Sometimes Alice couldn't help falling in love. It wasn't the type of love that had been worshipped in hundreds of years of literature and music; it was different. There weren't any romantic declarations or practiced speeches. There was simply what she felt, and that was all.
It was always unexpected. She would be sitting in class and suddenly there it was. Someone would raise their hand and say something so worthy of her respect she couldn’t help it. She began to love them. She would go to great lengths just to be near them, waiting for another gem of irreproachable wisdom to hold onto for a few days. Of course, they would never know; they would never even suspect how she felt or what she did. She formed attachments that lasted for years without the other person having the faintest idea about them.
Other people’s words were not all that affected her in this way; their actions served just as well. Anything that required more bravery than she possessed was, in her mind, worthy of admiration. But that wasn't all it was. Alice was capable of loving someone she did not know. Really loving them. She could hold them in her bones, withstanding any kind of injury they might do her. She could be exposed to the worst character flaws imaginable and still be able to remember the spark of good she had once witnessed; the spark that led that person into her life, unknowingly changing it forever. How could this person ever be unworthy of her forgiveness?
She hated it. Who wanted to be that person, the one that others could walk over? The one that couldn't hold a grudge? Wasn't obstinacy a sign of strength? Alice wanted to believe that she was independent, but it simply wasn't true. She needed people to be good more than she needed anything else. Thus, she let those in her life get away with murder.
Every morning she woke up hopeful that it would finally be the day of her breakthrough. Maybe she would get the recognition she so desired, the value and respect that she herself often gave away for free. This was what she thought about when she got dressed in the morning. This was why she continued to spend so much time on her hair and makeup, despite her total lack of human contact. Her day-to-day experience was disappointing, but the possibilities remained endless. There was still enough hope to get her out of bed.
It took a little while for it to set in that she was still alone. Doubts began to fill her mind as she walked to class. Her hand reached to open the door. There was that small feeling of mystery, the idea that the unknown awaited on the other side. Maybe today things would be different.
As she entered the room, people looked up from whatever they were doing. It was so brief; just one moment in time. Their eyes connected with hers and her stomach flipped over. Please see me, she thought, Please just see me. Please smile or say something or even glare or frown. Please just acknowledge the fact that I am really here.
But as quickly as they glanced up, they would glance down. She would have to accept her status as a specter in the corner of the room. Alice made her way to a desk as distant as possible from everyone else. She sat there and pretended to have something else to do, something like reading or studying. People chatted with each other as they waited for the professor to arrive, laughing and generally raising their voices. For the most part, Alice could tune them out; but never completely. Her discomfort continued to rise. Then the lecture would finally begin and she could hide behind the enforced silence.
When it was over, Alice raced out. She didn't stay behind to remark on the topic of discussion or ask the professor a question. She didn't want to face her solitude any more than she had to. When she got back to her room, she could pretend that she was okay with the way things were. But she had to make it back first.
Northern California wasn't always as picturesque as it was presented to out-of-staters. While the climate was usually fairly mild and predictable, there were periods of winter that were almost unbearably bleak. The sky remained grey, and the wind blew the rain sideways. Alice had difficulty functioning when it was like this. The water soaked through her clothes and affected her insides in a way that she had never been able to explain.
She made it out of the storm and up to her room. When Alice closed the door behind her, she shut out a world. She peeled off her wet clothing and left it in a heap on the floor. She would deal with it later. Fighting her way across campus had drained all her energy. She wanted sleep. It was the middle of the day, but she wanted to curl up in a ball and feel nothing for a little while. She slipped into her bed and pulled the covers over her chilled skin.
Alice had a particular way to organize her thoughts before she fell asleep. It involved her incredible imagination and voracious capacity for story.
She had never had a safe home to return to, or even somewhere where she felt she could be herself. Her reality had always revolved around shame and repression and staying isolated so that nobody was forced to see who she really was.
Instead of forming connections with other human beings, Alice constructed new realities. She created her own false history that became steadily more elaborate until she almost believed it. Then it simply existed. It became its own entity, one that she could visit on a whim. It was especially helpful in times of distress, when it became a place she could go to escape for a little while. Alice eventually grew bored of any one story and discarded it, spending the next few days crafting a new one.
First she is mysterious and strong, the girl that everyone wonders about. People pass and can sense her pain, but don't know how to reach her. Finally, a guy about her age sees her and tries to find a way through the obstacles she has constructed. He looks like everyone and no one, and she knows how he feels about her. He loves her, the way that she loves people without really knowing them. He has found something incredible in her. At first she resists, but then she lets him in. She tells him everything that happened to her, and he is shocked because he had no idea.
She turns over in her bed as she rides this wave of emotion. She hears the crack of desperation in her voice as she speaks the words, feels tears fill her eyes. As much as it hurts, she can't let it go.
But then Alice reaches the point she always does with this story. She hears her father's voice in the back of her head, pulling her down. She shouldn't want to have a white knight. She doesn't need to be rescued. If there is one thing that she has learned through the years of living under his influence, it is this: she does not need to be rescued.
So she switches over, discarding the fragments of this persona and assuming another. This one is more vivid. It is one of her favorites.
It begins with some natural disaster, a hurricane or an earthquake that causes widespread destruction. Somehow, Alice makes it out alive. Stripped of all her loved ones, Alice wanders through the wreckage of the city, feeling lost in her immeasurable grief. Then she comes across a house. It is filled with a varying number of children who need her help. She doesn't like children, but the choices are easy. She will take care of them. She will advocate for them. Everyone will make it out alive.
And she'll do it alone.
It occurs to her that, even in her most outrageous fantasies, she is still alone. She shifts uncomfortably at this thought. She wonders what this means about her, this relentless need to prove that she can make it by herself.
Alice drifts away on thoughts of devastation and imagined heroics. She begins to let go and the line between truth and all-consuming fiction blurs as she falls into the oblivion of sleep.