What if I wasn’t me?

“Tiny bubbles hang above me
It’s a sign that someone loves me”

What if I stopped writing?

There was this hiatus in my writing around 2010. I lived in close quarters with a boy, and I worried my writing would draw attention, raise questions. I felt like I didn’t have anything to write about. Nothing worthwhile was happening to me. I squirreled away my journals and notebooks and spent my free time watching tv or sleeping on the couch.

That coulda been me

Mostly I know me, now at 28, but what if I had made a decision when I was younger that preempted my discovery? What if I had done something that prevented my life as I know it from ever occurring? What if I wasn’t me? Would who I could have been mattered at all?

I was 21 when we became “official” with a Facebook tag– after a year of (on my part) heartache. I was a senior in college, and we dated until the summer after my 2-year Master’s program. The girl I was then seems hollow to me now. Naive and small. I spent a lot of time forming connections that didn’t survive my early twenties.

Regardless, we got to a very safe place after 2 years. We were in sync so much that we moved in together. We shared a bed and most of our meals and spent weekends with ourselves and had conversations without words. We made time for each other. We did things for one another without a conscious thought. Maybe that was part of the problem–you stop saying Thank You. How are you.

When we graduated, he was all set to move with me to Indiana, where I had landed a job at Purdue University. We spent a day driving the neighborhoods and imagining our shit in an array of empty apartments. We measured the distance from driveway to parking lot. We talked about what we would take and what we would sell and where he would work.

And then, without much warning, I changed my mind. We removed his name from the lease on the Indiana apartment. We stopped sharing a room. I started documenting our disintegration in written words.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of happy I would be if I had followed through with the original plans. I knew his plans–move, time, ring, wedding, marriage, children. I couldn’t see myself in those roles, not yet, not now. When I felt like there were sides to me I hadn’t yet named. Misnomer Morales. He didn’t want to be with me if I couldn’t commit to The Future. I didn’t want to commit to him if he couldn’t imagine another type of life.

“I used to recognize myself
It’s funny how reflections change”

None of this would exist now. No education abroad; no Ireland; no second Master’s; no Wisconsin. No Persians, no Cincinnati, no Twin Cities. He wouldn’t have supported my decision to go back to school, to switch careers, to “start over”–not when I was a faculty member at a Big Ten University.

But me. So much of what has happened since is so much of me. What about the stories of missed opportunities and bad kisses and brief dalliances. Long, drawn-out connections. The mentors and the classes and the professors and the students and the hilarious coworkers. The hugs. The walks. The hangovers. The breakfast burritos. The restaurants and the flights and the pictures. The long runs and the tight hamstrings. None of them would exist if I had stayed: Tim, who encouraged me to start writing again after a long hiatus; Alex, who reminded me that all that glitters is not gold; Richard; Morgan, who every day reminds me that your outward demeanor really can make all the difference. We walked past the crowd in the room as she called me her trophy wife and I balanced a tray of bread on my head. No fux. Your attitude determines your latitude. 

My favorite advisee spent two hours in my office detailing her semester abroad, and I found myself actually present, focused, engaged. As she detailed her emotional responses to Auschwitz-Birkenau I found myself caught up in her telling. Nauseous imagining her emotions and the realizations she had, the visions of death and torture. I ruined the moment–I caught myself. Morales, look at you actually listening, instead of making the listening noises. The inside of my head…

Like I knew if I stayed with him that would be safe, going through the living motions. We knew each other well. We were comfortable with one another. I had a moment about six months after our split where I thought, my relationship with him was so easy. Was I too hasty to leave?

Isn’t there more to longevity than knowledge and familiarity? I want my life to be hard. I want my relationships to be work. Of course I’m speaking first-world hard. I don’t want first-world numbness, dumbness, obliviousness. Easy. I don’t want a life of making the motions. I want the people I keep close to be regularly unfamiliar to me. Maybe I don’t know you at all.

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