Tuesday, September 23, 2003

why do I keep comparing my life to other people's? why?

A few years ago, I drove up for the Battle of Seattle with a few hipsters from CELLspace, a radical art community here in SF (which, incidentally, I heard being badmouthed yesterday in a cafe by a kid too young to have any idea of what he was talking about). It was an intense few days, and I could talk about the political aspects and the things I saw for days. My first teargassing (mom and dad were so proud), people dancing defiantly in front of the cops, the moment when the word came that we'd managed to shut the conference down.

But something smaller that has stuck with me is hearing one of my fellow travelers talking about how fabulous the sex was with his fiancee. I was in the waning days of a long-term relationship that had been pretty much dry for about a year; Slice and I were desperately trying to hold things together through couples counseling but the writing was on the wall. So it was especially painful listening to Spider talk about sex so good that one partner hit their head against the wall and blacked out, or orgasms that sent everyone tumbling off the bed.

Slice and Spider were (and are) friends and collaborators; when Slice and I broke up, I mostly lost touch with Spider and his fiancee-now-wife. Which saddened me--I liked them both very much, but you know how it is. They were Slice's friends first. As it happens, PRobot and Spider are friends, so I've been hearing more about Spider lately, which is nice. Well, I just found Spider's blog, where he mentions (among other things) how wonderful married life has been, and how pleased he is that Slice is getting married to the woman he started dating two months after we broke up.

You know the story of Achilles, dipped in the River Styx by his mother. Since she was holding him by the heel, that part stayed dry and vulnerable while the rest of his body was coated with protective magic. Achilles died in battle when someone managed to get a spear through said heel. It's an image that's always been especially meaningful for me because I had a bike accident as a little kid that took off much of my left heel and kept me off my feet for months. Everything changed as a result of that accident. Although I was eventually able to walk, the physical fearlessness I'd had before just dried up and blew away. I became scared, cautious. I stopped taking dance classes...and started reading more. So I suppose there was a gift in the loss that I've never identified as such before.

Seeing Slice's name like that felt a lot like a spear going in during an unguarded moment. Of course I know he's getting married; we've talked about it and I'm glad for him. I like his girlfriend well enough, and I know what kind of work he's had to do to get to this point. I'm not even sorry I'm not the one marrying him. I'd go insane, and I'd take him with me straight to Bedlam. But. There are times when I look around and, forgetting how dismal the retention rates on marriage are, wonder why everyone else seems to be so much more "successful" in this way than I have been. I'm also, truthfully, pretty hurt that I wasn't invited to the wedding. Slice and I have been trying to stay friends, but it feels like he still means more to me than I do to him, and that realization stings. I respect that who he invites is his choice, etcetera, but I had a speech all figured out! A nice one! I was going to be the model of enlightened exgirlfriendhood!

Anyway. It doesn't help that I work so many weddings. A big and heretofore unspoken reason I need to get out of catering...I keep seeing the upside, and forgetting that marriage is not necessarily the glowing, effortless, transcendent situation we're taught to expect. I don't even know where I got so hung up on marriage. I certainly didn't want it when I was a teenager, or even up until my mid-twenties.

It was actually my relationship with Slice that changed that. First man I knew without a doubt I wanted to make that commitment to and with. For the first year, anyway. Year two I was not so sure. Year three I was chewing off my own foot, with steak sauce, and I was so relieved to be out of the relationship. But something has stayed lodged in me, like a kryptonite arrowhead lodged in the muscle a certain way. I can walk around for days, weeks, without feeling it--and then I twist or jump and there's the twinge, hard sharp surface against living tissue.

I wasn't raised with the expectation that I would or should marry; quite the contrary. I was raised to be self-reliant and I generally am, to enjoy my own company and I do. But of all the adventures I've had, there's one that I'm missing, one that I can't make happen the way I made Madagascar happen for myself, or becoming a working writer, or going to art school. It will happen or it will not.

Most of the time I am totally okay with this.

Some nights--especially ones where everything seems so jumbled--I'm not. The other night, the friendly bus driver wanted to know if I was going home to a meal cooked by my husband. He seemed totally surprised to hear that I hadn't any such thing (I hear this from black men a lot, actually) and wanted to know why; and what could I say? I haven't met that man? No man has had that faith in me yet? I had a husband, but after we mated I ate his head and laid my eggs in his twitching corpse? You should see the kids, they all look exactly like me, down to the red hourglass on their hairy backs? I found myself admitting, to this bus driver on the N Judah at four-something in the morning, that I was sort of hoping to have a mate (and a baby) to show my father before he moves on. The driver suggested I marry him, and wrote his phone number on the back of the little pad of transfers and gave it to me when I got off at Van Ness.

I know this funk is temporary, I know I'll probably have totally forgotten how sad I am right now by the time I wake up tomorrow (the gift of age-forgetfulness!), I know on a rational level that my singlehood doesn't mean anything about my competence as a person or my desirability as a partner. I just think that our culture puts such weight on wedlock--and casts so much shadow on the unmarried!--it's hard not to judge onseself accordingly. In the morning I will remember how much I like being single.

At least this morning, the guy who broke into my place last year FINALLY pled guilty, putting ten months of waiting to an end. I didn't even have to appear in court, and I can recycle the great huge wad of subpoenas I've received waiting for this trial to happen. This is one great weight lifted.