In my memoir “Corners Untouched by Madness” I wrote about a character, “Mei”, that I had a crush on. I had gone to High School with “Mei” and been a background character in the grand scheme of things. She was Chinese American and at the time I had a Scottish Chinese internet girlfriend. Of course, because of that, when I was in college “Mei” became appealing.
In romantic stories there are a lot of tropes, mostly the love-sick guy falling for an unavailable girl. My story is no different. Is “Mei” the goddess on the pedestal that I envisioned her or is she merely the normal person that only few would seek after, not all. She was the classic heroine of my first novel. She remained illusive, her true identity hidden behind the temptation expounded in the narrative. Mei was a phantom, a muse, a dream girl that encouraged me to write about my struggles with mental illness, but was any of it real?
The true answer? Some of it must have been. “Mei”, the intelligent graduate of a prestigious college. Of course my character did not go after the popular girl, but the smart one. “Mei”, the person my character was physically attracted to. That was also true. Still, again, was she real? In most cases, to Daniel the character in the book, not so much. She was seldom spoken to or considered. The idea of “Mei” was more important to Daniel than her actual person. What he thought took precedence and not the reality of who she was. Daniel might have been love sick, delusional, at odds with reality in this pursuit. Was he wrong? He still isn't sure, even in my most recent novel. However, it's in the uncertainty that lies the problem with his mental illness. This schism with reality. This infatuation.
So in my new book, tentative title “Returning to Madness,” Mei is a phantom. She is a cause for paranoia. A delusion so far from reality that it becomes a mental illness for Daniel. He is with his future wife now but the idea of “Mei” still haunts him. Not just as the perfect woman but as some one he supposedly loves. Does he really love her? That is up to the reader to decide. What is reality and what is fiction? The truth is that life is not always so cut and dry. It is a gray area with varying versions of the truth. I still grapple with these concepts from day to day but my question is, who doesn't? Who doesn't wrestle with his former love affairs, especially he who has loved many other people? We have all been there.
In terms of “Mei” perhaps she is Daniel's idea of perfection. Is it real? Most likely not. He is living with his partner and struggling with alcoholism. Still, for every man and woman on this planet, there is an idea of some one they could have loved more. It is damaging to our relationships to talk about it but nonetheless, it is still an unspoken factor. Not many would acknowledge it. As a heroine, “Mei” works. “Mei” is the motivation in the main storyline. Behind the main storyline however, “Mei” is much more complex, a real person and a complicated individual worth acknowledging. She is more than just a false inspiration. She is a person. It's something worth considering. We are all real people after all.