Sunday, August 28, 2011

Having "wingmen" in my life

When I chart the learning-curves of my life, there are three places where I'd draw a sharp red uptick:  Freshman year of college, moving to Prague, and motherhood.  Yes, marriage is a key event in my life...but the thing about marrying the right person is you don't really have to change yourself.  You marry the person who likes you the way you are. :)

Those other forks in my life-road sliced me open and I got to peer into parts of myself I didn't know existed.

I talked in another post about the box of archived letters I found from college. I've decided that the mind is a very poor steward of details.  Yes, there are snapshots of vivid clarity along the way.  But the mind seems to gloss over things between those snapshot memories. 

Reading the letters and emails from college, I'm reminded what HARD WORK I was doing, figuring out who I was -- now that I was away from home and creating a completely new life environment for myself.  I do remember that about freshman year... about motherhood... in sweeping broad strokes of awareness.  But reading the words and the letters really exploded the memory for me. It filled in all these little details between the photographs of memory.

As Lauren reminded me today, it is the 15th anniversary of our friendship.  15 years?

I met him the first week of college, when he pulled me into his circle of upper-class guys who lived in our dorm.  At first, I was like their token-female...maybe more like a mascot...but as the year went on, I came to really appreciate and absorb that group of minds.

It was like a philosophical and intellectual "think tank", those guys.  We'd smoke Swisher Sweet cigars on the roof and talk about existential wonderings, or sit around on bean bag chairs and subject everyone to the Socratic method of friendship.  No topic was unchallenged.  Just getting Chinese food with them was like being invited to the Olympia Academy. 

Lauren and I wrote each other prolifically, including his time in France and mine in Prague, so I have this tome of messages that tracked my life from first-week of freshman year through engagement to Steve 5 years later.  Lauren even served as a "bridesmaid" in my wedding, wearing a tux instead of a dress.

When I think about my relationship with Steve, I usually think only about our own interactions and process. Reading those letters, I'm reminded that we weren't ever really in a vacuum of influence.  I had these incredible persons in my life, helping steer that path towards Steve. 

I have vivid mental snapshots of Lauren: The computer lab where we first met, when he bounced the giant blue ball into Jenny. Confiding in him about everything from sorority Rush to dating issues. Testing it out as a romantic couple, and both realizing we did much better as close friends. Sophomore year, him hollering across the street as I walked down the sidewalk with Steve (whom I'd just barely met): "Is that the guy you think is so gorgeous?"  In-depth notes as he encouraged me from across the ocean from France, when I was figuring out what to do about Steve before moving to Prague. 

Engaged to Steve, I flew to St. Louis where Lauren was in graduate school, and we sat on a bench and ate ice cream and talked about marriage and commitment and what life would look like for me now.  He wrote the music for the song in my wedding, and stood on my side as the attendant. Seeing him again when Jack was only 2 weeks old.  And then again in New York City, with my full brood of Steve and all three kiddos. Emails and Christmas cards along the way.

When my children grow up, I'd love for them to find the soul mate they are seeking -- whomever and whenever that might mean.  But reading the pile of emails...not just from Lauren, but the entire collection of amazing minds I came to know in school...I'm reminded how much it means to have Wingmen in your life. People who know everything about you...and will commentate on your life and help lead you in the right direction.  

Because of the Laurens in my life, I have more clarity about who I am.  I'm a much better wife.  I mother differently and have a broader spectrum of experiences and ideas. 

Some persons, it's just about having them come into our lives at a particular moment -- teaching us what we need to learn from them -- and then moving on to another teacher.  But some connections are so important that they span time and space, and you find a way to keep that friendship intact.  For those friendships, it's about being known and remembered and having that history.  Seeing each other and feeling like no time passed at all.

The friendships that stand out to me most are those that came in the "pivotal times" of my life.  Perhaps because that's when I needed that external input the most?

I love how the people around us can mold us into better versions of ourselves. 

Said my dad: "Well, he certainly knew who he got when he married you."

Last night, I found a box in my dad's basement closet FILLED with printed emails and cards from my college years.  It was like I'd unearthed a magical time capsule of 15 years ago.  So many things that I remembered in vague generalities were suddenly in front of me in black and white.  I could fill several blog posts with the things I found...and perhaps more to come, who knows.

There were numerous important emails and letters, but this one really stood out to me.  This is the main excerpt of a letter I wrote to Steve, 2 years into our 4 years of dating, after a nearly all-night conversation about whether two such divergent spirits could be happy together.  I read this and was stunned by how much the core parts of us really do stay with us.  I am the same "me"...12 years later... as I was when I wrote this SB-Manifesto to him. 

*********

Opposites attract, and in the midst of all of our similarities, this is one area where we might have to balance each other.

One of my favorite authors, Waller, wrote about his wife: "I grew up dreaming of rivers and music and ancient cities and dark-haired women who sang old songs in cafes along the Seine.  You were raised to be a wife and a beauty, and you probably would have been satisfied, maybe happier, with a more conventional man."  

As much as I might have dreamed about falling for some Peace Corps hippie to traipse the world with me, truth is...I look for people in my life to complement me, and I love the practical, grounded side of you.  I can count on you, and I need that.

I'm the dreamer of far off places, and you have the gift of being happy right where you are.  I don't regret that part of you, and I hope I was clear about that last night. It would be just as unfair for me to shove off your boundaries of comfort as it would be for someone to put walls around me.  

Maybe some part of me does wish you got that glint of desire to fly off at a whim to Paris or sleep in huts in the Himalayas...but think of what a terrible couple we'd make.  We'd be reckless and too crazy for our own good if we fueled each other like that.

One thing that stood out was when you said that I was looking for something, and so I want to go places and do things.  Last night it didn't sound right to me - that isn't how I feel - but I didn't know what the reason was. I'm not running from anything, Steve, and I'm not even running TO something.  I am who I am, wherever I happen to be. 

It might not make sense to someone who hasn't experienced it, but I was so self-aware over there [in Prague]. Leaving life behind made me realize who and what was important to me. I missed you even more than I dreamed, Steve, and couldn't wait to come back and see you.  I hope you understand that wanting my adventures doesn't mean that I'm not happy unless I'm sneaking into war zones or taking a night train to Rome by myself.  I'm not going to be "running" my whole life, and I think that's how it came across last night.

Do you remember me saying last fall that I chose between "passion" and "freedom" when I got my tattoo?  That those were the words that propelled me through life?  In my book, freedom and independence don't come at the expense of relationships with people in my life -- and it isn't a one-way street where you have to cater to mine and I tread on yours.  

I don't think my independence is a bad thing for us, do you?

Maybe it is true that I try to be self-sufficient, but I don't honestly think you'd want it any other way.  I'm with you because I want to be, not because I need to be.  I'm not looking to you to build my self-esteem or convince me I'm a good person or because I have a void to be loved and accepted by a man.  My parents raised me to be an independent person, so that I could choose the people in my life based on their merits...not because I need them to fill a gap in my life.  I appreciate you for who you are as a person, not because you make me feel whole. 

That's what I mean when I talk about independence - being able to stand alone, even more so than actually standing alone.

We're not so different as we think, Steve.  We're both so tied to our families and their priorities that they constantly influence who we are.  When you play baseball, you think of your dad and how proud he is of you. When I call home from the train station and tell my dad I made it to Paris all right, I hear his pride.  "How did we get such an adventurous girl?  Was it something we did?"  And I have to tell him: Definitely.  My mom might say I'm too fearless for my own good, but then she'll tell me in the next breath that she envies my opportunities to see the world and do those things.  

And maybe partly because of my brothers' handicaps, I realize that being able to be mobile and have life chances like that is something I want to take advantage of.  I'm lucky to have that. A lot of who I am in life is determined directly and indirectly by those boys.  It makes me determined to get an education and find my dream job and build a family and make crazy life goals because I can. I can think big and dream big and do big, and I want to make that happen.  

I don't know. Maybe none of these things were what you were looking for when we talked last night.  

People have their passions, and those are totally different from even their dreams and goals.  Passions are things that are undeniable parts of ourselves -- that propel us and fuel us and motivate us -- and those elements are pretty deep-seated.  

But my passion isn't travel or seeing the world -- it's living life to the fullest, and travel is one way I'm doing that now.  Later, it will be love and kids and being the best damn PTA Chair that ever lived.  Oh, and cookies.  Baking cookies.  And finding a job that I love, so life is full even during the 9-5 period of the day. 

Are we really so different?