This Belongs to the Famous Sophia Lucido Johnson, 1999

When I’m home for the holidays (as I am now), I like to open the desk drawer that’s second from the top and take out one of the old diaries that’s in there. I have dozens of them; they’re weird artifacts and they appear so differently to me now than I thought they would. I mean, when I wrote them, I think I had some idea that my life was a performance for an audience that didn’t know it was supposed to be watching me. I kept the diaries for the moment when the audience realized they’d been looking the wrong way all along, and they wanted to catch up. I kept a diary almost every day between the ages of seven and … well, I still keep a diary almost every day. 

When I read them now, I look for clues. What did I hope for then? Did I find it? Would that Sophie be happy with this Sophie?

Today I sat down with the one from eighth grade. Eighth grade was the first year of the rest of my life. It was the year I decided I would only wear skirts, because I was sick of feeling fat in pants. It was they year I home-dyed my hair blue (without bleach) the night before promotion so that the blue sort of tinted my very pale skin, and I wore a black satin dress my mom made for me, and I looked like a failed goth. I was in love with Joe Sackett (gay, but I didn’t know it), and I was in love with Alex (last name redacted, because he doesn’t want me to be writing about him, I am quite sure). I was in love with the idea of being in love. But eighth grade was different than seventh grade because eighth grade was the year I decided to survive.

Maybe this year comes for everyone. For a long time, you don’t know that surviving is what you are doing; you just wake up in the morning and go to bed at night and do the things you like and don’t think too much about it. And then at some point you realize that everyone will die. And at that point, you have to decide that you are going to survive anyway, even though life doesn’t make any sense at all.

In seventh grade, Mrs. Belanger told our class that becoming an adult meant understanding you weren’t the center of the universe. I wrote it in my notebook: “I am not the center of the universe.” It was the saddest sentence to me for the longest time. I would look at it and sigh; immediately after, I let my life kind of slow to a trudge.

But in eighth grade I thought, “Oh well, so I’m not the center of the universe. I am going to do this life thing anyway, and I’m going to do it right.” And so I still feel a lot like my eighth grade self, except with more practice, and with one other noted (essential) exception: Now, I have found my tribe.

My hunch is that life doesn’t end up being about you at all, in the end; it’s about these other people and animals who teach you about love, and you learn that love is all there is, and then you see the universe, finally, as a thing without a center.

And that becomes the most beautiful, impossible, perfect, ugly — and only — truth.