by Maranda Elizabeth
I started writing before I knew how to write. When our mom had to go to work but couldn’t afford to have someone take care of us, she’d bring my twin and I to the office with her, and give us blank paper and pens to keep us amused. We’d hang out in the waiting room, scribbling our idea of cursive, sending each other unintelligible short stories and workplace documents with fancy signatures at the bottom. When I did learn printing and cursive, I wrote stories inspired by The Baby-Sitter’s Club and Sailor Moon; sometimes my stories had talking animals.
As a teenager, I continued writing, but my stories were notably (what some might refer to as) scarier. I wrote about teenage murderers who always got away with their crimes. I remember one story where a girl dug out the heart of her victim with a knife and kept it in the freezer. There were many stories of school stabbings, which usually resulted in the murderers running away to a nearby town, inventing new identities, and getting jobs at 24-hour grocery stores to take care of themselves. They were about teenagers who were on their own for the first time and no longer had any rules to follow. They got away with murder because I hoped that one day, I could, too.
I left school when I was fourteen, before I finished Grade Nine. I didn’t have any friends, so I spent a lot of time reading, writing, and hanging out at the library. I didn’t have a computer, so all my stories were handwritten. I started finding pen pals, and they became my friends.
The people in my stories were my friends, too. I didn’t know what true friendship was like, so I imagined my own by way of fiction. My friends had names like Emily, Violet, and Candy, and they were all girls with hard lives, looking for escape. They had diaries, guitars, and knives.
I’m twenty-seven now, and I still create friends through fiction. I’m not so concerned with getting away with murder anymore, but I do still write stories that, while detailing ideal friendships and vulnerable conversations, also contain violence, trauma, and so-called “scary” things. Because those are the real things that, for me, are often easier to deal with through fiction.
When I began writing my first novel, I still had a lot of pen pals and long-distance friends, but not a lot of kindred spirits in my own town who I could hang out with whenever I felt like it. I found cash for Greyhound tickets so I could go to zinefests, but mostly I stayed home, alone. If I wanted to spend time with my friends, I instead turned to Ruby and Maria, the two friends I’d created in yet another story, and I gave them a stolen cup of coffee or a bottle of cheap wine, and we shared our lives with one another. I wrote the novel I wanted to read, created the friends I wished I’d had. I asked myself what kind of book I wished I’d been able to turn to when I was a teenager, and then I wrote it.
That novel became magic for me in many ways. I invented a small town within which Ruby and Maria could grow up and eventually find each other, and I invented an address for their apartment, where they rented the second floor of an old brick house and filled it with thrift store furniture and a library of queer and feminist books. Around the time I finished writing my novel, the street address I created for my story came up for sale in my real life hometown. I ripped the listing out of the newspaper and kept it in my diary. When I walked by the house, it had the bay window with warped glass I’d described, and the same small porch and cramped foyer. A red brick addition was built on the side, and there was a black iron lamppost on the path to the front door.
I dreamed of moving in, even though I, of course, had no intention of living in my hometown once again. But a homeopathic doctor I’d been seeing sporadically for treatment of fibromyalgia did buy the house; she both lives there and runs her practice there, and so I did eventually get to see a little of the inside of the house, and compare it to the home I had fictionalized. I told her this strange story, and she told me she was working on a book, too – so the fictional house and the real life house were both the homes of writers.
The most common response I’ve heard to my novel is, “I wish I could be friends with those girls.” Me, too. I guess I am, in a way, and perhaps you are, too. We can keep them with us in our backpacks, on our shelves, and in our minds – we can become them in small ways, find friends who remind us of them, and open the pages when we need them again. This is not just true of my novel, but of any book.
Maranda Elizabeth is a writer, zinester, introvert, and genderqueer. They’ve toured throughout Canada and the U.S. and recently published a zine anthology, ‘Telegram: A Collection of 27 Issues’, and a queer young adult novel, ‘Ragdoll House’. Find more at marandaelizabeth.com and @marandatelegram.