Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Women I'm Not Married To

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Women I’m Not Married To

My life could have taken several different directions. I was not interested in getting married at 23, but I could have copied the life of many of my peers. Rather than sticking with my identity as an outsider, I could have thrown up my hands in frustration and opted for assimilation. Instead, I was too invested with my passions and strongly held opinions to succumb to what I saw was a unconditional surrender to impotence and irrelevancy.

When in middle school, a bookish girl who wore glasses regularly spoke of her literary passions before the class. She was always reading something new. I felt comforted that I was not alone, not the only person wrestling with intellectual pursuits in place of surface banalities. At the beginning of high school, I noticed a shocking about-face. She changed herself completely. Makeup and trendy clothing were substituted in place of her previously dowdy and mousy physical appearance.

She began to hang around with the popular crowd. To them, intelligence wasn’t cool, nor were eyeglasses. Now she wore contacts and displayed a slightly vacant, impassive expression during class. I wish I could have had the courage to ask her why. Had this been a makeover, from a fashion standpoint, it would have been one thing. Instead, every semblance of who she had been before had been radically removed, forcibly excised, as with an airbrush.

Where had she gone? The change was dramatic and upsetting. Her days of taking advanced classes and offering her well-reasoned opinions to the class were had departed. She no longer raised her hands to participate in class. Instead, she’d decided that fitting in was more important. One of my private (though unacknowledged) heroes had departed and discarded her previous identity, much as a snake might shed its skin.

Aside from school, my circle of friends and acquaintances now included figures I would have never considered before. Megan, as I’ll call her here, attended the same Southern Baptist church I did. My parents felt overwhelmed as my sole caretakers, making sure I stayed healthy and alive, and opted to join a church family who would assist them with the process.

Neither of them really agreed with the theology, but sold, to some extent, into a conservative Christian perspective as a form of social camouflage. Part of me sees this move as cynical and opportunistic, but I know this to be mostly an act of desperation. They didn’t know what else to do.

While medications and the combined stress of living with severe depression left me gaunt, thin, and pale, I found a few admirers here and there. Megan was the very definition of the girl-next-door. I’ve always had a weakness for freckles and good old fashioned American wholesomeness. The sweet, introverted types go for me in a big way. Here, however, my inward life was too crazed and out of control for anything much to develop.

Megan would have been a stable, solid wife, had I been looking for a wife at age 17. I concede that I was seeking depth when others were still dating for fun. This is what made me feel like a sore thumb most of all. I’ve always been an old soul, and that held me back for a very long time. What is the value now in playing “what if”? I recognize now there are significant details about me that would have never been acceptable to her.

I would have had to hide my attraction to men along with my impossible-to-easily-categorize gender identity. She might have seen me as inherently sinful, provided I made no attempt to rectify what she may have seen as a lifestyle choice. Would she have tolerated these parts of me privately if they never became public knowledge? Any relationship is predicated upon compromise, but I was always a more worldly figure than she was. I’m not sure I would have ever truly won her respect, even if I’d won her hand.

In grad school, I became friends with a recently married woman in a similar predicament. Her husband struggled with bipolar disorder himself, but did not make the same effort that I did to get better. I tried to be friends with the both of them, though with limited success. On a car trip, his wife not in attendance, he offered me pot. I partook of it.

He noted numerous times that he was only supposed to run a quick errand. When we arrived, he was too disoriented to make any sense, or to even carry on a comprehensible conversation. Like many ne’er do wells, he let his shortcomings dictate the direction of his life. It took me a while to realize just how troubled he was and the depths of his illness.

His wife enabled him to make poor choices and catered to his every whim. I recognized instantly, based on our marijuana experience, the depths of his habit. It rivaled mine, in my own heyday. The relationship was hopelessly dysfunctional. He was emotionally demanding and she did not draw sufficient boundaries around herself. I speculated that she might have been the child of an alcoholic or a drug addict, and perceived of this arrangement as more or less normal.

Often, she found herself daily drained from the experience of caring for him. Her religious faith was severely tested by her wayward husband, no doubt calling many larger issues into question. Some people are too sweet and trusting for their own good. Though I hurt for them, I know that they've got to pull themselves out of their own situation.

From time to time, I randomly Facebook search women from my past. The ones who I manage to locate, nine out of ten times, are already married. I know this immediately because their profile names have been resolutely and purposefully revised. They reflect three names now, not the two that I remember. Several display, as their profile picture, babies recently born or small children. Socially acceptable voyeurism aside, I’ve never had the heart to search for everyone.

I saw Megan last at a large open-air music festival in town. I was then a freshman in college. She was obviously drunk, but afraid I’d judge her for partaking in liquid spirits. Her face plainly showed her fears. Alcohol and tobacco were highly discouraged among Southern Baptists. I was not offended in the least.

Abstinence, in many forms, was always strongly reinforced and vocalized in the prevailing culture. The appropriate biblical verse was cited in numerous occasions, proclaiming that everyone’s body was a temple. Our temple was not to be defiled or dirtied. God’s home on earth was to be spotlessly clean. My temple must have been absolutely filthy, in their way of thinking. I smoked cigarettes in high school, already addicted before I could even legally purchase them myself.

Megan was too wholesome for me. She was the consummate good girl, shy, passive and probably inclined to place my concerns before her own. Back then, I was distracted by the pursuit of more rebellious, even dangerous women. I chased bad girls because they were a challenge. I was successful at times, but I often was not. The more sympathetic of the set patted me on the head for my efforts, and then sent me on my way.

Attraction is frequently predicated on what we want but cannot have. The women I pursued were often consumed with the next punk rock demigod. I didn’t fit the profile. I was too nice, not sullen and nihilistic. Each of us has to learn how to recognize what is likely wasted effort. Megan was a little too vanilla for me. And even then, I still sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I sold into that lifestyle. Would I be married now, with two kids and a third on the way?

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