I finally got around to seeing The Perks Of Being A Wallflower last night. After about a month of hesitating on whether or not to go, reading bad reviews, and mostly just ignoring that it was playing in theaters at all, I let George convince me to get excited. So we went, saw the movie, and wow. It. hit. home.
All of it: the flamboyant gay guy. The group of “unpopular” kids. Charlie’s incessant bedroom journal entry writing. Riding around in cars with the music turned up. Going to parties and feeling like the outsider. Charlie’s need to make everyone happy.
I’ve tried so hard to distance myself from that person, that character. But who am I kidding? In ninth grade, I was a textbook wallflower. And Stephen Chbosky’s book was my manual.
Here are a few thoughts I had after revisiting that story for the first time since I was fourteen.
1. While I never really had a flamboyant gay male friend to look up to, I made up for it with Tori Amos’ music and episodes of Queer As Folk. But in many ways, the character of Patrick—self-possessed, sensational, definitely sexual—lingered with me years after reading the book. Seeing him personified by actor Ezra Miller only intensified a long-standing admiration I still have for those bold, matter-of-fact, diva types of guys.
2. More often than not, Charlie winds up wedged in between larger-than-life Patrick and Sam, or following them around, or being the passive listener to their never-ending drama cycles. Meanwhile, his reactions stay fixed within the vacuum of his own head. I know that feeling. You put everyone else before you, and save the inner mess of your own anxieties, desires and doubts for later, when you’re alone, behind closed doors, and can let it all spill out unedited. It’s why wallflowers manage to be selfless and completely selfish at the same time.
3. When I was a freshman in high school, my best friends were: my Puerto Rican boyfriend Fernando, the glamorous Molly (who existed as two people: the platinum blonde that everyone in high school wanted to be friends with, and the shadowy, wry theater type, who let us tease her about her “thunder thighs” and flirted incessantly with all of us), and the stoic Selena, the oldest member of our posse, and my best friend. What I did with those kids, all of whom were older than me, was exactly what Charlie does in the book with Patrick and Sam. Hang out in back alleys and parks, smoke cigarettes, experiment with hard drugs, explore our sexuality, trade inside jokes, schemes, hand-written letters, mixtapes…
Our world was so fun, so exciting, so entirely different from everything else I’d known before.
But it was ultimately a dead end. The thrill of hanging out with Fernando, Molly and Selena satisfied a certain part of me, but it removed any possibility of them actually getting to know me. I could never match up to their wild stories, their bold senses of humor, so why risk inserting myself into the equation?
I didn’t need to, as Charlie puts it, be noticed. If I could get by and just be included, that was enough.
What mattered more than anything was maintaining the equilibrium. We all had parts to play: them, the characters acting out scenarios, and me, their rapt audience, silently watching their every move. I don’t think they bothered questioning my presence because I gave them all the attention they needed.
Perks brought back so many memories of that fourteen-year-old me, uncertain and complaisant. Willing to go along with a group of people I didn’t really have much in common with—just a naive fascination, really, with their personalities. Personalities that were, at the end of the day, fabrications. Portraits. Inaccessible.
Why would anyone want that?
Who knows. But I remember wanting it badly. I remember wanting to experience the emotion-heavy conversations, the deep sense of connection, the rebel-without-a-causeness of Sunday afternoons spent watching Gia and reveling in a collective sense of danger.
A wallflower usually knows better. But he puts up with the artifice because it affords something bigger: the thrill of doing things he’s never done before, like riding in fast cars, trying on other identities, and being part of a group. He’s there for the experience alone, but unwilling to share enough about himself to make it a mutual exchange. His friendships become unbalanced, but they’re infinitely more fulfilling than ending up alone.