I was shocked. I was confused. In the space of two months his habits had drastically changed, his attitudes shifted, along with his heart and his goals and his stance on everything that had once seemed so certain–his personality, his morals…me. I felt lost and surprised, lied to and let down and the only question that burned my heart, the only question I could gather myself to ask in emphatic, indignant capitals was “Are you becoming more or less like yourself?”
I suppose I didn’t expect him to be able or wiling to offer me an answer–of course, even three weeks past the asking, he didn’t–but this morning, scribbling in my notebook on the bus ride to work, I uncovered the answer myself. Like most great truths, I think that this was one that, deep down inside, I knew all along. It is impossible for him, much less for me–despite the fact that I’m nominally the person to whom he’s told his secrets and been the closest for two years now–to speak to whether or not he’s becoming more or less like himself. This is so not because he is terribly complex, or terribly secretive (although he’d like to be believed both of those things). The truth is uncomfortably simple; it knocks hollow like an empty gourd rolling down the front stairs of a southern porch in a breeze. The person I thought I loved does not exist on the level that real people do. I realized this morning with the help of my Moleskine that Greg cannot tell me whether or not he’s becoming more or less like himself because any core, identifiable self is a thing he lacks. He has a collection of hobbies, of preferences, of eccentricities and catchphrases and convincing platitudes and foils, but he has no idea who he really is. Instead of upon experience and settled, quiet self-knowledge, his notions of selfhood, of goodness, of rightness, depend entirely upon that by which he is surrounded.
Unluckily for me, for two years I’ve loved a person defined by the company he keeps, who is only as strong as those who surround him. For two years he tried to be “good.” He endeavored to let our relationship put him in a box in which he at least outwardly presented as a good, loving, reliable person. He found, however, that once distance pulled us apart and put him in a new social melange, he did not fit. With these new people he’s become a completely different human being. That mutable soul, that flexible moral code and that dearth of ties to dignity or honor free him to shape himself around the strongest template for success he finds. He’s finally getting to forge himself into the popular, beery, socially free young man I think he always secretly wished he’d been–something a little more exciting–something a little more like his twin, though he protested that that was a lifestyle for which he felt nothing but disdain.
On some level I think I always knew all of this. Foolishly, I simply wanted to believe that I loved and trusted to a real person, not a Potemkin Village, not a husk of a human. He made it easy: around me he was sweet and kind and good. As part of an “us,” and within the confines or our relationship, he could be a better person. Without me around to remind him of what it means to be compassionate, to give, to look outside of ones self, to care for and value another person, he faltered. I always understood that it was not natural to Greg to be giving and thoughtful and loving. I was troubled by the notion of his compassion being a learned response rather than an upwelling of natural empathy for a fellow human. But I silenced my intuition, chalked my misgivings up to cynicism and distrust wrought by former entanglements and, for the first time, just let go. I never actually accomplished that feat until about 9 months ago, despite our having been long established. I know what it feels like to fully trust and believe and love now, and I know what it feels like to have it all dashed to pieces by a whim and miles and a creeping crush. I suppose that letting go was good practice. I suppose my getting-up-muscles are receiving a little more honing. I suppose that it was time I’d unfurled and refamiliarized with how to ravel myself about myself again. I’m doing it, if slowly, and I continue to not answer the phone.
I love him–or what I thought he was–but I realize that for my own sake, I really can’t anymore. For now I’ll take my cue from The Wife of Bath and recollect myself around my sovereignty.