You Are the Only You There Ever Was, Or Ever Will Be

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“You’re a hot mess,” were the words going through my mind on a recent Saturday morning, and to be fair, I kind of was. I think the coup de grace was the Cup O’Noodles, which I had purchased the previous evening at a liquor store. I had been driving home from a long week at work, and I was spent. I was declining invitations from friends. I had nothing to eat at home. But the act of going to a grocery store – with its dead fluorescent lights, grumpy humans, and lethal parking lot – was inaccessible to me. And so, while I mostly equate eating Cup O’Noodles with other uncivilized behavior, like spitting in swimming pools full of people, and torture during war, I said “F*(# it,” and handed the nice Iranian man behind the counter my debit card. And as I did, I glanced at the faces of his dead relatives high on the wall behind him. A framed mustachioed man, and portly woman with brown almond eyes, keep company with lottery advertisements, beer logos, and a flat screen that always shows eighties movies like “Pretty and Pink” and “My Girl.”

The next morning, I am in my alley, slightly hungover, with a Cup O’Noodles in one hand, and a moldy wetsuit in the other. I have spent most of the morning in bed, watching the surf cams thinking: “I only know one person who has thrown up in the ocean in the wake of a hangover – and I don’t want to be the second.” My neighbor idles his motorcycle, and in my current state, this makes me want to stab him to death with a dull pencil. The sun is merciless. When I get to my car, my surfboard is already in it, which I expect. What I don’t expect is a pop of color under my windshield wiper – a yellow, paper gift from the SDPD for not displaying my current registration. “Shit,” I mutter, as I pick the least dirty cup holder to put my Cup O’ Noodles in, and while doing so, spill a little broth on my Old Navy pajama pants that my Mom bought for me when Obama was not yet president.

As I turn on my car, The Contours’ “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” starts through my one good speaker, leaving the car sonically lopsided. And I feel all the feelings. “As I walk this land of broken dreams, I have visions of many things.” Shame. “But happiness is just an illusion. Filled with sadness and confusion.” Gratitude. “What becomes of the broken hearted. Who have love that’s now departed.” Regret. “I know I’ve got to find some kind of peace of mind.” Pride.

****

I once visited a friend’s apartment, and he had a lot of plants inside, which he explained represented growth: “I always want to be growing in my life,” he said. “I think when you stop growing, is when you get into trouble.”

And it’s true that if a plant gets too big for its pot, you find it a bigger, better pot. If its soil is dry, you shift the soil around. Or you mix in some new soil. Some new nutrients. A plant is supposed to grow. It’s supposed to tumble down trellises. Shed its leaves into swimming pools. Open its blooms to the sun, and then make all new, all different blooms a year later. A plant is supposed to become the best expression of itself by continuing to change. And by showing up and saying: “I am alive. I am full of life. Almost celebrating it. Watch me change, and you will see.”

Similarly, a rose bud looks different than a rose bloom. A dried lei looks different than the one that was placed on your shoulders, fresh and fragrant, at Honolulu International Airport. Like a flower is both a seed, and a full flower, and something pressed between the pages of books, you are the same person, and yet you are not. Your fears, and loves, and favorite bands, and foods, have changed over the course of your life in nuanced and complicated ways that look like weather. But while we tend to think that we only change in small ways, like from rain to drizzle, that’s not true. We are not basically the person now that we’ll be for the rest of our lives, just like we weren’t basically the person we’d be our entire lives at nine years old. We don’t change on a small scale, like from drizzle to rain. We change is massive overhauls. We change as if from rain, to clear skies, to snow, to rainbows. Like we are at a cocktail party with all the people we’ve ever been, and we can’t find much in common. We are a collection of people inside one person. And to think that your personal history, your essential story, ends at, basically, who you are now, is simply wrong.

I recently saw a mother surfing with her two daughters. She didn’t watch out for them too much, except for the occasional glancing back at where they were – further into shore, sticking together, and staying away from the crowds. She had a black hat to protect her skin from the sun. A spring suit with colorful arms. And I smiled at the thought: “I could maybe do that with my kids one day. I could maybe afford a nice surfboard like hers,” and so on. I thought about how the experience of being a mother is as foreign to me as eating street food in Tokyo and walking on Mars in a space suit. And what new world would open up within me, I wondered?

There is no doubt that I will change in the years I have yet to live. The question is: how much will I help myself change into the person I’m supposed to be. Because there is a difference between living in the same pot, with dry soil. There is living a life that eeking by with browned edges and not enough natural light. And then there is living a life where you have champagne and lobster once a month. Where you submit stories to writing contests, because hell – why not? Where you buy the Audi instead of the Honda. And think: “What if I try to make $25,000 more dollars this year,” and say: “Why don’t I try and see if I can meet my soul mate?” Because who said these things were not for you, and only for other people?

The difference between the life in the shitty, small pot with the bad soil and poor light, and the plants thriving in the yet-to-be-turned-into-coconut-fields-by-big-corporations-rainforest, is this: one is the truest version of you. The only you that has ever been and ever will be. And maybe, just maybe, when we ignore our dreams, shun our intuition, and stop paying attention to our fantasies, do we resign ourselves to a life that wasn’t really meant for us. Maybe we were meant to be glorious.

Just an idea, anyway.

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