You & (the real) Me
Millions of times I’ve wanted to write about you and me. But I’ve never really had the right words. I’ve started and never finished so many pieces, there being no way to wrap what we are up into a neat little bow.
You and I are once in lifetime. The thing some people spend their whole lives looking for. But even all of those clichés are an understatement. And for years, I knew this but not logically. Logically, what I knew was, people don’t really meet their soul mate in high school. People don’t start dating at 17 and stay together forever. But now, with 10 years behind us, I can say I met my soul mate surrounded by lockers and a busy cafeteria. You were quiet. I was so loud. I had so much to say and you almost nothing. You hid behind this giant hair that covered your face, I hid behind a big personality, a heavy dose of perfectionism, a 4.0. You puzzled me, even from the very beginning. Like, who is this guy? We didn’t make sense on paper then. I remember the first time we kissed like it was last weekend. You never played games. You used to call me and say, “I really like you. I missed you and just wanted to hear your voice.” What kind of game is this? I knew early on I was a goner for you. What I didn’t expect is how much it would terrify me. How confronting it would be. Being loved so much at a young age when I was so very far from my real self. I never expected you.
I struggled with my own demons as we got older. Always the pragmatic, I told you how unrealistic it was for us to expect to be together forever. Be real be real be real. All with the declaration that what we were wasn’t real. It can’t be. Because what if it is, and I lose it? What if one day you see the real me, and you don’t like her very much? I would tell you, if you knew the real me, that’s exactly what would happen.
The real me. Whoever the fuck that is.
But you wouldn’t hear of it. I spent our late teens and even early twenties force feeding you logic when I got too scared. But you never wavered. I’d say, “What do you like about me?” And you’d say so simply and finite: “I’m in love with you.” “But what if one day you aren’t?” “That’s not possible.” I had enough doubt for the both of us. You never seemed to have an ounce of it.
The day of our wedding, our uncle who married us told me he’d never heard a man use the word wife so quickly after the ceremony. He told me it took you about 2 minutes. I had run off with my bridesmaids to the bathroom and you walked right up to him and said, “Where’s my wife?” He thought it was the sweetest thing. I wasn’t surprised that you took to the term so fast. I’d been yours since we were kids, you were probably thrilled to have the real word for it. Everyone told me that they’d never seen such a happy groom. That you smiled ear to ear the whole night and they’d never seen a man so thrilled. Almost as if you couldn’t believe your luck that I said yes. But it was never luck. I’ve been a goner for you from the start. Probably since the first night we exchanged “I love you”, and afterwards you walked me to my car. I tripped and fell on the grass outside and instead of helping me up you sat right down next to me and we laughed into the dark night and looked up at the stars.
When I got sick, those same demons I’ve struggled with my entire life caught up to me. You were, of course, yourself. Reassuring and full of love. Constant. Just like you’ve always been. When my doctor told us how rare my condition was, you told me on the way home that you never needed more proof that I was one in a million, but here that proof was. And the weird thing about love like this, at least for me, was the way it confronted my sense of self. And that voice came back with a vengeance. Like, what did I ever do to be loved like this? What if one day you realize I’m not worth the effort? What if I’m so sick, that I ruin your life too? How is this possible that I deserve to be loved like this? If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me very much.
And these probably aren’t the words you were expecting to hear about my love story. But it’s the truth. Real love means that person will confront everything you think you know about what it means to be yourself. And piece by piece, they’ll encourage you to drop anything that you use to hide that real self from them and from the world. Sometimes life circumstances will help you out. Life will force you to let go of things you thought were important or essential even to your sense of self. Like your long hair (check) or control over your body and your mind (double check) or autonomy over your whole damn life (check). When that happened to me, it preyed on every single self-consciousness I’d ever had about myself. It was like confirmation that all along, that voice inside my head was right. Like, SEE? I told you, if you saw the real me you wouldn’t love me so much. When I got sick, I could finally see what was underneath all the things I’ve used to hide. Bald, weak, can’t add up single digit numbers correctly. If you thought you fell in love with a beautiful and intelligent woman, clearly you were mistaken.
And here’s the real magical part. If you have a love like I do, that person will look at you with all the love in the world and also like you’re completely and wholly insane. And say, those things have nothing to do with why I love you.
When it comes to love, anything that keeps your real self hidden is simply in the way. And my husband never wanted me to be sick, but if anything, he reveled in the fact that I couldn’t play dress up anymore. I couldn’t hide behind anything. Just me. No long blonde hair, no makeup, no 4.0. Everything I thought I needed to be “me” got taken away. And imagine my surprise, when it changed absolutely nothing and that what he’d been in love with the whole time was underneath. And even though I’d been playing dress up since I was a little girl, (and I still miss it sometimes, when I feel like hiding) I know I’m better off without it. How could I have known, as that little girl, that I only ever had to be myself to be loved?
And I know exactly what my husband would say to that and the exact expression on his face. He would laugh, smile ear to ear just like he did on our wedding day, and say, “How could you have ever NOT known that?” Ten years bringing me back to myself, and we’re just getting started.
The real me, loves you.