I am not perfect.
I am smart and able and resourceful and determined. I am exceedingly analytical, especially when it comes to relationships and my own role in them. I spend an inordinate amount of time in my own head, breaking down the minutiae of every conversation, every encounter. What did he mean by that? Was there really a disjoint between his words and his expression? What did I do to encourage or discourage him? Why the hell am I feeling this?
Some days it's incredibly loud inside my head. I will replay every detail over and over. (Add obsessive and dogged to that list of qualities.) Hiding behind every memory there is always a ghost, taunting me with the rattle of its chains and reminding me of every time I have been less than perfect.
Truthfully (and with a bit of well-earned arrogance), I do most things I attempt very well. When I set my sights on a specific path, I will follow it to the point of exhaustion, just to see it through. It's the encounters along the way, the people I stumble across and sometimes joyously or painfully into, who help to shape that journey. Because I remember the details of almost everything in my life, it's very unlikely that I will ever forget those people.
I don't want to be forgotten.
Sometimes it feels like competition, but you don't always know the specifics of what you're fighting, or sometimes even that you are. This is why I try so damn hard to be bigger, better, faster, more. If I can create something new, something unique, it is unforgettable in its own right. If I am at the core of those memories, I only have to compete against my own ghosts. When it comes down to it, there's only me to fuck with my own head, and I relish that hard-fought battle more than any other.
I did have a conversation recently with Bounder about this. I talked with him about a specific drama that had injected itself into my world—yet another fragile cat who went totally off the deep end—and how I didn't know how not to attract these fucked up men. He argued that it's the reciprocity of attraction, that in the same way I always seem to be hunting them, they can smell me on the wind.
"Because you are the alpha female, the lioness of lionesses. It's built in somehow, parallel to how you're a badass mom. Same psycho theory...."
If I care about these men, the souls they are beyond any sort of romantic relationship we have, is it wrong for me to be active in that when they are struggling? It's right to do what you can to help the people who matter to you—that's how interpersonal relationships work. And there are a very few whose souls have touched mine so deeply that they could get my attention and help no matter what. Forever and always and no matter what. I may have every reason to tell them to fuck off, but I care deeply and cannot bear the thought of not honoring that.
"You do honor it, Steph, just by trying. You cannot do it yourself. It will always take two."
"I don't know that I even believe that anymore, that there's another one who can be what everyone else so plainly believes I need. So what's my option? Be miserable alone? If I'm gonna be miserable, I'd rather have it peppered with moments of incredible connection."
Bounder says the key is to not ever be miserable alone, to enjoy and thrive in those moments until the connections are there, intentional or not.
"Trust," he said.
"But that means I have to trust myself," I replied.
While I am sometimes too free and quick with my emotions, there are a very few people in the world who I truly love. I am fortunate that I have a list at all, but it can be very hard for me to let anyone in. The list of people I trust is far, far shorter. I have every historical reason for that, certainly, but the ones who have gained my confidence have been the ones who very strongly encouraged me to see something about myself that I couldn't or wouldn't face, good or bad. That's part of why they matter to me and always will.
If I can find people who trust me enough to let me care for them, then I hope for reciprocity. I hope to see my own worth through their eyes, because I can only see my value, really, when it's shown to me.
This is why I asked Bounder and DH and sometimes Absolem and others why I wasn't worth their fight. Every time I think I am, that I have done enough and earned it from them or for them, I get the response that somehow I just wasn't enough—usually while being told I was just too much.
"Who are you not good enough for?" Bounder asked. "Certainly not the drunken cats or your ex or any of them and definitely not Daddy. So who's left? Who do you pale in comparison to? You."
"I pale in comparison to those who've come before me, to those ghosts who can garner more attention that I can."
"Not true. You believe it, clearly, but it's not true."
"Really? If I never say the words I'm not her again, it will be too soon. And, yeah, sometimes I'm not good enough for the drunken cats. I'm not perfect, or even just right. I get upset when I'm hurt, and I let them down. I let you down. I failed you, and so I failed me. If I'd been a little quieter, a little calmer, more compartmentalized and covert with my heart.., if I'd backed down , been more pliant, less selfish, less open about my needs..., if I'd just seen you coming and been able to plan, then maybe—just maybe—you would've been willing to keep the cracks in the walls that let me and the light in, maybe I would've been good enough for you to accept that love and let yourself love me back."
But I didn't. I trusted who I was, that persona of Stephanie that I toss at men and the world like a grenade, challenging them to disarm it or die. I was defiant in all that I presented and felt and lived, and I lost another man that I loved.
Then I found myself alone and crying in the dark on my deck, sobbing because I am not perfect.
When you are a true perfectionist, everything takes on a gravity that most people can't understand. They can't empathize with how consuming it is to constantly maintain the level of energy required to be not only your best but better than anything or anyone else, how the slightest of mistakes and imperfections can rock you to the core in such a way that it feels like the goddamn universe is collapsing on your head. When it comes to love, your heart is all too likely to be crushed, sucked into the black hole of itself where not even your own light can escape.
But to expect perfection in the realm of interpersonal relationships is a fool's quest. It is absolutely noble to strive for the best, for better than best, but it's dependent not only on my actions but on the reactions of another flawed human. That give and take is incomparably beautiful. For me, it can feel deadly.
One mistake, one minor misstep, and the person I love responds in kind. The first, tiny ripple of incident creates waves and wake of hurt and ache, and somehow I am sucked down by the undertow, berating myself for having chosen A over B, for not having known ahead of time what would come as a result. For being human.
No one is harder on me than I am, and I am a formidable opponent. I am a force of nature. Nothing wreaks havoc on Glamazon Island quite like Hurricane Sass. Somehow I am constantly surprised when I ignore the storm warnings, ignore the windblown red flags, and dive into the choppy, churning waters. It doesn't matter how I move, how perfectly I execute each stroke of arm and leg or each turn of the head as I gasp for breath; a storm like that will eventually exhaust me.
I'll still be berating myself for not being a better swimmer, for not being able to see through the riptide and stay parallel to the shore. Even as I'm drowning.