“How was your day?” he asks.
“Well, I think I’m failing economics. Work was rough, too.” I dig in my bag for the letter I wrote him today and hand it over, smiling. “But, I had a Zero Day.”
“No guys at all?” he asks, scanning the note.
“Nope!” It’s been hard, avoiding conversations with other men. But he won’t be disappointed in me today.
“Great job, sweetie.” He stands, smiling and plants a kiss on my forehead. “Gonna take a shower. Dinner in 30?” He tosses the note into the wastebasket.
“Sure!” I head for the kitchen, beaming with pride. I think I’ll grill some steaks. A Zero Day calls for celebration.
I am loyal to King Joffrey, my one true love.
“Claire, that’s fucked.” My friend Rachel watches me write my daily letter and plucks at a tuft of grass between us. “It is not normal to give your boyfriend a report of the guys you talk to each day.”
I don’t know how to respond. What does she mean, it isn’t “normal”? He is my first boyfriend, so everything I know about love, I’ve learned from him.
I am only a little bird, repeating the words they taught me.
September 11th, 2001. I stand in our trailer’s living room watching in horror as 3,000 people die on live TV. For the first time, I realize that life is short. I’m only 18, but I could die tomorrow. Am I happy? Am I really in love? I think hard about those questions during a grim commute to school.
There are no heroes… in life, the monsters win.
“What do you mean, you want to break up?!” Shock and anger twist his face. “We’ve been together five years!”
I fumble for words, tears rolling down my face. Each one is painful. “I think we should see other people… I need to have my own life.”
He is crying now, too. “But I love you! I was going to propose at Christmas.”
It’s taken weeks to build up my courage, and I feel my resolve breaking. “I need to go… I’m sorry,” I mumble. I grab my things and flee.
Lady Stark, you may survive us yet.
It’s April, and I’ve been crying again. My grandfather just died, and I’m alone in the dorms. When I call to tell my ex the news, I ask if I can move back in with him. I need him. Couldn’t we try to make things work? He says he needs to think about it. I’m heartbroken.
I don’t want someone brave and gentle and strong. I want him.
I wander out to the common room, looking for a distraction. Another resident is reading a tattered paperback in the corner. I sit down and turn on the basketball game, but my heart isn’t in it. I try to catch a glimpse of the book’s cover.
The girl notices my glances. When she stands up to leave, she comes over and hands me the book, telling me to keep it. “You’ll love it,” she says. “I’ve already read it, plus I just got the hardback for Christmas.” I stammer out a thank you, and look down at the cover.
A Game of Thrones
George R.R. Martin
I devour the book in 12 hours. I typically love fantasy stories with happy endings, but this series is the antithesis. I crave true love, but I’m reading about subjugation, brutality, and rape. It’s exactly the wake-up call I need. I rush out to buy the sequels.
In A Song of Ice and Fire women are controlled and possessed, to be used however men desire. This is accurate for the feudalist “time period” shown in the series, and I realize that it is also a lot like my relationship. He never beat me or even yelled at me, but he controlled my life.
I gave up my identity for him. I quit the dance team and the musical to quell his jealousy. I got a job to help pay his bills. I was on my feet from 5 am to midnight — going to class, working, cooking, cleaning, studying. It was the life of an indentured servant.
Life is not a song, sweetling. Someday you may learn that, to your sorrow.
I particularly identify with two characters in the series: Sansa and Arya. Arya is who I want to be. She follows her heart no matter the expectations others have of her. She says “fuck you” to the world and goes off to make her own destiny.
But I’m not Arya. I’m Sansa. Many GRRM readers hate her; she’s stupid and naive. She is used as a pawn by everyone. But I understand and love Sansa deeply, because her story is my own. I’d been used by others and had no real agency in my own life. I’d been duped by illusions of romance and the brutality of the novels was what I needed to realize it. I am Sansa, and I’m completely okay with that.
I don’t move back in with him. Instead I learn how to be a normal college kid. I’m free, damn it. Rachel takes me to the lake where we spend the day floating in the sun and smoking cigarettes. I get the worst sunburn of my life, but I also make a lifelong friend.
Once, she had loved Prince Joffrey with all her heart… Sansa would never make that mistake again.
When I knock, his new girlfriend answers the door. It’s eerie how much she looks like me. We don’t say much as I return his letter jacket and collect the things I left behind. I don’t want to interfere in their lives. I have my own life to worry about. I walk away forever and don’t look back.
It’s been 16 years since I first picked up A Game of Thrones, and I’m still a lot like Sansa. I still make a lot of mistakes, and I’m okay with that. A Song of Ice and Fire taught me that love isn’t being locked in a tower, and it isn’t about flowers and lemon cakes, either. Life is a process, and if you’re not learning and growing then you might as well be dead.
My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel.