Two weeks ago, someone asked me if I was "starting to get myself back." It is a hard question and not one I hear very often. I hear, "How is your job?" "Do you like it?" That's mostly what I hear. And I say, "Good" and "Yes" and people nod and say, "Good." A puddle deep interaction when I am a great well of feelings, of which "good" is not one. So when Lori asked, "Are you starting to feel more like Chloe again?" I realized that that was a feeling I knew, a feeling I could point to and identify. When my hair finally starts to grow long and healthy, after years of breaking and flat-out refusing to endure, that makes me feel like myself. When I look in the mirror and don't feel compelled to suck in my stomach or cry, that makes me feel like myself. When I write a poem that sticks, a paragraph that could live on its own, without me, when I buy car insurance, when I dance until 4:00 a.m., when I hold my best friend's shoulders and kiss their cheeks, when I don't run or hide, when I get closer, when I stare back, when I climb down my fire escape at 10:00 pm to investigate a mysterious clicking, when the record plays and when it skips, when the phone rings and when it doesn't, I feel like myself.
The notion of unshakeable selfhood is, ultimately, ludicrous. To think you cannot be swayed, moved, or changed may be true—but what an empty, un-filling meal. The sand that gets into our shoes, that pisses us off, and doesn't seem to fully vanish until months after the beach, sands down the bottoms of our feet. We're left with something more permeable, more feeling, more raw. When I used to think of myself, I thought of someone who was steadfast and unrelenting. I pictured a woman who was devoted to her convictions and her ideologies, to her dreams and her plans, to her whims. Unrelenting whims, a phrase to sum up my life, thus far. Now, when asked to describe myself, I see my face in the mirror, smirking back at me. We share a secret world, a third space, between my body and the universe, a place I share with no one. A place, a room, of one's own. This is what I got all those months ago, when my heart was broken and my sense of self seemed as stable as dandelion fluff. I now know, that the dandelion fluff is not something to hate or condemn or mistrust. In the fluff, I find the empathy, the whimsy, the moments where not enough and not full do not exist. In between the pink glitter and the bare face, I find that there is room for both kinds of existence, there is space for both ideations of self.
"The future you're capable of imagining is already a thing of the past. Who did you think you would grow up to become? You could never have dreamt yourself up. Sit down. Let me tell you everything that's happened. You can stop running now. You are alive in the woman who watches you vanish." Dani Shapiro, Hourglass
You are alive in the woman who watches you vanish. I've watched her vanish over passing months—I helped her leave. She left me with her dreams and wishes, which she had stuffed into a box labeled, "I don't know what the fuck to do with this." It took some convincing to share. As her skin stretched into mine, it became beautiful, bright, porous. Together we soaked in salt, slept with Stella and passed control between each other's hands. It became increasingly clear that she did not want it any longer, that she was tired, and no longer felt like fighting me. Often she would disappear for weeks at a time, I would not look for her. I would forget her, until she came storming into a room, sobbing and asking to use my phone.
"'I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, and who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.'" Joan Didion, "On Keeping a Notebook"
I do more than nod to her; oh, how I admire her. She was so unconditional, fighting against the undercurrents of reality, in order to love her love, to have her dream. She didn't win though, she lived a life we could not maintain or sustain, and so ultimately, I watch her vanish, piece by piece, day by day. I am left with her good graces and her best wishes, I am left to carry on the dirge of living.
To return to the original question—
Did I get myself back? No and Yes. Yes and No. I got something else, a third thing. A face that is both familiar and new. A heart that is both bruised and valiantly beating. A soul that unfurls to fill the spaces, that cracks in order to receive light. I got the notion that there is no one self, no one tale, no one love, no one ending, but instead, facets, loopholes, grey areas, dimly lit corners, and sun-spangled meadows. There were books and there were boys, and but there was always me. Me, my best and dearest friend, my newest and oldest love. The secret I had been keeping all along, from myself, I gifted, to myself.