The harder I fight the stronger it’s a comin’
I wipe the tears from my eyes
and keep on strummin’
Baby, I ain’t runnin’ away
I’m tryin’ to find you something better inside me
--RCPM, “Your Name on a Grain of Rice”
It’s something that puzzles me greatly, the sort of conundrum that I feel would unlock any number of other realizations if I could only puzzle through the ramifications, if I could only make sense of the differences in light of the similarities.
Two girls, separated by seven years. They never met each other, probably never will. The only thing they have in common is me. Well, there’s other stuff, too. Daddy issues, judgmentalism, incessant moralizing about crap that doesn’t really matter, lack of compunction in the realm of being willing to use a certain moronic member of the male gender as long as it suited their purposes (y’know, this guy).
I came to despise one. She spent nine years trying to get me to be her friend again.
I guess the other came to despise me. I spent a year and a half trying to win her back. And somewhere in the back of my mind I still think it would be fantastic to run in to her the next time I’m in Chicago. Oddly enough, I think it would mostly be to have the chance to rub her face in everything she’s missed out on. But what’s the point of that?
There are really only two options. The first is to hear, “I totally want you back in my life,” and to graciously accept that. The second is to hear, “I totally want you back in my life,” and to say, “Ha, you should have thought of that way back when.”
So I’ve wandered out in to the world. I’ve made, for a time, my second home in Brookfield, Madison, Milwaukee, and Texas cantinas. I like to think I’ve come back wiser and found that something better inside me.
And yet I’ve discovered that deep down inside I’m still perfectly capable of petty cruelty. I’m still perfectly capable of irrational desires for things I don’t want, don’t need, and know better than to chase after. So have I really found anything better inside me? Or have I just discovered that the search is futile?
And I said, “Mama, mama, mama, why am I so alone?”
I can’t go outside I’m scared I might not make it home
Well I’m alive, I’m alive, and I’m sinking in
If there’s anyone at home at your place, darlin’
Why don’t you invite me in?
--Counting Crows, “Rain King”*
There was a time in my life when I counted the passage of time by who and what had left me behind. I don’t know why. Somehow I had this idea early on that if I left a place and came back everything would be exactly as it had been. It turned out that was wrong, and that realization shocked me.
I tried to hang on to people and moments in an attempt to savor every moment. I tried to hang on to people and moments in an attempt to make sure nothing ever changed.
It turns out that you can’t do that. Not every moment can be the greatest moment of your life. Not every person can be the most important person in your life. But as long as I was staying in place and the world was revolving around me I didn’t notice it.
See, I very rarely left a place behind. Everyone and everything left me. Such is the danger of spending the first twenty-three years of your life in the same town, going to the same places, seeing many of the same people. Everything becomes irretrievably filled with memories, impressions, and emotions. The ghosts of everyone you’ve ever known take up permanent residence in every building, every restaurant, every store. They walk the sidewalks, sit on park benches, and stare at you as you drive past.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I think that’s why I ended up coming to love live music so much and came to like meeting musicians. I’d expect that transient connection, that fleeting moment of meeting. Jessi Lynn, the guys from Seneca, the Peacemakers, they’d pass through my life for a couple hours, then be gone. But that was okay, because I expected them to leave. Besides, they’d leave that most meaningful connection behind in the music I could carry with me in a shiny little box. It’s the most meaningful possible connection with the most meaningless possible commitment.
My life in Chicago gradually emptied. Old friends left and I never found new ones to replace them. I had professional relationships with work acquaintances. I had my connections with storytellers, but I was gradually losing those people you could call and say, “Hey, wanna go grab a beer?” I was losing those people I could have those meaningful conversations with deep in to the night.
I was going in to hiding. I didn’t want to give anything new a try. I didn’t want to risk my heart or myself.
You never realized
What I could do
Stars in your eyes
You made it true
While looking at the sky
You were searching for something better
While the better was right in front of you
--Lost Immigrants, “Something Better”
The equation, I think, is far more simple than I want to admit it actually is. I think that as long as it seems like a big, complicated equation I can puzzle it out until the end of the universe and beyond. But here’s what it comes down to:
That one girl I despised wasn’t good enough for me.
The one that despises me was too good for me.
At least, that’s my perception. Reality may well be completely and totally different, but reality doesn’t matter in this situation. Perception’s all I’ve got to go on. I can be stupid and petty and cruel because I limit the entire universe to three points on a continuum.
And, in a weird way, it allows me to hold something over the head of the one. “See,” I can say, “You didn’t think I was good enough. Well look at me now.”
Look at me, indeed.
Look at the fool who sat on his couch in Brookfield for more than a year, afraid to try anything new. Look at the fool who moved to Dallas and still thought, “Man, if she could only see me now with my new car and my job that pays the bills and then some and shit.”
I spent two fruitless years trying to prove to her that I was good enough. Why did I then spend another two years after I left trying to prove to her that I was better? That’s a fool’s errand.
She wasn’t worth the dedication I gave to her the first two years and sure as shit isn’t worth whatever I gave for the next two.
It really is that easy.
I realized at some point that if you’re sitting there saying, “Why don’t you see me as good enough?” you’ll never be good enough for that person. Ultimately the problem is that you’re not trying to convince them. You’re trying to convince yourself.
And as long as you’re having phantom conversations with the ghost of a person long-gone you’ll never be able to do that.
So I can’t find her something better inside me.
All I can do is find me something better inside me.
*Funny story. I was listening to Pandora whilst thinking through the various thoughts that lead to this post. I knew exactly what I was doing with the start and end, but needed a connecting thought. And Pandora played "Rain King." I suddenly had my connecting thought.