|At a Mark Johnson concert in New Jersey, August 1, 2009|
Then, not too long ago, I was sitting across the table in a restaurant with a woman I was hoping to date [yes, I am dating now--perhaps the subject of another post--perhaps not!--and no, she didn't want to date me] when I realized that without even trying I was speaking with my natural voice. And I continued to do so for our entire dinner. How could this be? I think that it was hard to accomplish this transformation with Heather because with her I was trying to exude benevolence, which I believed was of great importance given that she was a survivor of an abusive relationship.
Why then did my voice transformation not happen with my other friends either? This, I think, has to do with habit and expectation. I, of course, having the habit and they the expectation. We are constructed, at least in part, by others’ presumptions and suppositions about who we are and how we are expected to behave. We employ such social calculation in order to preserve the solidity of relationships, that we might know what to anticipate at any given moment. What others believe we are influences who we are--or at least how we present ourselves to be. My voice then was an emblem of all the things I was "expected" to be, by Heather and my friends.
|Celebrate Brooklyn, "Purple Rain" sing-along, August 6, 2009|
The artificial voice and the absent cheek-chewing are two things that have "died" of their own volition--one I would characterize as positive change and the other negative--but what else about myself might change as a result of Heather's passing? Specifically, what might I wish to change? Transitions in life often afford the opportunity to reinvent one's self. Part of me is no longer necessarily attached to the things I was when sharing my life with Heather. Not that I regret them or felt constrained by them, but now, in my new circumstance, I feel it's time to re-examine and perhaps recalibrate some of the whats of who I am.
Interestingly, one of the first things I thought about changing was my name. I have other names by which people know me--for instance, there are folks in Radical Faerie circles who only know me by JoyBoy. But I am toying now for the first time with actually changing the name I already have. Upon brief reflection I decided to keep my first name but contemplated what a good last name would be. What jumped out at me was the funny way that my ex mother-out-law Gladys would refer to me as Vinny Colossus. After thinking about it a while I thought I'd rather not have that as my legal name, but perhaps would use it as a pen name. I'm taking feedback on this. What do you think? Too pretentious? Too similar to my current name to represent much change? Too silly? Post a comment below if you have an opinion.
Another thing I am taking a second look at is my having been in relationships for almost thirty consecutive years, except for a four month break between Lover #1 and Lover #2. After this there was a Lover #2a and Heather was #3. I'm using the crass number system to indicate that my relationships have been long-lasting, as well as to protect identities. I've never really dated, but have quickly jumped into commitment--sort of the anti-stereotype of the man who has to be dragged to the altar, pushed into settling down. As I enter the world of dating I think that maybe I don't want to repeat this pattern...perhaps I'd like to see a number of people for short periods of time, maybe without the notion of coupling for life or even for very long. Maybe I don't have to be the guy in the monogamous relationship either--perhaps I'd like more freedom to do as I wish sexually, either without pairing or from within the context of being partnered. Certainly I know many people who live this way. Yet faced with the actuality of meeting and considering people to date, I find myself wanting to couple and get carried away with traditional romantic love. There's nothing I've experienced in my life that's better, and I just might not be cut out for the life of a libertine. But the call to transform is strong too.
I experienced a similar desire to reinvent myself at the tail end of the relationship I was in prior to Heather. I wanted to be a more open person in general, as I'd felt myself closing off with Lover #2, and the morning of the day I met Heather I meditated upon being open to new things. So when I met Heather I was essentially not the same person as the one who was with Lover #2 the night before. In the ensuing days, through spending time with Heather "on the run," I changed my ideas about, and practice of, punctuality. What I lost was the uncanny ability to always know what time it was within two or three minutes without using a watch. What I gained was a measure of flexibility in not judging friends who were late and allowing myself to occasionally be tardy as well. These changes and others in the adaptability/looseness vein, it turns out, didn't wholly last--although my keen perception of chronological time was forever gone. Because my receptiveness to the new and different and my easy-going "nature" diminished over time, Heather would later say she felt misled--that the guy she first met had changed. That I had changed back toward who I was before, she felt was evidence of deception. For my part, I did not intend to dissemble, but rather altered my behavior based on a new situation and the influence of a new person, namely Heather.
Heather knew something about this process of changing according to one's environment of friends and lovers. She used to say at the beginning of our relationship, "You don't love me--you love the person [my Ex] made me into." By this she meant that her "sweetness" and pliability were vestiges of her response to the abuse of her ex-husband, and that, in her opinion, I wouldn't be in love with "the real her," should that ever emerge. Over time, it did, and while I was sometimes taken aback I was never turned off to her, and was glad that she got to be more authentically herself, even when it meant that I was being given "a hard time." What was really happening was that I was being dealt with honestly, which was my preference.
Is it possible that my wanting to metamorphose is merely an attempt to escape the pain of being myself--a grieving widower, alone? Yes, of course that may be a part or even all of it. I remember telling my friend Liz in the first weeks following Heather's death that "I wish that I would go completely insane and just hallucinate that I'm with Heather--because I'd get to talk to her and be with her all the time." Liz was wise enough to point out that while insanity might at first blush seem alluring, psychotics are not usually in the habit of having exclusively pleasant visions. There is nothing wrong with wanting to avoid pain, as long as one deals with the pain's cause in a sensible fashion.
The human psyche is at least as intricate as the complexities of life, and well capable of bifurcating emotional responses. Thus, overwhelmed by the loss of Heather I frantically call her sister Lizzy, who speaks to me for two hours--that night I go to a party and have a really good time. I get the feeling that there are some people in the room who think I'm having too good a time--that it's unseemly to laugh so much so soon after being widowed. They weren't present during my earlier panic, but I'm not inclined to explain myself to them. Besides, I could be imagining their judgment. Another day I wake up crying, thinking about my beautiful departed beloved, and soon after phone a woman for a date. Both the tears and the call seeking companionship are valid ways of dealing with my pain. Is it too soon to be dating? There are, of course, no rules in this matter, and while there are those who will apply their standards to others' behaviors, I view dating as the far end of the spectrum of Re-engaging With Life. For me, asking the question "Is it too soon to have dinner with friends?" makes as much sense.
|Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, September 26, 2009|