Thursday, October 27, 2011

Forks in the Road and Alternate Lives

Last week, in a quiet and unscheduled moment, I logged into facebook and spied on my friends' lives.  Don't know how this goes for you, but generally for me this is a pleasant time.  You know?  I mean, I browse some music or comedy videos, see what my San Francisco people are doing, notice whether someone has a purple cow in some weird farm thing people seem to like...all in good fun and suspended internet reality.

Well normally it's all fun and games, but once in a while I'll see something on facebook that grabs me in the gut and lurches me out of my virtual opiate.  Something personal.  Something real.  Recently, that thing was a good high school friend's album of engagement photos.

I am of the age where close friends of mine are now settling down, buying houses, making families, planting roots - but I am still at the starving artist stage where I'm living paycheck to paycheck, sharing a bunkbed, and mucking up the romantic waters like it's my job.  Actually, if that is a job and you know of someone who would pay me for that and let it be my job, that would be great...

This particular friend and her fiance have stuck through high school, college, and adulthood together.  They've put each other through various vocational training programs and personal milestones, and been too stubborn to leave each other alone for roughly 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week.  How do I know this stalker-ish piece of information, you might ask?  I know because they got together about the same time my ex and I got together.

Our anniversaries were the same month, same year.  We went to the same proms together as couples (seperate make-out cars though, of course).  We worked at the same swimming pool, all of us.  We took classes at the same community college.  The boys were surfing buddies.  We even played apples and oranges together in the same college dorm when I was visiting over my spring break.

Subconsciously over time my relationship kind of tracked itself in tandem with theirs - even when I moved to New York.  When they moved in together, my ex started talking about moving in together, and I started to realize that I didn't much care for the idea.  Then when my relationship exploded in flames before folding itself to a heavy, tiny, universe-swallowing silence that I carry in my heart at all times, I watched in a daze as they sidestepped calamity and kept being together.  They just didn't stop being together!  Why not?!?!  I mean, we stopped being together.  Didn't that mean that the rest of the world had to derail too?  Didn't that mean that everything had to crash and burn? 

Often, I am ashamed to admit, I felt bitterly jealous of them throughout my post-breakup depression.  Why did they make it?  Why were they still together when we clearly loved each other more than they did?  (I mean, who thinks something like that?)  Why did they get a lifetime when I got only 5 years?  Why did they get to win?  (As if this was a competition!!)  Little twisted, right?  Probably a definite sign that I needed to be taken out of the "race"...goodness gracious. 

This is all somewhat funny to me today, as I click through their beautiful engagement photos and smile to myself at the computer (a non-creepy, non-stalker smile, by the way).  I smile seeing the contentment and comfort in their faces, and I smile recognizing the familiar natural backdrops of my hometown's gorgous outdoors in their photoshoot.  They are together and in love in the same redwoods and beaches that were there for me 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week ago.  They are hand in hand, looking forward at life from a shared vantage point.  I smile, seeing the life that I decided against.  I smile, knowing I could never do what they are doing.  I smile, wishing them all the best.

Yet, my emotions can't help reacting and noticing that I am not where my friends are.  In fact, my emotions are throwing a very unladylike hissy fit.  I've even been walking through the rain today humming U2's "With or Without You" to myself angstily.  "Look what could have been," my feelings say.  "I want that!!  Look what you gave up, you big dope."  (Feelings can be kinda rude.  I always hesitate to invite them to dinner parties.)

So, ok, yeah Feelings, whatever.  You have a point, I lost that - maybe.  Assuming we could have made a happy couple.  Which is doubtful.  Sometimes two plus two just equals orange.  And the TRUTH is, I lost that life because I chose a different life.  I chose to say goodbye, and walked away.  If my heart clenches a little bit and my eyes sting, and if a part of my brain is wishing uselessly for impossible things, what can be done?  Feelings, feelings, feelings... 

Feelings are only one part of me.  It's true that sometimes they seem to overwhelm and take over every other part, but that's a perception and not reality.  I can acknowledge feelings, note them, feel them: but I don't have to be their slave.  I can look around at my current vantage point, my current life, and give thanks.  Here's what I see; no redwoods, but the Chrysler building is to my left and the statue of Liberty at my feet.  No rugged beaches and salt stinging sunsets, but I'm surfing a new matrix of experiences and opportunities and living the dream as an actress in New York City.  No high school sweetheart, but I do have the love of my life (Jesus) and my home is filled with lovely people who build beauty and truth into my world.  My family is behind me and offering their love and support, enjoying the fact that one of their own gets to pursue her dreams.  City lights mesmerize me at night, and the grace of God spreads itself like a safety net under my harrowing existence.  
I have a lot to be thankful for.  And if my life is not what I imagined 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week ago, that's probably because life is a surprise.  My imagination is still growing.  My heart is still growing. 

When we say goodbye to someone or something we love, it's easy to see only the overwhelming "ouch," and we survive that ouch only to have to feel it time and again as we move on and stumble over little reminders of what we left behind.  When I look over the last 3 years since my life took this unexpected turn, sure, I see some pain and loss that I didn't want.  But there is a lot of good stuff that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.  I had to learn to live with myself and my choices, and figure out how to still be a person after the "impossible" happened.  I had to learn to let go and forgive - and also to forgive myself for doing things I never thought I would do.  And now there are film festivals, faith builders, MFA degrees, plays, travels, new loves, and a hard-earned but precious new honesty about myself.  There are late nights in jazz clubs, holidays in Texas, agents and new business bank accounts for a theater piece that I am co-creating and co-producing.  

I see these things as a direct result of the Unexpected, the Unwelcomed change in my life plan.  These things are all core curriculum requirements of learning compassion.  And these things, weighed on the scales, balance to a positive gain.  So I say once again, because every time I think of it I probably need to do it again; goodbye, alternative life.  Goodbye.  I love you...but, the road and I are going this way...

It's the gypsy life for me.  As the chihuahua says in Oliver and Company, "If this is torture, chain me to the wall!!"


  1. I love you.
    I love this post. I love the dreams that you have, and are following, despite the uncertainties and unknowns. I admire your courage, your gumption, your talent.
    I'm so glad you're in NYC. (Partly because it means you're somewhat close to me.) I'm glad your show is GOING TO HAPPEN. I'm glad you're YOU.

  2. Well said. Many of us probably ought to say goodbye to Alternative Lives (relationships, career choice, regretted decisions, etc).

  3. I am happy to read this! And I love the life you've chosen, because I get to be part of it and create with you. =)

  4. Thank you guys! Suzette, I love you too! Things happen for a reason, don't they? Travis, saying goodbye can be hard, but I think we all have to cross those bridges when we get there. Larissa, I am SO THANKFUL that I get to create with YOU and get to know you as a friend and artist. YAY for "The Body Stories!"