Thursday, May 27, 2004

If I could only stay asleep

Had another dream about whatsis-face, that guy I got hung up on in college, for reasons that baffled those nearest to me. My sister was the only one who sort of got it. She said, "you'd just never met anyone remotely like that before." He had a murky mind. His energy was a combination of Christian Slater's character in "Heathers," the raspy-voiced misfit who blows everything up, and a single scene in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," where Daniel Day Lewis is confronted in his office by the KGB. The KGB tells him, "Look, you're a doctor. You're not political. We know you didn't mean these things. Just sign a little retraction, here on the dotted line, and you can keep your medical practice and everything will be fine." Daniel Day Lewis leans back, smiles with an unearthly, casual radiance, and shakes his head, "no." Cut to the next scene, of Daniel Day Lewis washing windows. That was whatsis-face.

To this day, I have no idea of what whatsis-face thought of me. I used to think that he just didn't, much. (At least at first--after I went totally psycho on him, I was pretty hard to ignore.) Then, much later, I thought that maybe I was simply Too Big. Too tall, too visible, too much the kind of person who attracts circles of chanting people at parties when she starts spinning and doesn't stop, and ends up on stage with the band, and publishes fraught, obscure poetry in 'zines that twelve people read, and leaves puddles of dirty motor oil in the art department hallway. I wouldn't have known what to do with me, either.

The woman he ended up with was much smaller. She was famed for having size-five feet. I have never been an overtly competitive female, preferring to withdraw with my wings folded rather than treat folks to the spectacle of two jealous harpies clawing each other's eyes out over some smug bastard, but she initally didn't even show up on my radar as a threat. She whined, she manipulated, she wasn't very bright. "Raaaaaaay," she would intone, toddling into the Salt Lick Cafe, "we're going on a daaaaaate this weekend. I want to make whatsis-face jeeeaaaal-ous." Please. I would not STOOP to compete.

Which was fine with her, because she was a lot more highly sexed than I was, and that was all she needed. Men are simple creatures, and I was, unfortunately, looking for complexity. One afternoon in midsummer, whatsis-face got ideas about being a big cocky jerk, and decided to invite both me and Whiny Girl to lunch without telling us that the other one was coming. I had a premonition about it when I saw her jump on her bike outside the art building and ride off with desperate purpose, so when I showed up to the assignation zone and found her already there, I sat down and made friendly conversation. Whatsis-face strutted up a few minutes later, and plunked down between us with a bag full of plums. He offered some to me; I drew myself up like an affronted Victorian nanny and refused. He offered them to Whiny Girl; she extended her lower lip, gulped one directly from his hand, and sent him a look that at the time, I thought of as disgusting and Over The Top. But even then I knew she'd won.

The events of the rest of that year are too tedious and gory to recount in their entirety. Poor old whatsis-face ended up with a bruised jawbone (people were coming up to me for weeks and saying, "Serena! I hear you beat up whatsis-face! Congratulations!) and I ended up in therapy. Whiny girl ended up with the guy, but only after using Ray and a number of his buddies with callous opportunism. Turns out that whiny, manipulative and stupid was exactly what suited whatsis-face. What can you do.

The thing that I felt horribly guilty about, for years and years afterwards, was not socking him in the jaw, but taking away his friends. It was frighteningly easy to do. His friends asked me, "why were you so mad at whatsis-face?" and I quoted him directly. "It's not personal. My feelings for all of my friends are pretty much apathy," and his friends didn't like this any better than I did. I was witty and charming to his friends, and ignored him, and within a month or two nobody to speak of was speaking to him.

(A few years after this, I took one of those Meyers-Briggs personality tests, and scoffingly read my results to my roommate. "ENFJ: it says, 'this type is exceptionally charismatic.' What a crock," and she looked at me strangely and said, "you don't KNOW you're charismatic?" I didn't know this, but I knew I was cruel. It was my first experience of how, when you are hurting unbearably, the pain appears to stop when you hurt somebody else. Only then it comes back again, and you have to keep hitting and hitting until it's way, way too much.)

I never went there again. Eventually I apologized, and he got his friends back, and hopefully appreciated them a bit more. In fact, being the Web-stalking psycho-bitch that I am, I know he appreciates his friends, and his wife the Whiny Girl, and is a nice upstanding member of the Sierra Club who volunteers for Children's Cancer and shit. Maybe I knocked some sense into him.

But this doesn't explain why I dream about him. Shame, I think, is why. For a long time the dreams were the same; our friends were the same people, or our communities, and we were occupying parallel space without really interacting. I didn't dare say anything, because I was that horrible psycho-bitch who socked him in the jaw and took away his friends, and thus was less than human. Whiny girl generally appeared at some point, too, just there, not doing much of anything.

Lately the dreams have changed. They're kinder. Most recently, there was whatsis-face in a wheelchair, and I was helping him around, cleaning up bathrooms. He got all happy and crazy and started drawing bright pastel patterns on the walls. Whiny girl came along, and I said "I better be going." Whatsis-face took my hand; I chatted with Whiny Girl. He held her, and he held me. I woke up happy.


Anonymous said...

I think at that point we were not very close though I remember you looking vaguely psycho as you told me the story, and can hear you saying smugly, "And then I decked him." (You what? what does decked mean? Oh. )

I had heard (before hearing the story from you) that you had gone crazy and broken his jaw and knocked out two of his teeth and he had to get all kinds of expensive dental work.

It still seems highly wrong to me as I just don't exist in a world where you communicate with people by punching them unless they have punched you first. And maybe not even then.

And if someone is apathetic about everyone they know isn't that just sad? I mean, utter detachment and depression, alienation and inability to love seem to be pitiable, not cause for physical attack. Yo, I love you, chica, and you are good, but that was just wrong. Doesn't it seem obvious that you go way too far in letting people walk all over you, and then you snap like a spring and get inappropriately or overly angry? Your anger itself was not wrong... far from it... I do recall that he acted jerkily... Wow I just have absolutely no world view where someone acting jerkily actually entitles other people to hit them. Would you still do it today? Do you really feel no shame or regret? Your abilities to win with physical force and psychological warfare seem appropriate to a great general of large armies who must act decisively and impersonally for the greater good - or a denizen of some desperate ghetto where in order to survive you have to demonstrate that you are the toughest - in which cases they are necessary - but not to an individual controlling their own actions.

Or am I just completely misreading and misremembering everything? That often happens, as I am an idiot.

I never knew what's his face at all really and lord help me, I have no clue who the whiny girl was, though I'm sure I should, and will feel stupid once you tell me. I dont' remember what's his face's last name either. At first I didnt' even realize who you were talking about and thought maybe what's his name was the OTHER previous what's his name with the curly hair and the odd perpetual sneer and who i was oddly never attracted to even remotely. I never heard him say an interesting thing, and wondered why. I wonder if my deep obsession with Blondie was completely non-understandable to you... I'm not sure I get it myself. I mean, his back was always greasy, his kissing a little repulsively slimy, and he was a mouthbreather. Still, it was love.

-- badgerbag

serena said...

whoa, badger, you've gotta remember that this was SIXTEEN years ago, I was still practically an adolescent and had no real understanding of myself or of other people. Of course I overreacted, and of course I regret it. The point I was making was that shame and guilt need healing as much as anything else. Me continuing to judge myself, or ANYONE continuing to judge themselves, after apologies and amends have been made as far as possible, doesn't do anyone any good.

Your analogy of a general going into war is particularly apt; at that particular time in my life, elements of my personality that I hadn't previously been aware of seemed to keep surfacing, like DNA time bombs. I have a great grandfather on my mom's side who was a sea captain, a la "Master and Commander," a bunch of highly volatile artist/CEO-type relatives on my dad's side, and, come to think of it, probably a Confederate general or two. I didn't actually KNOW that I had a temperamental predisposition to annihilate the offender until it was happening; after that, learning to deal with this tendency in a socially acceptable way was the next obvious task. I would DEFINITELY not do it again, and now I have enough life experience to avoid situations where it might happen.

Also, as could be seen from his further career, whatsis-face wasn't really apathetic about people, which would indeed have been tragic. He was just pretending to be apathetic because he thought it was cool. On some level I sensed that, and it made me furious.

Rationalization of the day.

serena said...

P.S. No, I never understood the attraction with MOST of the people you got deeply obsessed with, but that's the beauty of differences among people. I celebrate you for being able to perceive the inner perfection of all those skanky freaks ;).

piglet said...

Just goes to show, we're never more dangerous than when we believe we're powerless. That's when we pull out all the stops and get Really Mean. And realize years later that there's probably this basically decent person walking around somewhere who cringes whenever they think of us...

Anonymous said...

Oh, so true, I cringe at the thought of the heinous things I did at 17 or 21 or even last week.

Brooklyn, where are you? earth to brooklyn! write us more! lavish the words onto the eager canvas. or something.