The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower ★★★★★

When I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the cinema in 2012, I was 17. I was just about to begin my senior year of high school. This would be my first time in the same school environment for more than one year at a time, the first time I hadn't struggled in school to the point of a breakdown. I was happy, but I wasn't celebrating; I was mostly worried about the fact that I didn't have any friends.

To set the scene further: in 2012, I knew I was some kind of queer. At the time I had been mentally describing myself for a while as questioning. I thought I was a strange boy who wanted to look like Greta Gerwig for some reason, and I was pretty much exclusively into women but really, really didn't want to call myself "straight." I spent most of my time with my then-partner, who'd lend me flowy scarves and nail polish and let me be "the girl in the relationship." After two years of catcalling and harassment, though, these privileges were confined to stolen moments in bedrooms. I no longer wore the scarves to school.

After two years at two different weird alternative high schools in my dead-end Southwest Washington town, I'd lucked my way into a program that would allow me to take all my classes at the local community college. The advantage of this was that school no longer felt like gears were grinding together in my head all the time; the disadvantage was that I put a lot of distance between myself and the friends I'd made previously, and my senior year of high school basically felt like a freshman or sophomore year, socially.

When I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I caught a glimpse of what I'd been missing, holed up in a room with just one other person for the last year. In between crying fits, I decided that when school started, I'd make sure to do whatever I could to make friends.

Two weeks later, I started drama class.
Two months later, I had friends.

I was drawn to a classmate who I'll call C. C loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and saw it at least three times. C was tall, flamboyant but tender, and reminded me a lot of Patrick as specifically portrayed by Ezra Miller. C also wore makeup, earrings, and heels in class. I was enthralled, but also intimidated, so we didn't talk as much as we should have. I didn't know what to say to someone who was so clearly like me in a way I couldn't be. C seemed to be a gay boy, something I was pretty sure I was not, but nevertheless...

I also got to know a classmate I'll call M, and fell for her pretty thoroughly. We'd meet up in the library and discuss our writing ideas and the movies we liked; we'd study together and talk for hours. Even though my partner wanted us to have an open relationship and encouraged me to go for it, nothing ever happened. But I thought about her a lot. If it had been the '90s, I probably would have made her a mixtape. (Like Charlie, I was that kind of dork.)

Not everything about this movie is true to my high school experience. I was too anxious to do any drugs, and I've still never been to a Rocky Horror screening. There were no cafeteria fights, no truth-or-dare drama. The feeling, though? The emotional fabric of this movie is 100% spot-on. Watching it now, I felt like I was back. Not just in high school, not just with those friends, but back in a previous version of my head. Old pangs, old traumas, an old body.

After graduation, I lost touch with most of my classmates. M moved across the country before I could say anything about how I felt; I was too shy to ask for C's phone number. Plans fell through, I retreated back to my room and had a slow and painful breakdown that would ultimately span the next few years. I fractured. I have no concrete reason to believe that I suffered the kind of childhood abuse the protagonist of Perks has, but I know the exact feeling being represented in the climactic sequence.

M and I are very low-key friends now-- she'd visit sometimes, and we'd text. We seem to talk less every year, and that's okay. My crush on her lasted a long time before it finally faded and I moved on. When my shell started cracking and I began to rise from the ashes, she was one of the first people I came out to, and one of the first people to be unwaveringly encouraging and supportive of the real me. I still don't know if she's ever seen this movie, but the camaraderie it evokes will always make me think of her.

Last year, I was googling my old classmates, and I found C on Instagram.

...As it turns out, we're both girls, after all. It seems so obvious now. I find myself thinking, a lot, about all the things I could have said to her.

I wonder if she still loves this movie.

I still do.

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