Archive for October, 2009

Remembering forgetting

An old but beloved essay to start off with. From April 29, 2009.

One Year Ago Tomorrow

One year ago tomorrow, I returned to my apartment after seeing a play, and life as I knew it changed.
I walked in the door and The Boyfriend was sitting in the dark. “I think I want to buy a snake,” he said. That was our code: I’m terrified of snakes, so we joked that if he ever wanted to break up with me, he wouldn’t have to say it, he would just need to buy a snake and I’d be good as gone.
I took it calmly. I’d already persuaded him twice in our 2.5 years together not to leave me, that he was just going through a phase, that we belonged together. After the second successful persuasion (and some time in therapy) I regretted the begging, and I decided that if he ever flipped out again, I would calmly, boldly let him go.
He was the strong one in our relationship. He was older, had been married before. He had lived in the city for years, while I was a newbie, having moved to the city for him. I trusted everything he said. I took his word on what public transportation to take, which restaurants were good and which were crap. When his friends didn’t like me, I trusted that there was something wrong with me, not with them, even though in the rest of my 25ish years I’d been well-liked and made friends easily.
He told me not to wear bright colors, not to be seen in the monkey-patterned pajama pants that were so me that they’d been my nickname in college. Once he even told me that the way I vomited was incorrect. (A long story. He was wrong.)
Of course he wasn’t all bad. First of all, his looks. So charming they’d redeem even the most catastrophic of don’t-wear-your-monkeypants nonsense arguments. The curly black hair, the bright blue eyes, the height, the dimples. He was smart, too. (Unfortunately, he knew it.) And he was so good on paper. Well-educated, good family, great job, promising future. And our dates were fun, and we aspired to the same social class, and we liked the same bands and restaurants.

But it’s not about Thai food and the Shins. It’s about internals. And after about a year of being together, I knew on the deepest level that on the insides, we didn’t match. He didn’t love people the way I do. He didn’t love life the way I do. I question and mess up and try things and break rules and fall in love over the span of one song. He built walls and made rules and looked for reasons to dismiss everyone and dreamed of one day being a hermit, as he said aloud many a time. I am awkward enough to have broken my arm falling off a couch and have I gotten a concussion picking up a cat, but I love deeply and I give. I’m a Golden Retriever and when I fall in love I want to sit by your side and take care of all your needs and need nothing more than a head pat in return. He was glossy as hell and sarcastic and hilarious, but he didn’t ever let anyone in.

In order to fit into his plan, I had to cut off so much of my most essential self. He liked parts of me, but would always make “helpful suggestions” to guide me into the black-haired, tattooed, skinny and sarcastic Suicide Girl of his dreams. I took the red pen to myself and crossed out everything that didn’t fit. Delete Hello Kitty robe, stet bookishness but only because it works with “Hot Librarian” persona. Delete suburban roots, clinical depression (so inconvenient!), and oh, thirty pounds, okay? Insert ironic eyeglasses that I would never pick out myself, an affected taste for sci-fi and pot, and cold modernist interior design and fauxhemian lifestyle.

Why did I do it? Why did I put up with the fighting and belittling and fear? Why did I edit myself? I thought it was what grownups did. I confused being flexible with being boundaryless. I confused companionship with love and superficial similarity with true understanding. I did it because I thought I’d never get someone better, and because I thought it was what I should want. I convinced myself that this man was my future.
He wanted to “buy a snake” and I said go ahead, and on the inside I was terrified but on the outside I was all action, this former Hamlet of a girl answering To Be and packing box after box and acting to build my future. And every day since that day, I have been different.
I started to talk to people, because I had to. I became friendly toward the people I’d ignored at work until then, and when I lost that job and got another I forced myself to be outgoing there too, to open up and to find some value in everyone. I experienced the city in a way I never had before, through my own eyes, trying places he’d deemed too gauche to grace, seeing sights he would have dismissed as boring, and making an unbelievable number of unbelievably great friends that I never would have even spoken to when I was in the relationship, simply because my gaze was only focused on him.

If this were a movie, we’d see me a happy year later, teamed with a boy-me all monkeypanted up, discodancing silly into the sunset. Well, I haven’t found my boy-me. And I’m not convinced that when I do, I’ll even recognize him. He won’t necessarily look the way I would dream or act the way I’d plan. But he will see me, really see me, monkeypants and all. He might not love it all, and he’ll challenge me when I’m wrong, and he will be flawed and loving and infuriating and alive, and he will let me love him and he will love me in a way that makes me more me instead of less. Stet the monkeypants. Stet my stubbornness and tummy and my sometimes insane love of dogs. Let them stand. Let me stand. Flaws and all. Delete the pretense. Keep the voice.

out of the picture.

A year ago tomorrow, my life changed, and my heart broke, and I pasted it back together and filled in the cracks with the mosaic pieces of real life: concerts in the park that he would’ve skipped (rather stay home high and play video games), conversations with strangers whom he would have ignored (because they were wearing the wrong clothes or seemed too suburban or uneducated or this excuse or that one), a hundred nights at bars and clubs dancing crazy into the morning hours, the beauty of this agonizing real world around us that before I would never have seen because I was staring into his eyes. It’s been a trial, this brave new year. I stopped being The Girlfriend and stepped into my own story, and I’m still writing it, right now.


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