On Chasing Yourself
“I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened.” -Joan Didion, On Keeping a Notebook
You have a bad habit of processing your feelings aloud. You attempt to articulate them as soon as they emerge, in real time, in everyday conversation. You’re not the kind of person who can let what happened in the past simply remain there, temporarily suspended in and of itself without further inquiry. No feeling (regardless of how fleeting) can ever be neatly or entirely resolved until you’ve assessed the stimulus that provoked its emergence and the ways in which it is inextricably connected to things you’ve felt before. It’s a continuous cycle of processing and reprocessing the past in order to confirm who you are in the present, and how it will inform who you choose to be tomorrow — with the hope that someday you’ll cross an imaginary finish line, beyond which lies a state of emotional nirvana and a sense of self that feels organized and complete.
Your first crush was on a girl named Dani. It took nearly two decades for you to realize that the way in which she captivated you on the first day of second grade was in fact a feeling called desire. There was a shagginess to her hair and a sleepiness to her eyes that made you want to look a little longer (and you’re nearly positive she caught you staring). That day she wore a black turtleneck and a deadpan expression — and your 7 year old self thought she wore them impeccably well. So when your lingering eyes were caught by hers, you were mildly mortified and figured the only ingenuous way to get out of this mess was to do the “natural” thing and become friends.
Lately you’ve become more weary of processing in the presence of others. Because in doing so, you are granting them access to the most vulnerable parts of your psyche, the underdeveloped parts of your identity that are painfully in flux. And in doing so, you are inadvertently inviting them to partake in your process of self recovery. You are inviting them to draw conclusions about your identity on behalf of you. They interpret your fragmented sense of self based on what you’ve chosen to reveal, formulating definitive answers in attempt to explain why you are the way you are. Or why you feel the way you feel based on however little they know, and what they’ve come to expect of you. When you attempt to arrive at some sort of truth through the recollection of past feelings and memories, the act of remembering is agonizing. When you are forced to confront the ways in which your identity and feelings have been conditioned, the reconciliation between past and present is tedious.
You and Dani became best friends and you remember the day she told you she had a crush on this boy named Chris. And you remember the immediate feeling that resulted in your stomach and wondering why it felt that way. What did she see in him that you couldn’t? The last time you looked, he was as ordinary as every other 7 year old boy you’d ever seen. But perhaps you weren’t looking hard enough. On your subconscious quest to observe boys more closely, you noticed this boy named Juliver. You belonged to the same diaspora and wore the same New Balance sneakers — how perfect! You checked off your similarities as signs that maybe you could be soulmates. Sneaker soulmates. You never told anyone that, not even Dani. And most definitely not Juliver.
When someone tells you that you are over complicating something that should be “simple,” you are not failing so much as they are failing you (and failing to hear that it is fucking complicated). Or when you realize you spent 10 years of your life silencing parts of yourself for people you never fully loved anyway, acknowledging it aloud is not a disservice to them but rather, a highly anticipated act of self-service. Trust your sense of smell when you catch a whiff of undignified breath that reeks of compulsory heterosexuality and lingers in the room. Hold your breath before their words start to breathe into you, speak over you, defining what you can and cannot desire. If only you could use a breathalyzer to measure the violence of their words.
You exhale, trying to name what you desire and what makes you feel desirable, but no one really hears the nuances of your narrative because they’ve already written it for you. And you’re tempted to fall into the definitive. Their definitive. Seems like a nice place to be, a concise space to occupy while you’re having trouble finding the words that fit. Lauryn Hill said that whenever we submit our will to someone else’s opinion, a part of us dies. And you realize that falling into the definitive is equivalent to chasing death. But why choose dying when you can choose yourself, chase yourself, trust yourself instead?