May 18th, 2008
They hang in my closet as a reminder, a small torment, and something of a life jacket. I wore them when I last fell in love, hard and with almost reckless abandon, several years ago.
There was something about this particular pair of jeans that made me feel less humanly flawed and more invincible. In the smoky lower level of the Metro, where the music played a little softer and the lights stayed dim, these jeans moved me to the dance floor, where Aretha sang “If you want my lovin’ if you really do, don’t bother askin’ baby you know I’m gonna give it to you. . .” . Sheila was particularly beautiful that night, and it was easy to forget everything else, like how I normally don’t dance in public, how chaotic my life was at the time, and how different Sheila and I were in so many ways. Love doesn’t see impediments, but possibilities. Love doesn’t plan for failure, but creates the circumstances for success. So we would dance, and I would inhale the sweet smell of her neck, and forget everything else that wasn’t in the circle of glowing possibilities.
I wore those jeans weeks later when I leaned against the door in her bathroom, conversing as I watched her shave one leg, than the other. She had the sexiest iliotibial tract I’d ever seen, and the strong legs of a dancer. When she laughed, she had a tendency to throw her head back and close her eyes, deepening the hollow between her collarbones. I loved to watch her laugh.
Neither Sheila’s body nor her psyche carried any obvious scar tissue. She was younger than I was, and not just in years. Her eyes were bright with untried ideals. She ran, she played tennis, she skied, she had never smoked, or flirted with drugs. She had never had or raised children. She had never chased after a professional career, or lived outside of Minnesota. She drank herbal tea, and wore vanilla-scented lip gloss. She preferred comedies to dramas, and upbeat pop music to old love-and-lost ballads. Her closets were full of purples, reds, greens and yellows. Her mind wasn’t filled with stories, but with expectations and hopes. She sprung up in the morning, happily ready to experience whatever the day held. There was no hesitancy, no dread, none of the panic and worry that is endemic to those who of us who have beat a path to hell and back so many times we’ve memorized the travel guide.
In the bliss of fresh infatuation, I looked at this bright-eyed, optimistic, and perpetually sensual woman and thought of change. Sheila, like everyone else I’ve ever been with, was not a “you do your thing, I’ll do mine” lover. She wanted a life partner. Someone to share her days, nights, and experiences with. And because she lightened my heart and made me laugh – because she was incredibly open – because she made me feel sexy and loved and protective and generous – because she was full of pleasant surprises and kept me guessing – because she didn’t nag at me (much) for my bad habits – I thought of change and possibilities. Maybe, I thought, I don’t need to be so much of a hermit. Maybe I don’t have to write every night of my life. Maybe I can learn to like Saturday evening club-hopping and Sunday afternoons at Home Depot. Maybe it wouldn’t kill me to go jogging after dinner. These things, in exchange for a loving relationship – for all the sparks and fires and afterglows – could not be that bad.
I never considered asking Sheila to bend to my style of life. I’ve never thought of asking someone to be a hermit with me, or to eschew the social scene or ski hill for evenings spent at a desk or weekends spent with books. Somehow I suspect that the answer would be no. I even hope it would be, because I really enjoy the time I spend alone. I am very much a “you do your thing, I’ll do mine, let’s meet after” kind of lover. It seems, though, that not many people share this philosophy, and those who do aren’t generally monogamous. (I would make a lousy polyamorist, not because I have any great moral convictions, but because I really don’t like to share the people or things I love with people I don’t love – and because I have the kind of terrible curiosity that would have to know every single detail – and because, really, although I may not hold onto someone tightly, I do have a possessive streak).
I knew, given the divide between Sheila’s expectations and my life as it existed in reality, that I would have to be the one who changed. For her part, Sheila was naive, but nonetheless brave to take me on. I am, if I haven’t made it clear, not the easiest person to love. I am restless and jaded in so many ways. At turns, I am easygoing or moody. I am overly sensitive to noise, other people’s moods, and environment. My head is often in the clouds. I can talk a mile a minute or be silent for hours. I’m domestic only to the extent of doing what’s required for comfort. I never run out of coffee, but I don’t care if my checkbook is ever balanced. Trucking in practicalities doesn’t come naturally to me, since I so much prefer nearly every other alternative.
Still, there she was. Beautiful, glowing, and willing to love. All I had to do was bend. Expand. Set aside some things, and move forward with others. All I had to do was change.
Incredible months passed before my restless spirit began to bleat and scream steadily. I wanted to write more often. Sheila suggested that I write for one hour everyday, in the morning before I went to work. I wanted time to myself. She didn’t understand why my commute didn’t count. I wanted to skip a concert by her favorite band and suggested she go with a friend instead. Why couldn’t I just go and enjoy doing something she wanted to do? What would her friends think? Didn’t I love her anymore?
As the minor arguments stepped up, it wasn’t hard to pull the cynical piece of self I’d hidden out of reserve. Sheila had known only the smallest slice of a huge world. I would be her “best lover ever” for the time, but I knew that in the future there would be another best ever, and likely (hopefully) it wouldn’t be someone who was as skittish and cynical about commitment as I was.
I began to feel, more and more, like the big bad wolf to Sheila’s innocent Red Riding Hood, and because I loved her, I began to rewrite the story, imagining Sheila at her happiest not with me, but with a nice woman. One who taught grade school and volunteered her holidays at the women’s shelter. Someone who was supremely stable – who saved for yearly vacations to Mexico and used her Costco card to buy sensible things in bulk, like batteries and paper towels. Someone who had a collection of sweat suits for the right reason, and who enjoyed having 50 friends over for a barbeque. Not someone like me, with a penchant for rainy days, musty books, and a reclusive spirit.
We dated for a little under two years, which was just long enough for us to know that we were opposites in too many ways to be compatible, except that I realized it first and most insistently. It was painful in the way that any significant loss is, and more so because I was acutely aware of everything that I was losing. Not just the arguments (which I lost even when I won), but the love of someone who would never consciously seek to hurt me. The love of someone who let me love her, and who never doubted that either of us were deserving of whatever good things came our way. In losing Sheila, I was losing my innocent side – the bright-eyed and better part of me that didn’t see impediments, but possibilities, and that creates the circumstances for success – no matter how hard, how difficult, or how impossible.
We sat together under the trees at Calhoun Lake, my jean covered leg next to her bare one. She wore my favorite pair of sandals, and her nails were painted a pale shade of pink. Her wavy hair fell into curls with the humidity, and a lone ringlet fell over her left cheek. She looked so beautiful that night, lit by the reddish tones of sunset, that I almost stopped the inevitable.
Inside, the spirit continued to scream. Freedom, free, alone, write, be, think, dream. A split occurred, and another part of me screamed back in rebellion. Love, passion, her, companionship, sex, laughter.
Freedom won. And I have had my alone time, a surfeit of dreams, and there are reams of words – millions of words– that I have spent in the last ten years.
I have taken the jeans out of the closet, and with them, me.
The revolution continues.