The Two of Me

Sorry for the delay in publishing anything lately.  I’ve been dealing with a lot of internal stuff, and when that happens lately, I seem to shut down and focus on… well, internal things.

Two weeks ago, I was at home (as I usually am on a Thursday) and I went through the normal routine.  Get up, play some games on the computer while eating breakfast, think about any work I can do for the day, and then, after putting my dish in the dishwasher, I walk into the garage and let Levi out of his pen.

(For those of you not in the know, Levi is our chihuahua.  He sleeps in a fenced-in area in our garage where he has access to a luxurious futon, a litter box, food, and water.)

The normal routine has Levi bolt out of bed, go running to the back door, doing his toilet business in the back yard, and coming back in for a little cuddle before settling onto his big cushion in front of the fireplace for a good part of the morning.  And he does it at 120 times the speed a normal 16 year old dog should do it (being a chihuahua and all).

This all went to plan, except when Levi got to his big cushion, he made a hacking noise twice (this is a normal noise he makes after he’s eaten grass or has a hairball) and then fainted.

All I remember is rushing to the cushion as quickly as I could and shaking him slightly as I made a prayer aloud to God.  Within seconds, he came to, and seemed fine (although a bit dazed).  He has been fine ever since.

He had been ill earlier in the week, so I wasn’t sure if it was the aftermath of that (just got up too quickly and that was that) or if his heart murmur was at that stage where it would make him pass out.

Noel tends to be a bit more laid back about these sorts of things: Levi fainted once, he had been sick a few days before, it probably is nothing.  The “exterior” me thinks, he’s probably right; I’m just overreacting.  All the time, the “interior” me is worried beyond belief, the voice within screaming, “Take him to the vet! Take him to the vet! Take him to the vet!”

Yesterday, I finally caved in to the “interior” me and took him to the vet, despite nothing else seemingly wrong.

Chantal (our vet) found that Levi’s heart murmur has grown worse from when he had a chest x-ray 9 months ago while his teeth were being cleaned.  The x-ray had found nothing out of the ordinary, but now, instead of her hearing a dum-dum rhythm when listening to his heart, all she could hear was a wooshing noise.

Despite this, he seems fine and has no other symptoms of congestive heart failure.

The words and phrases “quality of life”, “comfortable”, “we’ve had this talk before about Jenah“, “contraindications”, “congestive heart failure”, “this is the best we can try” came out.  It’s not Chantal’s fault, but the “exterior” me smiled slightly and nodded and asked questions.  The “interior” me died a little more.

The “interior” me noticed we were in the same consultation room Jenah was put to sleep in.  That me thought how small the room looked compared to what I remembered it to be when she drew her last breath and finally slumped into what looked like a peaceful sleep.

When Levi collapsed two weeks ago and I rushed to his side, the “interior” me came out, praying aloud to God to not do this to us.  “I’m barely over Jenah’s death and quakes and all that shit, I don’t need him to die on me.  Please, God, let him be okay.”

I usually keep that “interior” me in check.  It’s a sign of weakness, my embattled psyche thinks, to let the “exterior” me crack and let the “interior” me show.

This is the lesson I learned from being picked on for being gay and smart in grade school.  This is the struggle I’ve been playing out my entire life.  The “exterior” is what I show the world because the “interior” is too fragile and too feeling to expose to the harshness of reality.  The “interior” me found out that crying or responding or letting those picking on me (I loathe the word “bully” as it’s overused these days) would only bait them to continue, so the “exterior” me grew out, like a hardened shell, around the “interior” me.

I think of it like the “exterior” being the friend or big brother who stood up to all the bullies because the “interior” didn’t have the strength, courage, or energy to do it himself.  I never had the luxury of someone to stand up to the bullies when I was growing up.  Hell, I didn’t even have a lot of friends because I was a nerd and gay, and gay was different, and nerd was different, and different was not good.  So I learned (finally) that I had to rely on myself to defend myself.  It’s something I do to this day (because if you don’t do it, maybe no one will).

The “exterior” me is the one who makes ’em laugh, smiles, makes it look like nothing is wrong, or conveniently shields the “interior” me from the hurtful comments or snide remarks or condescending tone someone’s made about me.  The “exterior” me appears not to be hurt when a friendship seems to fade despite all the work I’ve put into it, or when a friend makes plans with me, only to have me wait around all day to be absolutely positively blown off.  The “interior” me just wonders: “What have I done wrong?”

(By the way, the bullies never go away in your life; they just take a different form.  I believe, for example, that some Government departments have several of the bullies and the bullied-turned-bullies working for them, trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.  “You will conform.”)

Before I go to bed, every night, I use the toilet and wash my face and brush my teeth.  No, not all at the same time.  Last night, thinking back on the day’s events and Levi’s diagnosis, the “interior” me shoved his way out.  My mind’s eye saw Jenah suddenly fade away in that room at the vet; it then turned to wondering if Levi would go the same way in the same room.

And then I broke down crying.  Not just normal crying.  Sobbing crying.  That deep well of tears bubbling forth from somewhere deep within the core of me.

This morning, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to all of this, and I realise that the “interior” me is showing more and more each day.  The “interior” me is tired and worn-out.

He’s tired of being in a room full of people and still feeling alone.  He’s worn-out from always being the outsider, trying to push his way in but almost always rejected.  He’s burnt out from fighting endless battles against bureaucrats and autocrats and people in general who don’t think or even care how their actions affect others, and when you disagree with them, they try to bully you and twist your words to something you haven’t said instead of admitting they were wrong.  He’s had enough of feeling hurt at the actions of others, even if those others don’t know their actions have impacted him that way.

He’s weary of trusting new people.  He’s suspicious of the motives of others.  He’s at the point where he believes half of what some other people say.  He’s always scanning for other’s ulterior motives.  He’s tired of some other people not saying what they mean, or saying one thing and doing another.  He’s frustrated with people not paying attention to what he says, or even worse, listening to what he says but doing what they want anyway, then crawling back to him to ask him to help them fix it.  He combats this by speaking a bit louder and talking over people, just so he can get his point across.

He’s worn-out from caring too much.  He’s sick of the cycle of trust-trust-be-hurt-trust-trust-be-hurt.  He’s bitter from losing some of the ones he’s loved.  He misses the ones he’s loved and lost.  He’s homesick for the familiar, whatever that might be these days.  He’s torn between too many worlds, none of which he truly feels he belongs in.  He’s growing numbly comfortable with the “new normal”.

He’s tired of the rhetoric and dogma and clichés.  He’s frustrated with being treated like a second-class citizen because of how he was made and who he’s hard-wired to love.  He’s overwhelmed with not knowing what he wants out of life and struggling to help others out where he can.  He’s confused about religion.

He’s scared because time seems flying by yet he feels he’s done nothing with his life.  He’s tired of always second-guessing himself and his decisions.

He’s over fighting for every last square inch of his rights and his patch.  He’s always fighting the urge to look back and losing, like Lot’s Wife.  He’s tired of being so worried about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present.  He’s deflated at sometimes not making the most of “this moment”.

He’s sick and tired of worrying about “what-ifs” and thinking about what the next disaster around the corner will be.

He’s had enough of pain, or not being able to breathe, and his clumsiness.  He’s tired of dieting and working out and doing everything in his power to lose weight for it all to come back (and then some).  He’s angry at himself for putting off things until tomorrow: always tomorrow.

He wishes he was good at a few things instead of being mediocre at many things.  He wants to punch the next person who says they are “passionate” about something (when, in reality, most of us are not passionate about anything), just like he feels like slapping someone who throws the “love” word around so carelessly (someone who has never felt love and doesn’t understand what it means).  He wants to follow his dreams… if he could just figure out which one when, and how to follow them… and had the courage to do it.

He feels he’s not good enough.  He wonders why people tell him he is good at things when he feel he’s mediocre, at best.

He wants the critic in his head to shut up sometimes.  He’s frustrated because he has all these ideas in his head but he can’t seem to translate them onto paper, or into words, or into any media but the film reel in his head.  And even if he could translate them, he’s afraid that the critics will pick apart those aspects of his life and himself he’s put out there for the whole wide world to see.

He wants to be wanted and to be loved unconditionally.

He needs a break.

Despite saying all these things, there are good things to the “interior” me too.

When he says things like “thank you” and “I love you”, he means it when he says it.

He’s a loyal friend, brother, son, cousin, nephew, grandson, husband and companion.  His family, friends, husband, and pets love him overwhelmingly in return, warts and all, and know how to say the right words at the right time to make him feel better when he’s blue (which, for a while there, was quite a bit of the time).

He cares about how his actions impact others.  He cares about others.

He wants the best for those he loves.  He tries to help when and where he can.

He takes care of his friends, family, and loved ones who need it.

He tries to be positive, and when he feels happy or positive or one of those feelings, he genuinely feels them.

He’s learning a moment is a moment, and if it’s bad, it will pass.

He tries his hardest for his work and sometimes goes above and beyond his job description.

He genuinely likes most of his students and all of his work colleagues.

He’s learning to live in the now, instead of looking back to the past or worrying about the future.

He’s trying to find the edges of who he is.

He gives freely and expects nothing in return.

He stands up against what he sees as injustice and tries to fight against bullies and tyranny.

He tries to see the good in everyone.

Maybe the “exterior” me and “interior” me will find some sort of peaceful coexistence, like they had previously.  After quakes, and the stress associated with them and the fall-out, Jenah’s death, and Levi’s prognosis, the two have become out of whack.

But I have faith that the balance will return.  With time.  With time and healing.

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