Someone once told me I was the “most fascinating dichotomy” he’d ever met. I remember feeling bashful by this statement, not quite understanding what that meant, but nevertheless naked. It’s been an echo in my head for nearly a decade, and I can’t even remember his name. But I have a tendency to mull over echoes and since then I think I’ve pieced together a bit of what he must have noticed.
It’s something that I will always relate back to my heart – both physically and spiritually.
Physically, I have an arrhythmia. It is something that shouldn’t affect me as much as it does except that I identify with it so completely. It doesn’t hurt anymore, but I remember the pain and panic it inflicted in my childhood. It almost always startles me, but I know how to correct it. It is the ever present reality that my heart does not beat in rhythm with anyone else’s and most likely never will. It is the feeling of constantly having to search for a rhythm so much harder than everyone else, whether that be when singing, when running, or when cycling. I do not have an internal clock. I do not keep time or pace. I have to find a pace in others and struggle to match it. This is not a complaint, this is reality. This is what it feels like to be inside my ribcage. The only person who might understand this best (although she obviously won’t remember), is my daughter. For 40 weeks she lived inside that ribcage. Her heartbeat was steady and sure, completely healthy, and mine was obviously off. It was literally breath taking – as in I had to stop to catch my breath – because my heart was off kilter and it was instinctively trrying to match her steady, beautiful rhythm.
Spiritually – To my psyche, this minor detail of my life seems to bleed into everything. I was the girl in the top choirs who could not keep time. I remember my dance partner with his hands on my hip (forceful, not sexually) helping me sway… left… right… left… right… and when I got out of sync the gentle double tap and jerk and the whisper in my ear, “Left!” I am never in tune with the people around me.
I am good at calming myself down and remaining calm when necessary, but am completely startled and thrown off by surprises. I can pass dead bodies in the street after a car accident, see a decapitation, work in a bar, and deal with psychos in downtown ghettos more easily than I can choose something to eat off a menu of a restaurant I was not expecting to visit. I can seamlessly function in chaos, but a surprise from a friend, even if pleasant, can throw my whole day. I am adventurous but rarely impromptu. I am impulsive and simultaneously reserved. I am a sanguine melancholy.
I am often the one at the funeral unable to shed tears, put in charge of something practical. Yet, I’m also the one years later still nostalgic over the deceased when everyone else seems to have ‘gotten over it.’ I am excitable, and therefore perceived as sensitive; but was rarely in relationships prior to my marriage because those romantically interested in me thought I had no heart. I run hot and cold. I either like you instantly, or dismiss you altogether.
I find myself curling up with books most often, I think, because like singing and running and cycling and Kung Fu – there is a rhythm. There is a rhythm of words, a pattern. There is a goal – to understand the author, to live the story, to learn something new, to get to your destination (the far off place in the pages of the book if it is a good one, or simply to the last page if it is a bad one). Again, as I read, I hear the echo of that long lost person… I understand characters so well, and have little understanding of people.
My father in law saw my books once and said, “So you read to escape.” I was mildly offended. No, I thought, I read to accomplish. I read to learn. I read because reading is important. But last night, I realized, in a lot of ways he is right. I read because I have control over the circumstances in which I dive into information. I read to settle my nerves. I read to avoid decisions. I read because in theory it should be easier to be let down by a character than by a person. I read because sharing the friends I meet in books is up to me, I am somewhat in control of the chaos. I read because I can take a few days to figure out what a character means before I am faced with that character again – it’s easy, leave him/her on the nightstand until I’m ready again. You can’t do that with real people. There’s no time. You have to have feelings or not have them immediately, and to master in what degree. You have to decide what everything means immediately. And you have to react accordingly.
Scarlet O’Hara doesn’t care if I think she’s a bitch. It doesn’t matter that I am in love with Captain Wentworth and Howard Roarke, and neither one is saddened, happy, or jealous. Holden Caulfield is unaffected by my disdain for him and what I say about him or to him will not cause him to stumble – or grow. And I can get to know all of them as quickly or slowly as I like. Jay Gatsby is not going anywhere, I can soak up every nuance from now until eternity and not miss a beat.
Not missing a beat is important to someone who misses them all the time.