A woman I knew in high school sat down next to me on the train. She asked if I remembered her, and immediately memories flooded into my mind. In my sophomore year of high school, I dated her best friend because everyone wanted me to stay away. Her best friend was attractive and muscular and could hang onto a stripper pole so that his body was perpendicular to the ground. He’d been voted prom king and was MVP of the basketball team. I never did more than kiss him because I wanted to prove a point: I could get the golden boy if that’s what I wanted, and I didn’t even have to let him feel me up.
Needless to say, in high school, this woman on the train had hated my guts.
We sat there on the Manhattan-bound A, this woman and I, no doubt thinking of our own high school memories, and talking about our current situations. She told me about her last boyfriend, who’d broken up with her because she hadn’t met his expectations. I told her that I’m pregnant, and she congratulated me. Then she said that she loves to hear how happy couples got together, and I offered a half-smile. “We’ve had our ups and downs”, I said about Rob and I, thinking about my last post.
“Sure you have”, she said, nodding. “All couples do… So how did you two meet?”
Rob and I met in October 2005, at the suggestion of our mutual friend, Shais. According to Shais, I was the female version of his Brooklyn-born Filipino friend who had sex in the most unusual places with the most unusual women, had crazy stories, and drank so much that it was surprising his liver still worked. With a description like that, I had to laugh. Okay, I conceded. Maybe I had a little in common with Rob.
It was a crisp autumn evening in New York, and a bunch of my college friends were going bowling. Our motley crew of political activists were rolling ten or twelve deep, and my former best friend, Yvonne, was there with her then-boyfriend, Roosevelt. We met up in Grand Central Station, hoping to secure a bowling lane at the alley, and it was there that I was introduced to a lithe, scrappy Mexican-looking man who claimed to be 27 but looked 12. He wore a beenie over his long, greasy hair; a loose white T-shirt showed from beneath his black sweater; new black Timb boots were on his feet; baggy blue jeans gave way to tears around the ankles; and a heavy black leather jacket completed his look of Kurt Cobain-rose-from-the-dead-and-now-lives-in-the-ghetto. I took one look at him and thought, Seriously?! Shais thought I’d go for him?!
Not only was Rob not as attractive as the men I usually fucked, but he was also nervous and inarticulate. I noticed immediately that his nervous tics gave him away: scratching the back of his head, stuttering before pulling out his ghetto twang, exaggerating his strangeness for comedic relief, etc. He was uncomfortable in this large group of strangers, and he was trying really, really hard to fit in.
His actions gave him away as a man I could control, a man that I could use and throw away like so many one night stands and flings. What’s more, his actions gave him away as a man who wouldn’t mind being used and thrown away.
In that instant, when I sized up Rob and figured him out, my defenses were lowered. I hadn’t yet decided what I wanted to do with him, but I was pretty sure that I wanted to see where he & I could go.
There’s something you should know about me, a confession of sorts. You tell me that I could and should and would do better than Rob if only I let him go. And, honestly, I know that. I do. I know that he doesn’t understand me the way I want to be understood. I know that he doesn’t act the way I want him to act.
But I also know a secret about myself, a secret that I’ve kept well-guarded for fear of retribution, anger, misunderstanding, and snide remarks. You see, until recently, I didn’t really have an identity of my own.
What I mean is, I’m a former pathological liar. Seriously. If you’ve known me for more than a decade, odds are that a lot of what you think you know about me is false information. Or at least, the stuff that you know about me is correct in a vast, general kind of way, but not exactly in the way that you think. Let’s take this statement as an example, “M has slept with a lot of people.” It’s true, but odds are, I told you false stories about being a slut before I made my actual descent into slutdom. So, yes, I was a slut. But not necessarily because of the stories you think you know. And not necessarily at the time you think I was a slut. (Don’t feel too badly. You know the general gist of me. You know the general gist of something I’ve gone through. And really, who can say that much?)
I’ve partied with rich kids in the Hamptons and searched for the sisters of friends in crack dens. I’ve had strange jobs and done strange things. I’ve tried on so many different personalities and gone through so many phases and spent so much time and money and attention to different wardrobes and vernaculars and ways of being. All so that I could know what it’s like to be different people, all so that I could say with certainty that I’ve been there and done that.
I didn’t somehow miraculously land in these strange situations. I coaxed these realities into being. I figured out what kind of situation I wanted to experience, and thought about what kinds of people would make them happen, and tried on the reality by telling people that it was mine. Then, when I decided that I liked what the situation entailed, I looked for people who could make these situations happen, and I made them trust me and include me into their inner circle.
I’m good at making myself indispensable. I’m good at reading people and making them like me and trust me. I’m good at doing whatever it takes to fulfill the role I need to actualize…
I’m telling you this, I guess, because I want you to fully understand me. And for you to fully understand me, you have to know that I’ve had a God complex, that I’ve been two steps away from being a tried and true sociopath, and that for a long time, I thought life was a story that I was writing. I’ve willed lies into actuality. Only the past five years or so were really real.
Shais and I were in a writer’s circle that met every three or four weeks. After our meetings, he and I would usually go out for a drink. He invited Rob along, and the three of us drank, talked about nothing of substance, got into arguments with strangers, and stumbled back to my car.
In those days, I worked as a college assistant at the campus Women’s Center, a cocktail waitress in Long Island City, and I took a full course load of classes. Maybe that’s why I was tired by the time I was driving Shais and Rob home, even though it was only 9 or 10 PM. We’d piled into my car and I was making the familiar turns, and Rob suggested that I come up for coffee.
“Right”, Shais scoffed when he heard the offer. “Coffee.”
“What?” Rob asked, innocently. “It’s late, and M’s had a long day.”
I dropped off Shais and he tipped his hat to us, all the while squinting to show that he knew what we were up to. I laughed and waved, and drove to Rob’s house. To my oversexed mind, coming up for coffee was not-so-code for I want to see you naked. And I figured, what the hell?
But Rob had other plans. He actually wanted to give me a cup of coffee and make sure that I was ok to drive back to Queens. We talked about our families, and he showed me pictures of his parents, and he told me tales that seemed so ridiculous and far-fetched that I thought I’d found my soulmate. If, that is, pathological liars could somehow see past all of the smoke and mirrors to find each other.
I didn’t realize that it was possible for someone to speak my language so fluently.
For a lot of our three years together, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not real. The problem is, I’m so used to playing games and controlling situations, that I see a lot of the world through those untrusting-colored glasses. It’s a struggle to balance my lighthearted side and my sinister tendencies. It’s hard to know what I know – all of those experiences, all of that ugliness and beauty, all of that knowledge about what life is like, all of those ways to manipulate – and lead a happy, benign, and good life.
I’m at an advantage because of the manipulative skills I’ve picked up; you can’t lie to me without me knowing it, and I’ve learned how to deal with practically any situation. But I’m at a disadvantage because I became dependent on those skills, and it’s hard to undo all of that. I’ve only ever been Me for about five or six years, and living now is like learning how to translate my native tongue into my adopted home.
Rob’s the only guy who’s seen so much of me – the real, the fake, the good, the bad – and continues to really see me. He and I met in the same boat: neither of us really knew who we were, or what we wanted, or what we deserved. Neither of us know what it takes to be in a genuine and healthy relationship. Neither of us trust others to show us the way.
And maybe that’s why I stay with him. Maybe I don’t see us as over, because us has been a learning experience in the most authentic form of that term, and I have a feeling that us has more to teach me. Maybe I know that he’s the only person who’ll understand all of what I’ve told you, and will still accept me and say, “It’s not your fault.” Maybe my subconscious knows that all of my misadventures were preparation for a time when I’m able to make my own reality from the ground up. On my terms. In my own way. Confidently and securely. Despite the odds. Despite tradition. Despite normalcy. Despite social expectations.
Maybe, deep down, I think I’ve found someone who’s willing to say, “Screw everything. Let’s make this work, whatever this is.”
I don’t know for sure. At least, not right now.
What I do know is that I’ve only recently discovered myself and where all of my experiences fit in the grand scheme of things. I know that I’ve only recently come to grips with my past, my strangeness, and all that has made me. I know that I’m strange, and that I’ve embraced my strangeness. And I know that there’s only one person who sees past all of the lies and half-truths, and still calls me out on my bullshit, and deal with my many neuroses and has earned the backstage pass to Me when everyone else is only part of the audience.
When We First Met