers, and filled with erudite View definition in a new window people carrying large books and highlighters in colors they did not carry in the stationers back home.

Here is the Kappa house, they would say, there is the student union. This is the lecture hall that had hosted the zoology course for which he would always need to borrow her mother’s notes. Her mother had always taken excellent notes. At some point, her brother came along and another set of branded clothing was procured, and they became a family wandering the hallowed halls of lives long past.

She was a child, and she did not understand how the world worked. But she had determined that whatever college was, it must be very important. And she thought that, when the time came, whatever college she chose, would have to be the best. So much depended on it. One day she heard about Harvard, and she announced to them her intention to go there because she had heard on good authority that it was the best of the best.

Her mother told her how expensive it would be to attend a school like Harvard. Her father laughed. He told her that people did not just decide to go to Harvard — it was difficult to go to Harvard. Everybody wanted to go to Harvard. He told her that for her whole life, everywhere she went, there would always be somebody better than she was, smarter than she was, and that if she only wanted the best of the best, she would only always be disappointed, and she would never get what she wanted.

She thought long and hard about what her father had told her, not wanting to believe what he said, but feeling she had no choice. He was her father. As far as her experience had taught her, he was the smartest person in the world. She looked around for somebody to tell her that, in this case, her perception was right, and his perception was wrong. But that person was not there.

In moments of uncertainty, she would continue to look for that person, in one form or another, for the rest of her life.

She looked at the branded university clothing piled up in her closets, collected years before she understood the promise she was implicitly giving by agreeing to wear it on the annual trips to the university where her parents had met. She thought about what she could do, if she couldn’t go to Harvard — if she wasn’t going to be good enough for Harvard, what could she do, she wondered? And she started ripping up all of the clothes she could find, shredding them into tiny pieces, vowing then and there, that if she did nothing else, she would never go to that school, even if it meant that she would end up being the worst of the worst.

After they divorced, she found out that her parents had never even dated while at the university. As it turns out, they had only been distantly acquainted while in school; to her mother, her father had only been the kind of person you know well enough to lend your zoology notes to, and then when you meet again it is like you are meeting for the first time. They married after graduation. The campus trips had been constructions, but if there had been any castles built, it had been the little girl as the architect, for the two of them did have fond memories of college life that they wanted desperately to share with their children, even if history dictated that it could never be one in which they spent that college life together.

As for the little girl, she never did go to Harvard. Instead, she went to the school across the bay from the school where her parents had (not) met. And though she never became the best of the best, she never could quite get herself to stop trying. The effort was long and frustrating, with many pitfalls. Along the way, she learned to parcel herself out in pieces, only giving parts of herself to people whom she felt deserved them, withholding herself from people when she could not bear to give any more. There were those times when she felt like she wanted to take things away from people, when she wanted to rip up the metaphorical sweatshirts and stuff them in people’s faces. But even on those hard days she would try to remind herself that this was not the worst she had seen, not by far.

Waikiki? When You Could Las Vegas?

by anna on October 14, 2010

The first time I remember visiting Las Vegas, I was about to go into eighth grade. I was really into U2′s The Joshua Tree, which was oddly appropriate for the family driving vacation my family was taking that summer across the Southwestern United States. An early stop was to be in Las Vegas, and I was skeptical. Because the state of Nevada has always made me skeptical.

Waikiki? when you could Las Vegas? the billboards for the Tropicana Hotel kept questioning us on the road there, and it became an absurd philosophical conundrum between my brother and I — a way to bond with one another across the distance of almost four years and the expanse of the back seat of the brown Peugeot station wagon we were forced to share. Who buys French cars? Waikiki? when you could Las Vegas?

We had never been to Waikiki, my brother and I, but we had been to Kauai the summer before. And moreover, we had been to South Lake Tahoe, Carson City, Reno. Even then, we felt more than qualified to say, Waikiki? I’ll tell you why. Because it’s fucking Waikiki.

Still, for the whole trip, there was no end to the amusement:

Waikiki?
Yes, Why? Why, indeed?

Absurdity united us. Back then, it may have been the only thing that could.

This must have been at the beginning of the renaissance of New Las Vegas, before Las Vegas became what it is now, the Disney version of Las Vegas. The Tropicana was, if not Waikiki, a lot closer to it than we had expected. There were water slides and pools and things to do that were maybe not designed specifically for kids, but they were at least kid tolerant. You could swim up to a blackjack table and drink a virgin pina colada, and maybe it wasn’t legal strictly speaking, but it was the early eighties, and nobody really cared, particularly if you were sitting with your dad.

I remember wandering around the grounds of the Tropicana by myself, thinking about topics that are the in the usual purview of the tweenage girl (e.g. How am I going to keep this tan up for back to school if I have to be in the car for two whole weeks straight?! and I’ve GOT to find another tube of Palé by L’Oreal on this trip! None of the stores in California have it! OMG!). There were two boys around my age that I kept running into, ostensibly by chance. I thought one of them was kind of cute but the other one always wore a tank top and had a bad haircut, and seemed like he wanted something. One day, I got in the elevator and the one with the bad haircut and the tank top got in the elevator after me. I immediately got out of the elevator and ran away. Why do the guys who like me always have to have the bad haircuts and the tank tops, I thought? Waikiki? when you could Las Vegas?

We stayed a few days, and overall it was enjoyable, a pleasant trip, and that in itself was strange. But Nevada is strange. It sneaks up on you. When I think of Nevada, I first think of the strangeness of its geography, the way that it forms a neat diagonal edge on the side of California that always made it the easiest state to find in my United States map puzzle. Then I remember a line from an early Facts of Life episode — because all of my cultural referents must hearken back to early eighties sitcoms in the manner that real authors use the Greeks or scripture — in which Blair Warner says that the only people who live in Nevada are “compulsive gamblers and divorcees.” These days, compulsive gamblers and divorcees can live anywhere: they no longer need to go to Nevada to hide their sins. Besides, the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” slogan was always just a publicity stunt: the first thing you notice when you show up in Vegas, other than those ridiculous foot long slushy things (Why would you walk around with those as an adult? Waikiki? when you could Las Vegas?), is that everyone has a camera, and everyone is sharing exactly what they are doing, with whom, and how, and when, and why.

Nevada will always make me skeptical. But it’s also the kind of thing that can sneak up on you, scare the crap out of you, and then make you realize you were looking at things the totally wrong way. Waikiki? Why not?