the printed thoughts of a woman on a journey towards awareness, truth, acceptance, clarity, and forgiveness...with some fun and fearlessness thrown in

Saturday, February 27, 2010

pink tuxedos and dented quarter panels

I don't know if it's because of the New Year, the way that Facebook reconnects you with your past, or the fact that I will turn 40 later this year, but I've been thinking a lot lately about how my life may have been different had I made different relationship choices along the way. I used to say that I lived my life with no regrets, that every choice had led me to where I was now and and played a part in making me the person I had become. While I still believe that my past choices and actions have played an important role in me becoming the person I am, I can no longer say that I wouldn't change some of them if I had the chance. I think back on my romantic relationships, and I wonder what (and who) I could have avoided had I made different decisions.

One of my first serious boyfriends went to another high school. He was a nice guy and was older than me. He asked me to his junior prom. I remember shopping for the perfect dress and learning all about strapless bras and full skirts. I was all set to have my first prom experience with this nice guy when I met a "bad boy" who planted the seeds of doubt in my mind and heart. Just one day after the prom, I broke up with the nice guy and started to see the bad boy.

Now, those who knew me during my high school years know exactly who this bad boy was. We dated for nearly two and half years. We had some really good times together, but I would have to say that most were bad. He was controlling, possessive, and jealous. I was insecure and made excuses for his behavior. My friends could see that the relationship was unhealthy, but I was too headstrong (or too helpless) to get out. In college in upstate New York, surrounded by new friends, and excited about my future, I was able to end the relationship weeks into my freshman year. Sadly, I gave him a chance to "just be friends" a couple of years later and paid for that decision with bruises and a vandalized car.

From that point, I seem to have entered into a pattern of dating a good guy, becoming bored, leaving him for a bad boy, getting sick of said bad boy, and going back to dating a good guy. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The details of each relationship matter little, though I used to analyze the hell out of them, trying to figure out what went wrong, why I couldn't foresee their demise, and wondering when and where I would finally find "the one."

I thought I had found "the one" for a long time. He was the last (and perhaps baddest) of all the bad boys. He was that special mix of bad boy on the outside with the soul of an injured, little boy on the inside. You know the type. He's in all the movies. He's the rebel with a cause, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, the starving artist, the tortured soul. He's unbelievably good looking, deeply passionate, and even more deeply flawed. You're drawn to him like a moth to a flame, knowing that he will most likely completely consume you, destroy you, kill you, but you can't help yourself.

We met when we were fairly young--21 and 22. And we officially dated twice, though we tried to get something going at least four other times. I knew that things would never work between us, but it was hard to give up on the dream, to let go of the "what if." Though my official answer had something to do with turning 30 and wanting to go back to the South, he was largely to blame for my decision to leave Fort Wayne. We were "talking" again just before I made up my mind to go. I knew that I would have to physically distance myself from him if I ever hoped to emotionally and spiritually separate from him and from what he represented for me.

Of course, you all know that I stepped off the dating merry-go-round over 9 years ago. And, happily, I ended up with a good guy. He was patient and strong enough to wait it out while I healed from the wounds of the past, and he's never once let me down. The boredom that used to play games with my mind is a distant memory. He's my intellectual equal and my best friend. We laugh at the same stupid stuff, and we accept each other as we are. And, yes, while he is "the one" for me, I now realize that the problem with my past relationships wasn't actually who I was dating, but was who I was.

I see now that what changed had a lot less to do with whether a good guy could keep my interest or whether a bad boy could change his ways and a lot more to do with how well I knew myself and what was important to me. Instead of constantly trying to adapt myself to the situation or the guy, I needed to figure out who I was and find someone who actually liked that person. I only wish that I could have figured all this out sooner than I did. Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to have found my current partner and don't wish that I could have found this clarity and made it work with someone from my past. I only wish that fewer people could have been hurt along the well--the good guys who deserved better, the bad boys who had feelings despite their rough exteriors, and me.

And, in case you were wondering. The first guy (my prom date)...he's married, has five kids, and is one of my Facebook friends.

Friday, February 12, 2010

ham & beads

I was born in New Orleans. My family moved away when I was 11, and I have lived in six different states since then, but I will always consider New Orleans to be my hometown. It's a unique city, unlike any other, anywhere in the world. When I think of New Orleans and what sets it apart, I think of two words--character and flavor. The food, the music, the people, the traditions, the architecture, the accent, the vernacular, even the weather are unique to the region, and they all play a part in making New Orleans what it is.

I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans this past weekend, the first weekend of the Mardi Gras parades and the weekend of the Super Bowl. It was a trip I almost didn't take after learning that my sister (with whom I would be staying in New Orleans) was going to Miami for the game and getting sick just days before my flight would be leaving Connecticut. I knew the trip would be fruitful, however, when I saw local celebrity and former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert standing in line waiting to board my plane. Bobby ended up directly across the aisle from me! For a lifelong Saints fan, this was a positive omen for the game. (Also on the plane, but much less exciting, was Louisiana State Senator Mary Landrieu.)
This wasn't the end of my celebrity sightings or auspicious signs. I walked off the plane behind Bobby, hoping to stay right behind him through the airport where I could soak in his aura and witness the looks of those he passed. Instead, he was walking too slowly, and I had to use the restroom, so I broke formation. As luck would have it, though, this allowed me just enough time to be present when New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin walked through the concourse with his entourage. Now, I am no fan of Ray Nagin, his politics, or his now infamous ability to say all the wrong things at all the wrong times, but still...he's the mayor of New Orleans! I wanted very badly to say something crazy to him, like "Gimme some chocolate!" or "Hey! It's Willy Nagin!" Instead, visions of bodyguards taking me down flashed through my head, and I opted for a calm and respectful, "Hey, Mr. Nagin" to which I received a suave and somewhat smarmy, "Hey, darlin'." I was pleased with the interaction overall.

I walked on, catching back up to Bobby. (I mentioned that he was walking really slowly, right?) On the other side of the security check-in point, I saw my sister waiting for us. I was brimming with excitement from my multiple celebrity encounters and motioned to her with my head at Bobby. In her hands, she held a sign she had made which read, "The Who Dat Nation welcomes Bloomfield, CT!" She presented us with black and gold beads and gave me a black and gold boa, which I wrapped around my neck...not an uncommon look in New Orleans. A woman walked up to us and said, "I don't know you, but I'm from Bloomfield." Another omen! "Well, the Who Dat Nation welcomes you, too," said my sister.

My first night in town was spent at two Mardi Gras parades, one on the West Bank and one in Metairie. I also got to see a childhood friend whom I had not seen since moving. After 28 years, I recognized her right away. I hadn't been to a Mardi Gras parade since moving away from New Orleans, so it was fun to experience them again. Of course, Mardi Gras is when all of the characters come out of hiding. Men are unashamed to dress in tights or tunics. People beg for beads, plastic cups, doubloons, stuffed animals, spears, hatchets, and coconuts. Anyone with a hint of fame can become a Grand Marshall or even a King. Mardi Gras is an excuse to let your freak flag fly at full mast!Another thing that Mardi Gras brings out is garbage. The streets are lined with discarded beads, broken cups, empty boxes that once contained throws, plastic bags, and a sundry of other objects--both odd and mundane. At one point, I watched as two groups of parade watchers played kickball across the street with an empty beer carton. The game would pause briefly while marching bands and floats passed, resuming again once the opportunity arose. Not long after that, I noticed a stray plastic sandwich bag which had been blown by the wind from its place of origin to my little stake of property. It briefly danced around at my feet before continuing on its way down the street. It was a simple plastic baggie with a simple, three-letter word written on its side, but somehow it represented both every piece of garbage and every weird character on the streets of New Orleans at any given moment and particularly during the Mardi Gras season. Yet another omen? Why not?
Sunday was the Super Bowl. Like an athlete preparing for the big game, I spent the day resting, performing my rituals, praying, and anxiously waiting. After 60 minutes of football, the New Orleans Saints had defeated the Indianapolis Colts, winning the Super Bowl in their first ever appearance. It's now a part of history. The Saints won the Super Bowl! Unless you're a Saints fan, I don't think you can truly appreciate what that means. Being in New Orleans, I got to experience the energy of the city and all of the Saints fans as we witnessed this miracle. I ran out into the street, screaming at the top of my lungs, while my sister's neighborhood erupted with the sounds of fireworks, car alarms, cow bells, and screams. Strangers shared in a magical moment of disbelieve, looking at each other through teary eyes, and hoping that we weren't experiencing some sort of mass hysteria. All over the city, people flooded out of their homes, bars, restaurants, and hotels. The streets of the French Quarter were clogged with people. The bridges and roads were packed with cars. No one wanted to be alone. We needed one another.We celebrated through the night and into the following day. We walked around like zombies, hungover from a night of unprecedented joy. While many retreated into their homes, some of us continued to seek out each other. We ran out early to buy the morning paper by the armful. We cleaned up the garbage of the night before. We replenished ourselves with food and rich chicory coffee. And all over again, we recognized and appreciated the character and the flavor of the city of New Orleans--my hometown and the greatest city on Earth.