I was thinking today of this time when a friend of mine said at a poetry reading, a big group one that I'd been going to for at least a couple of years, "I'm so grateful your husband lets you come out to these things" and I nearly keeled over from shock and laughter. Seriously I started laughing my ass off. "Let me"? Now that is something I have never in my relationship with Rook felt for a single second controlled either one of us. We don't "let" each other do stuff. I really think we are just ourselves.
Somehow this got me thinking of my relationship in college with my old boyfriend Dr. Dick. I dated him from when I was 18 to when I was 20 or so and we lived together for most of that time in a big co-op. I thought how maddening it was that he would never talk about anything. But he would listen to all my crazy ideas and shit. Basically, it was like this blog, all 5 million words of it, but coming out of my mouth every night. But then as things started to go weird, I had less to say. He would go, *long silence*... "What are you thinking." And I would, basically to avoid saying what I was actually thinking which was OMG FUCK YOU WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE WHY DON'T YOU EVER TALK, I would start babbling distractedly about whatever came into my head. If I said "What are YOU thinking" or more neutrally, "I dunno what about you?" He would just handwave and turn it back on me. Somehow, this combined with a strange life where he knew when I had class, and my work schedule, and my co-op work things, and if I went out the door of our (shared with many people) living room to the outside, he'd always ask me where I had been, which got to feeling like he was suspicious and weird, because I'd go, "Laundry room" and he'd go, "But you were gone an hour" and I'd feel a giant SURGE OF RAGE at having just washed his fucking clothes along with mine, but would tamp it down and go, "Yeah I stopped by the TV room and hung out watching star trek with some people" and he'd go, "Oh? Who?" and I'd then use the Distracting Babble technique to get us out of that kind of conversation. So, this rarely got direct, but you can see it was nasty. Ever been in a relationship like that? If you just pretend it's not there, you can act freely. Have you ever done that?
As some of you imaginary long-term readers may recall, the creepy punchline is that all along, Dr. Dick was secretly engaged to this woman who had moved out to Austin with him as his fiancee but agreed to live separately so as not to be distracted from their PhDs. WHO FUCKING KNEW. So he would go off and have sex with her at lunch. And she never, ever, came to his place - how is that? How? At least she was like 1 million times dumber than me... Man! I felt really bad for her too and the nice bit of the story is she went off, married someone else, had 2 kids as fast as possible, and I hope lived happily ever after. Anyway, while she was off in a women's dorm, I lived with her fiancee (!!!) basically like we were married. The truth all came out in a giant wave of drama when the fiancee approached me at random as her boyfriend's cute next door neighbor who she propositioned -- she thought she was snagging an HBB for her man. It went so, so, wrong.
In contrast to that tangle of lies and paranoia and silence, and in contrast to the expectations of my poetry-writing friend as to the conditions of interpersonal relationships, in 10 years with Rook I don't think either one of us has done anything more than say "I'd like to go to Finland" or "I'm in love with this other person too" or "What if I change careers". The other person has always kind of gone, "Huh." and then we talk about it. But there is no LETTING... or permission-giving.
How otherwise could any sane person tolerate life? I'd like to know?
The other thing that popped into my head tonight was a series of photos one of my friends did. Sabina took a ton of photos of all of us, people she was close to, and said it was for a project. She let us look at all the proofs and pick out the one we liked best of ourselves as a portrait. At the end of the project she showed us sort of an exhibit, and she explained. Every person had 2 photos mounted on the wall. The first was the one that they picked, the way they see themselves or want to be seen. The second was *how she saw them, their essential self or personality*. The whole thing was horrifying. Barb had picked something where she was dressed up, girly, uncomfortable and tight looking. Sabina had picked one of her that was just... the same way I saw Barb... smiling, full of hilarity to the point of painfulness, intense as hell. (But, if you knew her, you would know that she would see only that it made her nose look too big, or something that her friends would never think of.) Paul I think had picked a very Arty looking photo of himself with one of his sculptures looking very Brooding Young Man About Town but Sabina had put next to it one where he was looking right at the camera very sweetly - a person essentially sweet and a little confused.... Oh, the horrid truth! In the photo of me that I'd picked out, I was sitting - maybe on his lap but maybe just next to - with Dr. Dick and all my body language self-effaced and went "I am a couple" and "My attention is all on this man". I swear to god... I was *simpering*. It was not till I saw the rest of the exhibit, and the two photos together, that I realized: I'd picked it because it looked like what I thought "happy couple" should be and because startlingly Dr. Dick did not look like an alcoholic zombie in that photo (as he usually did) and I wanted a nice picture of us together. In the photo of me that Sabina picked out, I was pensive and a little out of focus, surrounded by books. I think Dr. Dick was very blurry in the background, far away. It contained all her love and pity, I think, for where I was and couldn't quite be as a person, as a feminist. You've had fantastic friends with shitty partners, and wished you could jolt them out of it, but knew you couldn't and they'd take their own sweet time and you just hope they become *more themselves*? Yeah me too. Yet: I could swear even now that most people thought I was free, was myself, was perhaps remarkably so to the point of being "inspiring": Sabina saw I wasn't. I was that person who was not quite being herself; limiting myself and "letting" myself be limited. Staring at Sabina's portrait of me as her beloved friend, I realized right down to my core that she had taken a photo of Actual Me. It was like a photo of the Me of my journals, a self that didn't have a public home and that I didn't know how to live as. Thanks Sabina!
I thought tonight of the person I was in 1989 who would babble to avoid the questions about where I was and who I talked to and wondered, which bits of that self are still in there? How am I behaving? How am I sort of messed up? I appreciate the ways I have grown bigger - and more free. It feels like I stretched and stretched and kept going and never stopped or was satisfied, always wanting to be new. But I am also still that person from 1989 - and also the 16 year old girl cowering on the kitchen floor screaming about Constitutional Rights and free love as her dad spit in her face. And who will I be 10 years from now? How do we contain all these selves? I feel like a whole person, a free person. What is the lesson of Sabina's photographs, besides that you are not entirely who you think you are?