I went on a date recently with a wonderful man of whom I’m quite fond, and as I realized he had no stories to tell my heart began to sink. My mind twisted and turned, trying to piece together his identity from the scraps I’d been told. There were no sweet inferences or revealing adjective choices. There is no reading tone or basking in an adventure or lack thereof if there are no words shared, no attempts made.
I adore stories. They are the stuff I thrive on. And when I tell stories, I feel like I light up, like a Christmas tree, or a birthday cake candle, or your favorite childhood nightlight just when the dark starts to get spooky. I’ll mock myself, share my lows and highs, my good choices and bad (sorry, mom, I try). So often it reveals who I am, frequently in a way that makes me feel very vulnerable and strangely relieved and almost uncomfortable.
It makes me really damn happy to make people feel something right along with me. It’s my favorite part of being a person; it’s being human together.
And I love people who tell great stories. It’s why I adore dating artists, writers, and musicians, people who are willing not only to lay claim to their stories but to share them. Sometimes I meet amazing people who do amazing things, and then they can’t manage to tell you about it.
I’d far rather someone be boastful and tell a story that will make me laugh than have no story to share. I’d rather share in your embarrassment than protect whatever overly perfected image of you my brain accidentally mistakenly concocted. I’d rather sit rapt while you attempt to tell a story and fail miserably. Be weak. Be human. Be vulnerable. I’d rather see who you really are than fall for some half-baked construction of you that is painstakingly crafted and story-less.
I know some people don’t have this inclination. We don’t all think of our adventures as small narratives etched in our lives. But isn’t it at least an adventure to try to tell a story at all? A story in and of itself, that you attempted and failed to tell a good story?
There may be no glory in them. Goodness knows, many of my stories cast me in a terrible light. But at least try. Try and fail, try and be ridiculous, stumble and falter as you regale highs and lows.
So long time no post…because I’ve been moving! Admittedly this has put a bit of a damper on my life. Somehow moving boxes just aren’t super sexy to me.
I’ve fallen in love with thrift shopping at a little store a few blocks from my new place. My roomates and I scour every room, including the un-airconditioned back room which inevitably leaves us drenched in sweat. We know the volunteers there. They greet us as we walk in, suggesting favorite pieces, letting us keep our treasures in small horde-like piles at the front as we gallivant through the store and peek into every corner.
The things we gleefully haul home have been previously loved, broken in for us. I find myself imagining their past lives as I settle them into my room. A chair in a child’s bedroom in which her mother read tales of talking cows and princesses who save the day, a table on which an old man placed his spectacles and crossword puzzles before having a nap, a throw pillow which has seen its share of pillow fights and secret midnight forts.
Why are the tales of objects’ past lives-that which renders them “previously loved”-enchanting, but in our love lives past relationships make us uncomfortable?
I suppose it might be the “newer model syndrome.” There’s a sense that because we’ve moved on to a new relationship, any mention of a past one implies comparison. There’s no comparison. I don’t need to compare myself to your ex, and you don’t need to compare yourself to mine. My relationship with someone gets to be wholly my own, not marked by my past. But knowing my past and my exes exist is also critical, that they’ve somehow made me who I am…they will ever and always be characters in my story. To erase them would be to erase a part of myself, to skip over the middle of the story which got us to happily-right-now-ever-after.
And admittedly, there are some not so glorious moments in my past relationships and even in past dates. I’ve made mistakes aplenty. But I’ve learned so much about myself and the world in the process. I learned to stay up late and make art and drink hot tea, to appreciate forehead kisses, to set high standards like finding people who will not hesitate to dance with me in the rain. I learned guilt is a weapon, not a tool. I learned to let go of control and how to hold hands best during a movie. I learned to love myself so that I can love somebody else.
Learning about ourselves and the world comes with loving, both romantically and platonically. Whatever level of learning you’re at is beautiful. We’re broken in and a little worn around the edges, and that is hard and scary and wonderful. As challenging as it can be sometimes to face our own and each other’s pasts, we’re the better for doing so. Our lives are the richer for unearthing such treasures.
We come previously loved. We come previously loving. We are inevitably thrifted.
And that’s ok. All we can do is keep hunting for those treasures of people whose stories will resonate with our own lives.
I was talking with Jesus over lunch today about the way people transform into our stories and how so many of my tinder dates somehow end up story-worthy. Then I recalled a bit of writing I did regarding a tinder fellow, and somehow it is on my heart to share it. So here you go!
We become each other’s stories with alarming alacrity, transforming all too quickly from reality to memory to punch line within the confines of a sentence. Congratulations, you are inevitably anecdotal, the stuff of small legends told over tall glasses of cheap wine. But you, you are a story worth telling again. I will preserve you in narrative like a last autumn leaf trapped between the words of a dictionary. I will hide you away and whisper you to a clinking tumbler of whiskey in corners of dark bars on cold nights. I will scrawl you on endless pages of notebooks just to run my fingertips over the tildes that contain you. You will be the story I murmur to my pillowcase as I cross into sleep.
And for that I love you.
I love not you the person but you the story, for unlike you the story is mine, mine to keep, mine to share, mine to hoard, mine to taste, mine. Your vowel sounds, round and comforting, your consonants, bold and sure, seduce me. My lips recognize the sounds of you as something intimately familiar, something that has lain in the back of my throat too long since your last telling. You sit heavy in my mouth, nestled in the curve of my tongue. You taste of once, of twice, of thrice upon a times, of not quite happily ever afters, of endings unknown.
And for that I love you.
I only ask in turn that when you tell the story of me that you choose striking adverbs and punctuate handsomely with your breaths. Make me something worth hearing. Make me something worth telling. For good or ill, I’d rather be a story well-told than beloved.
Sometimes it takes us a while to tell a story. This story has taken me a long while to be able to find the right words. Bear with me. This is a little longer than usual. I promise, it gets back to Tinder and dating (and an amazingly bad date at that), and to how complicated it can be to balance little moments such as in dating with major stressors.
That said, let’s do this.
Everyone spoke in weirdly calm voices. In retrospect, I have no idea if the calm was only incongruous with my own thoughts, or if they were putting in particular effort into keeping their voices calm. Two minutes into my lying on the paper covered table in one of those blue open in the front nightgowns and staring at a poster of kittens on the ceiling, my doctor felt the lumpy spot I had found in my breast a few weeks before. She and the nurse put on their smiling-trying-to-keep-someone-from-panicking faces. “We’ll get you an appointment for a mammogram for tomorrow right across the street. They’ll take good care of you.”
TOMORROW, I thought. Damn. That’s SOON. Normally, if a doctor thinks I need a follow-up, I can manage to get by with a few weeks in between. I remember forcing myself to be chipper. The receptionist called the mammogram office for me, trying to be polite, describing the spot on my breast in terms of a clock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Will they find a lumpy spot. At this point, I felt like I was watching some bad Lifetime or ABC Family movie, even as I was trying to convince myself to not worry.
Somehow I drove to Target. Somehow I parked, got out of the car, and wandered past the Starbucks, the produce, the laundry baskets and into the baby section.
I stood in Target staring at baby toys, trying to pick the right one for my soon to arrive bonus-nephew. Rows upon rows of stuffed animals waited on the racks, just waiting for someone to slobber on them and throw them out of the playpen. I wandered up and down the aisle in a daze. Lions and tigers and cancer oh my. No no no, think about the cute fluffy animals. It’ll all be fine. No point in worrying until tomorrow. Bears? Yes, bears. Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my. Not “cancer oh my.” Keep it classic. WWJGS? (What would Judy Garland Say)?
My phone rang, startling me out of my plush fauna revelries. It was my mother, offering to come with me the next day. At which point, I descended into panic, staring down at the rough gray carpet under the fluorescent lighting and trying to calm my mind. Taking your mom with you on a doctors’ appointment when you’re in your 20’s feels like admitting your own mortality. She was there at the beginning; God forbid she not be there at what could possibly be the beginning of the end, or at least the start of a fight against my own body.
“Mmmhmm, mmhmm, um, sure it’d be great if you could get off work for a the morning to come with me, great, thanks mom, oh so you read today’s Tinder Buttons, no I don’t want to talk about it even if you do, no, no, this is about me not you, mhm, well I should go, because I don’t want to talk about this and I’m in Target, yeah I’m ok…bye mom.”
I love you, mom, but I don’t know if I was ever so glad to hang up a phone. My brain didn’t have enough words to talk about anything of substance, let alone my freshly posted piece The In Between Place, which had already taken a considerable amount of energy to share. I went back to bears, relieved that their little sewn mouths wouldn’t try to talk to me and that their brains were full of fluff.
Which bear was it I wanted? Brown. Fluffy. Ag his mouth is a funny color. This is stressful, there are too many bears, no just buy this super cute bear so you don’t have to stand here anymore and be surrounded by fluorescent lighting and happy people who probably aren’t thinking about strange growths in their bodies or their mortality. They just want to buy frozen peas and fabric softener and maybe to pick up a pack of gum as a minor indulgence in the checkout line to remind themselves that they love themselves enough to spend that extra $1.29. I was stricken by hypothetical envy. I want to have my biggest issue to be if I want double mint or bubble mint gum. Gosh, this bear is cute. Cute is good. Cute. C-U-T-E. Two letters that are in “cancer” are in “cute.” How weird. Wait, that’s not weird. That’s just the alphabet. Maybe if I have cancer it can be cute cancer? Wait, what? That’s not a thing. You probably don’t even have cancer, let alone cute cancer. Cancer isn’t cute. Bear. Just hold the bear and carry it to the checkout line. One step at a time. Bear.
At the checkout counter, I fidgeted nervously and made too much eye contact in a vain attempt to convince the cashier that the vague glazed over look of panic in my eyes was actually good old fashioned over enthusiastic friendliness. Instead, I just came across as a super creepy smiling woman buying a teddy bear and sneaking pointed looks at the many gum options near the register.
I went home, zoned out, and then somehow magically the next day came. Fortunately, my mom happens to be not only a totally hilarious and all around fabulous lady, but she has already had breast cancer and spends a lot of her life contending with pills and things that will keep it from returning. So she knew the ropes.
A few hours into my appointment, including some time dressed in a surprisingly comfortable clinic robe and sitting in a waiting room that was vaguely spa-esque, I had a mammogram (Which, contrary to what everyone had hold me, was not at all painful and in fact oddly comfortable). Then I had an ultrasound in which I got to see the inside of my breasts. I chatted to the tech, asking about what I was seeing and the process of training to be a tech and did she like it and how many of these did they do a day. I attempted mindless conversation to keep myself from wondering about what the machine would tell me about my own body. And then suddenly there on the screen were my breasts. The inside of a breast looks like the most beautiful ocean waves or hills. There’s a whole landscape in there, a world unto myself, and it was fascinating. And in my case, it was not just fascinating-it was lump-free.
It turns out I had an agitated lymph node, but that it was all a-ok. I walked out of the clinic, passing on my way women who wouldn’t be getting such happy news, who were already fighting the good fight, or who would find themselves suddenly drafted accordingly within a matter of hours.
All I could feel was overwhelmingly lucky.
It was at that point that all the little bits of panic, the ones I had managed to keep at bay excepting for that moment of crisis in the Target baby aisle, converged. I was overcome with joy and relief and terror for what could have been, finally giving myself permission to feel all the things and to think the darkest thoughts that only optimism coupled with all of my willpower could keep at bay. My subconscious was tired from holding back as it tried to keep my consciousness sane and functional. I was exhausted in every sense.
But I, in my infinite wisdom, still kept a lunch date I had made for the afternoon after my appointment, having made the date far before I knew this would all be going down.
I stirred my iced tea and kicked my heel against my chair leg, zoning out as he talked about the book he wanted to write and his kids.
In my mind, the conversation went a lot like this: “oh, you did time? What for? Oh, drug dealing?” Jeeze this guy’s too intense for me. Oh, Tinder. Oh fuck yes no cancer for me, thank you boobs thank you. You’re the best breasts in the whole wide world. Good job, guys. I’m going to put on the extra cute bra when I get home. Y’all earned it. “Oh, and you have five children? What are their names?” Shoes on a monkey, I could’ve died. Hello, mortality. “Wait, FIVE? Oh, and you have grandchildren? Whom you don’t care about at all? And you’re already talking about getting new furniture for your apartment in light of my existence?” Wow, at this point there are so many red flags about this guy that the room looks like the inside of a matador’s cape. He’s so young to have that many grandchildren. Huh. Yeah, I shouldn’t have come on this date. Fuck. This is why we meet in public places, and don’t tell men our last names. Also why we insist on longer conversations before agreeing to a date. Oh my God cancer. I don’t have cancer. “Yes, the lamb is very good here.” Oh, do I want more iced tea? “No, thank you.”
What I actually wanted was to run home and bake a cake for my cancer-less breasts and dance and sing a song and cry in my closet, not necessarily in that order.
What this boils down to is how on earth are we supposed to reconcile how complicated, bizarre, and painful real life can be with the friendly small talk of a first date? Or even with the ordinary moments of daily life? The dishwasher keeps needing to be filled. People buy gum. People have babies, stop at red lights, bake cookies, and sit in waiting rooms. Life goes on, even when our minds are continually grinding to a screeching halt.
Sometimes I find it incredibly offensive that life keeps going even when I’m struggling, in a way that’s wholly illogical. I remember being really depressed one day in high school, sitting in a corner of the library, and being absolutely annoyed at all the people being happy because it was exhausting to listen to other people be joyful. It left me frustrated. I felt I’d somehow failed myself in that I couldn’t just hop back on the happy train. At the same time, I wanted somehow the world to match my mood, to validate it so I wouldn’t feel quite so out of sync or so alone in that moment. Even when we reach out to a friend, that process of externalizing our emotions can be so hard. Try as you might you can’t get the contents of your mind out, let alone explain your feelings (especially when said feelings are exacerbated by teenage hormones). It makes that loneliness all the more isolating.
But we exist in a world full of other people. Our moments of struggle inevitably will not always align with the world around us or with what our schedule holds. Life can be terribly inconvenient like that sometimes, and it’s so tempting to try to not only not acknowledge that, but to not even reveal that to other people. As if that’s somehow weak to mention our struggles, or that it’s a cheap way to get at someone’s feelings, or it might be too inconvenient to other people if we burdened them with our woes.
In my last post I focused on not hiding my personality. But what about our lives? How on earth do we hide that? Should we hide that? Gradually reveal them? How quickly?
To what extent do we owe it to ourselves, our friends, and even relative strangers to keep our private life private? Is the idea of private life whatever one makes of it? Does it make it easier to have secrets, or does it make it harder? Or, perhaps, there are benefits and drawbacks to each. How long do we have to hide our most precious and powerful stories? The stories of our bodies? The lions and tigers and bears? Oh my.
I treasure all my stories, but the stories that are written on my body, that my flesh remembers, are the most precious to me because they are the hardest to tell. The ones that hurt. The ones that scared me or left me confused. The ones where the telling leaves you every bit as vulnerable as you felt in that moment, the memory of physical pain matched by the stress of capturing what that tale means to you. The ones that remind you that being alive is precious.
So this is one of those stories. I don’t come off as particularly sane, optimistic, or pulled together. Nor do I come off as having judgment when I picked that guy to go on a first date with (sorry, mom. I promise, he doesn’t know my last name AND I ordered dessert AND I made much stricter first date rules for myself). But I hope, if you’ve managed to make it this far in this piece, that you find comfort regarding your own body’s stories. It’s okay that they’re complicated. It’s okay that the weight of memory matters. It’s okay that double mint gum will never taste the same to me after standing in that Target aisle.
Or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
In other news, celebrate every single healthy bit of your body today, and any parts that aren’t so healthy and need extra love, send that love their way, be they tiny or major ailments. It’s beautiful to be alive and have the opportunity to have moments of crisis. Every bit of sadness and struggle is only possible because we’ve been happy, and because we’re gloriously, tenuously, ridiculously alive.