The mangled doppelgänger
Oh, I had so many clever lines in my head last night, and themes and messages. And I was so tired, having woken up before five after a dream in which the boy was peeing all over my clean laundry, marking his territory even in sleep. I forgot the lines, stayed up too late, and now I’m hiding out in Local 123 while someone else cleans my house. The coffee is good, the chocolate glazed vegan donut went down easy, and here we are, you and me, alone again, together.
When I get home I’ll put on the ripped duds, the faded duds, the old duds, will begin to clear stuff out of the office and start to prep for painting. The boy will have his usual Wednesday child care/play date, worth the expense this week even though I’m not in school, because it will buy me productive time. Maybe I’ll even get a coat of paint on the ceiling.
But I get ahead of myself, ahead of us. Yesterday my therapist advised that I opt out of the shared obsession. She also reminded me that I don’t need a consensus to paint the walls of my house, that sometimes I can do whatever I damn well please, and that there is more that I can take control over without waiting for action or approval. Somehow I think the obsession and my paralysis are connected. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty, to ache from moving bookcases and boxes, get lost in hard bop or the smooth interview stylings of Terry Gross while I sand and scrub and coat the walls.
Monday’s post is still on my mind. Not the time or the man, but the underlying theme of writing about other people. As far as I know, no one has written about me in any semi-public way. Maybe someday my son will do it, contrast my occasional tempers with the warmth of my healing belly. It is his right to do so; I imagine that he is also the only one who would be interested enough to take me on as a topic, given my centrality to his childhood. Consequently, I have never come across my word shadow, my mangled doppelgänger, me filtered through the eyes and mind of someone who loved or hated me, who wanted or had me, who laughed or cried with me. It would probably be an unsettling experience, aggravating and flattering, to see yourself here (no matter if it is you; my representations are often not literal). After all, you were important enough for me to record, to transfigure into metaphor, even if the metaphors or stories sting or seem unfair.
For quite a long time, I thought my childhood and adolescence belonged to me alone, that it was fine to present the other participants as I saw them, without much thought about how they might feel about it. I assumed that no one would be reading anyway and that if they did they would understand (!) I was telling a story, not the whole "truth" as it was. I wrote about my experience as filtered through time and introspection. Other people became my semi-fictional characters. These assumptions, not surprisingly, were wrong; many people do not enjoy reading one-sided representations of their former selves. I've tried to change my ways, not always successfully.
Yesterday I mentioned writing about B, someone I was involved with in college, within the context of accepting the roles of other people in the formation of my narrative. B and I are good friends today, were before the original post, too. He read my representation of our early interactions right after I wrote it and was so kind about my writing (as he generally is). My experience was mine to write about, he told me. Granted, B is a writer. He gets it. The tone of the piece isn’t accusatory, more nostalgic and sad, so perhaps there was nothing objectionable in it anyway. Maybe this example is an isolated case. But in the two years since I wrote that post, I’ve felt no need to write about our time together again. The past is put to rest. I haven't scattered clues. There have been no occasional fishing expeditions, no interpretations or misinterpretations.
So, Dear Reader, are you here? Do I dream about you, write about you longingly, impugn your [redacted] name? Do I rail at your way with words, at your unfulfilled claims? Are you a member of my cast of characters? I’ve written about the man my mother and I lived with when I was small, even named him because I thought he was dead, and then erased his identity, including our nickname for him, when I found I was mistaken. I’ve given my former stepfather’s name, though I think I finally deleted it. Kevin obviously gets a real name mention, something I’ve worried about lately when I think about his son (mentioned here, but unnamed) stumbling upon the blog. There are my best friends from various eras, and old roommates, all of whom I am remain in touch with, all occasional readers, all pseudonymized. My main crushes from middle school onward have gotten mentions and sometimes make repeated appearances, especially those from the adult era, with its complications and projections. The husband, the ex-husband, the ex-boyfriends, are here. Perhaps you are here, or my mental representation of you is.
Now that I've gathered you, summed you up, my imaginary audience, the cast in my Big Show, I move to the question of why. Why tell these stories, stir up a past that no one but me and a few others cares about? The confessional era of the blog is over, but sometimes my stories are important to tell anyway, obliquely, conventionally, as warnings, letters, or signs. Stories make up our lives. They are experiences we have synthesized and extracted meaning from. If my past, was meaningless, not worth a retell, a reframing, what does that make my current life? If my time with you was plotless, aimless, entirely hopeless, how can I integrate it into the larger narrative, fit it into my story? Perhaps you are indigestible, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying to break down our shared experience, however brief our time together was.
There are times when the writing is about something else, a way to exorcise emotion, to communicate when I have been silenced. Sometimes my posts are complicated maps to my psyche, guides that I hope someone wants to unfold, to interpret, to discover old, disused trails and tromp along high-strung highways. Could be you, could be a stranger. What can I say? Unresolved is unresolved until it is dissolved and forgotten.
So: are you here? Do you see yourself in the boyfriends, in the friends, in the posts about love and desire? Maybe. Maybe. But don’t take me too literally. Don’t assume that your occasional appearance, if that is you lurking between the words, indicates the strength of the flame of my torch, that my continued affection is a pathological thing, a tendency to cling to wisps of memory. I am nothing but a phantom myself, unknowable as you, no matter how I try to get to the truth of the matter. I played a part in your life, too, and you can frame me as you wish. What is the truth, anyway? It's a story, a viewpoint, a shifting thing. Accept the ambiguity, accept my sincere admiration. Enjoy the room I created for you in my heart.
Image: The edited frame job, a ghost, my doppelgänger.