Monday, July 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Helen

Such a funny moment this afternoon when I logged into my account and found an email from Wattpad, with "Happy Birthday, Helen" in the title.

For just a moment I was very confused. Then it all fell into place.

When I set up my Wattpad account online, I decided that Paulette and Helen should have two separate accounts, therefore Helen should be considered a different person to myself. When I pondered what her birthday would be, the first thing that came to mind was the birthday of someone I used to know...someone I've pondered for a long time about being the protagonist of a story hidden in the recesses of my mind yet to be written.

Just this June passed I in fact attended my High School reunion with this story in the back of my mind. Returning to the scene of the crime, I had hoped to stir up the feelings enough to write the story. It was an uncanny feeling, sitting in the car with my husband, right on top of the very ground where the boys' dorm of my boarding school had once stood. I snapped a few photos, but it was a 'going through the motions' type of scenario, because nothing pictured vividly in the back of my mind even existed anymore. Just grass where we once used to line up for dinner, and concrete where the cool waters of a ground-in pool used to entertain us on the hot summer evenings. And behind me, my husband - representing my life as it is now, and everything that has happened to me over the years in between then and now.

What I realised more than anything on that trip, was that although we all told each other "Oh, you haven't changed much since high school", because physically we recognised each other, even painted with more than a few more years' experience on our faces, we really have changed. Twenty-odd years, between high school and turning forty, includes so many milestones. Study, work, relationships, marriage, children...all have moulded us into what we are now, and while we may retain our basic personality traits that make us recognisable to those who knew us from 'yester-year', we still have changed.

It was then that I realised my story would be different. My main character might recognise her protagonist when she sees him, but they will not know each other. It won't be like they were sitting under a light on the tennis courts when they should have been inside doing their homework (Yes, Mum, that's possibly why I didn't excel as well at school as you hoped I would, but I promise it was probably one of the worst things I did with boys then!). They will be strangers. It won't be a memory of something that never happened in High School that she had hung onto all these years with regret that will suddenly bridge the gap and make them fall into each others' arms like it was yesterday. That would be cheesy and disappointing to the reader, and I certainly don't need that.

So, thank you Helen, for sharing your birthday with the person who made me reflect on this. I hope his life has been as rich as mine (and Helen's!) to this point. Oneday, unless I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I'm going to imagine just what did happen to him in the twenty years since I saw him last, but like many of my characters I pluck from real life, he won't be recognisable on the page!

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