old (2008), Uncategorized

real vs. ideal

The first night I spent with The Wannabe Physicist was quite unusual. I had been hanging out with/dating this guy named Chris my first semester of college, but then I met The Wannabe Physicist — who was Chris’ best friend and used to fool around with Chris’ older sister, who was like 25 when he was 16 or something — and of course I fell madly in love (or whatever it is that 17-year-old girls do). And instead of doing the responsible thing, which (probably) would have been to sit down with Chris and break up with him gently, I did what later became my modus operandi for more than a decade: I stopped by, told him he was the most annoying person I’d ever met and I couldn’t stand to be around him for another second, and walked out, leaving him crying and heartbroken (hey, no one ever said I was skilled at relationships). And waiting for me in front of the dorm was none other than The Wannabe Physicist, who had borrowed Chris’ car. And we proceeded to drive the brokenhearted boy’s car downtown, where we spent all night cruising the streets, going up and down Lake Shore Drive, swinging at the playground by the lake near Belmont Avenue, eating powdered sugar donuts, and drinking Mountain Dew.

It stands to reason that there was a good deal of talking that night. I suppose there was some canoodling, too, but (a) I had just turned seventeen, and I hadn’t yet found my, uh, sea legs (?) in regard to relationships, (b) I was still in “sweet Texas girl” mode and therefore 1500% more shy than I am now, and (c) I was feeling extremely guilty about breaking up with Chris and tooling around the city in his car. So while I don’t specifically remember, I’m guessing it was a fairly chaste evening. What I do remember, though, is a conversation that would come to haunt me until about four days ago. But even “haunt” isn’t quite the right word. It’s more that the conversation has been hanging in the back of my mind, informing my decisions, whispering to me when I least expect it, cropping up at inopportune moments, coloring the way I view the world, and generally annoying the crap out of me.

The Wannabe Physicist had this theory about the world — and possibly he still does, but I wouldn’t know since I haven’t seen or heard from him since 1996, a fact that sometimes bothers me, because even though we were horrible for each other, it might be interesting to meet up with the person I would’ve been married to for sixteen years now had we not gotten divorced. But I digress. His theory was simple: everyone had an Ideal Person and a Real Person that existed (figuratively) in his or her world. The Real Person was the person you are every day, who experiences all of the things that you experience on a daily basis. But the Ideal Person is the person who made that green light after all, who didn’t break up with The Perfect Guy, who turned left instead of turning right, who went to the other college… you know, the person who didn’t do all the things you regret doing, now that you know better. And it was The Wannabe Physicist’s reasoned opinion that life was such that we will always wonder what The Ideal Person is doing, how our lives would be so much better if we were closer to The Ideal Person, and how that exact tension and intrinsic disconnect is the driving force behind every single thing we do and each decision we make. And so this dichotomy is the heart and soul of The Wannabe Physicist’s “real vs. ideal” philosophy, and it is an idea that has caused me no small amount of angst over the past seventeen-and-a-half years.

Yesterday, when I blogged about obligatory atheism, I mentioned (a) my abandonment of The Wannabe Physicist’s “real vs. ideal” philosophy and (b) a spiritually transcendent experience I had driving southbound on Lake Shore Drive while listening to Love of Diagrams at 1:42pm Wednesday… as if the two events were discrete and neatly packaged apart from each other when, in fact, these two things happened at approximately the same time, give or take a couple of tracks on Mosaic. Specifically, I was driving down Lake Shore Drive and, in quick succession, six things happened:

(1) My car tells me it is 44 degrees outside;

(2) I open the windows a bit because it’s nice outside and I like the feeling of fresh air but no so much that I’m going to mess with what was shaping up to be a Good Hair Day;

(3) The odometer hits 999, then 1,000, then 1,001*;

(4) At a volume of 40** Pace or the Patience comes on, asking:

The pace or the patience?
Can I give it to you?
The pace or the patience?
Days they come and days they go.
Little too far and a little too slow.
Days they come and days they go.
The pace or the patience?
You came in with flying colors, you came in.
Well, can I give it to you?

(5) Followed by At 100%, which informs me that:

Things look better at a hundred percent.
Things look better.
What could she possibly, possibly have to say?
Things look better at a hundred percent,
things look better already.
Things look better at a hundred percent
Course I’m better.
So much better.

(6) And at the exact moment At 100% ended, something my sponsor said to me when I finished my first step by telling her my dramatic and tragic story popped into my head:

Now that you’ve shared this with me, it’s all in the past. You don’t have to tell those stories to anyone else except me ever again.

Now, this may seem like an average afternoon in my life since, after all, I (a) spend a lot of time driving down Lake Shore Drive, (b) open the window quite a bit when the temperature deigns to rise above 40 degrees, (c) pay close daily attention to my odometer, (d) listen to a LOT of music, (e) see my life in 97.3% of all song lyrics, including those sung by Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, (f) spend a lot of time thinking about things my sponsor has said, and (g) tend toward the more introspective end of the “how much do I think about myself and my problems” spectrum, but all in all, the convergence of these six things left me feeling reborn.

Between the lyrics and the recollection of what my sponsor said, it occurred to me that I no longer have to be constrained by all the crappy things that have happened to me or feel guilt over things I may or may not have done or even make either one of those things part of the stories I tell or the person I am or the person I want to become. As my therapist pointed out to me today, all of those things needn’t be any more or less meaningful than the fact that I completed third grade, and coming to that realization has been remarkably liberating, so much so that the only way I can describe what happened at 1:42pm on Wednesday is that I fell head over heels in love with myself, and even now, fifty-six hours later, I’m on that kind of high you get after you’ve kissed someone for the first time, or are sitting in a movie theatre wondering if he’ll hold your hand and then he does, or you’re drifting off to take a nap while cuddling with someone yummy, or, well, all those moments when you experience pure happiness and you realize that being content isn’t something that happens to you; it’s something we find through grace and hope and possibility and sitting on the precipice between what has happened and what is yet to come with great anticipation.

And so there I was in the car, falling in love with myself, with Lake Michigan on one side of me and the Chicago skyline on the other, and The Ideal Me just kind of withered away. It was as though I could see her sailing into the horizon, or disappearing in the puffy clouds, or evaporating and escaping out of my barely-open windows. She was a shadow I’d kind of just begun to accept, a permanent albatross around my neck, her spectre tingeing my world such that I always felt as though I either had to catch up to someone I was not or apologize for not trying harder to do so. And so all the stories I shared, all the times I warned potential lovers that I’d demolish their lives (and then, largely did), all the instances of wanting to prove how damaged I was as an offering of evidence that I’d had enough, all the abuse I took because I thought that’s what I deserved for being The Real Me… those melted away, and for the first time in my life I could feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and know that I deserved to be loved, and not in a half-assed way by people who would hurt and abandon and take advantage of me (which isn’t really love but dysfunction masked as affection)… but by me, and with that realization came another closely related one: I’m fucking awesome! And seriously, I think this is going to be a life-long love affair that will never grow stale. Namaste.

*We all know how much I love odometer palindromes & milestones.

**I refuse to listen to the radio in volume increments other than fives.