To All the Girls I've Loved Before
Oh boy. This post coming to you live from the tony suburb of Hungoverville, where I just moved in the past half hour from the neighboring hamlet of Stilldrunkburg. I was hijacked last night by a buddy for a whirlwind tour of the local watering holes and believe me when I tell you it was one of those evenings where anything was possible. By midnight, I would have agreed to all manner of whim. Tijuana, vandalism, talking to actual women. In fact...
I was jammed against the bar when I jostled Lisa. She accepted my apology, even touched me on the elbow to illustrate her forgiveness, her body angled toward me, seemingly eager. I turned a little and settled against the bar, facing her, both of us seeing sobriety in the rearview mirror. She was thin and animated, her voice a dusky alto. She talked in an off-handed way, every sentence a vast elliptical arc, like she was momentarily unhinged before landing with a thud.
I focused on the small gap between her front teeth, somehow endearing. As her stories widened, I would go off in my own head, my mind grasping a tangled thought, as she wandered in and out of her latest tale, ending each thought by saying my name. Her face would change on me. With every slight muscle movement, she became someone else. I could hardly hold her image. She was like a spectre, impossible to grasp and equally difficult to abandon.
I leaped at her, lips first. So strong was the tension, my knowledge that this what was supposed to happen next. I clumsily smashed against her, hard and misguided. She accepted the blow and pushed right back.
Yeah, I kissed a girl. Chipped a couple of her teeth, I think. And then I took notes.
I am one smooth sonofabitch.
Despite my explicit charms (*cough*), I'm not really the Rico Suave type. With few exceptions, my rewarding "relationships" with women have been the result of happy accidents, as opposed to any skill at attracting and ensnaring the opposite sex. For much of my life, I was the living embodiment of Mike from Swingers: fully lacking in self-confidence, confused by the female gender and obvious. Oh so bleeping obvious.
Well, we're not in Kansas anymore.
Much of this was because of typical adolescent, and post-adolescent, angst, the kind where I focused on what I wasn't, instead of what I was. I'd always been teased for being skinny, so naturally I wanted to be buff. In my mostly white-bread hometown, I was harassed for being brown, so wanted to be blonde and blue-eyed. It seems silly that it took me so long to get over these perceived inadequacies, but many people carry their childhood experiences long into adulthood and my personal development was undoubtedly hindered by my ill-conceived early marriage.
I exited that marriage in far worse shape than I entered it. It was a thoroughly growth-stunting experience and my immediate reaction was to fling myself into making up for lost time, a desire that mostly manifested itself in getting completly trashed with my buddies five or six days a week. As a method of healing and evolution, I don't recommend it.
Eventually, I recovered my self-esteem. It took a couple years, a couple promotions and a couple women to straighten my spine. By the summer of 1994, I was someone else. Me, only better.
My roommate at the time was female, a great friend to this day and someone who gave me more insight into myself, and others, than anyone I've ever met. I remember this time of my life very fondly as it was when I was taking those first sure steps into adulthood and if 27 is a little late for that, so be it. I liked myself, maybe for the first time ever, and it naturally translated into easier dealings with the ladies. I was a serial dater that summer, juggling four women at once (improbably and hilariously named Christine, Kristina, Anne and DeAnn, which drove my roommate to utter distraction as far as taking messages for me). I'd never been anything other than managamous before and even as I enjoyed the affection, attention and downright ego-boost, it remained clear to me that I was not entirely comfortable with such behavior. So when I met Vanessa that fall, the others fell away.
Vanessa is the only woman I've ever loved that I didn't marry (and that sentence makes me laugh out loud). I was mad for her, especially in the beginning. She was petite and exotic, a mix of European and Middle Eastern parents, and the first woman in whom I completely lost myself since my divorce. That turned out to be a problem. Once the intoxication of blooming love wore off, it was clear she and I weren't such a good match. She was too serious and uptight, especially about sex and politics, two important areas where we were polar opposites. We lasted another year beyond that realization, neither of us willing to break it off nor even acknowledge the slow disintegration. It finally became too overt for us to ignore and we went our separate ways.
I missed her on some level, but exited healthy and baggage-free. I wandered through a few short bursts of companionship, none of them predicated on love or committment. There were rewards in each, often simply physical, and I was happy to be mostly on my own, moving forward in career and financial well-being. But all along, I was waiting, searching, for that one person who could reach all the way inside me. I though for a time it might be Dacia, a long-time acquaintance (a friend of that female roommate I spoke of) who one day decided to put a full court press on me. I'd always liked her immensely and she was unashamedly devoted, but I never got past that like/friend stage with her, as much as I tried to will it into truth.
Then, after another brief, no-strings fling, there was X. And that is where this little jaunt down memory lane ends.
Oftentimes, I start out writing with a certain idea in mind and it ends up going elsewhere. Such is the case here. I can't pinpoint where it all went wrong. Maybe on some subconscious level I was trying to remind myself that I've recovered from hurt, from loss, before. To revive memories of when my heart was free and the world open. That is, after all, where I need to go again. And if I'm not quite ready for it just yet, the above history is proof I've successfully trod this path before.
The one lesson I learned through the trials of the above history, the one I've tried to hold onto these past months is that I am a person of value. I am not perfect. I am not for everyone. But I don't need somebody else to give me my life back. I don't need somebody else to validate my worth. The best self-esteem comes from within, not from outside influence or compliment. It's in me. And that's where it has to start.
I wrote the following more than seven years ago:
You are discovering yourself and learning through others, which is an
absolute necessity to finding love. Love does not begin with
meeting the "right" person. It does not begin the first time you lie
in another's arms. No, my dear friend, love begins when only one
person is involved: you. And when it explodes inside of you, others
will be blinded by the sight. And you will find another who blinds you
as well. And then...well...then you will have no more choice
over the matter.
That is part of a LONG e-mail I wrote to X soon after we met. It doesn't bother me to read it. It's pretty fucking good if I do say so myself and the "insight" I was giving her is perfectly suited to my current situation. I may have mis-read her. I may have made a mistake in giving myself to her. Regardless, I did it with the best of intentions and because I FELT it. Because I was ABLE to feel it.
That, at its base, is what I need to recover. I don't need to become someone greater. I need only to become myself again. To feel as I know I was once capable and will be again.
One last bit of notes:
She crowded me at the jukebox, not simply looking over my shoulder but actively leaning against it, and when she pointed at "The Offspring" I recoiled in horror, politely mocking her. She protested happily and it's okay if she holds Dexter and Noodles to her breast because she's damn cute and if I'll never have the chops to convert a lesbian, at least I do have a track record of getting women to stop listening to shitty music.
I didn't ask for her number. I'm not ready yet. She was hot, though. And she was diggin' it.