Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fifty percent of my heart.

My very first-boyfriend-ever used to get drunk on Boone's Strawberry Hill then run into traffic to try and kill himself.

That was disheartening.

Jump ahead in time to my NYC boyfriend (who kept reminding me he wasn't my boyfriend), who held my hand as I told him of my sister's funeral that I had attended only days earlier. He stopped me, still holding my hand, and said, "I hope you don't think this will bring us closer together."

I know people are complex and timing is everything. This is just the way the cards have fallen. It is what is is. But it's still exhausting and it's part of the reason I wanted to move out here and get off the grid. I needed a break from my heart landing in the E.R.

Let me paint you a picture:

I remember in high school, while at the first Lollapalooza concert in Dallas, people all around us were taking their patchouli-smelling blankets and using them as catapults to toss people 10-feet in the air then gently catch them again as they came back down. It was obviously a great idea at a rock festival where alcohol and psychedelic use was heavy, and so my wasted friend Amy decided this was the experience for her. Strangers in vintage Levi's and suede vests loaded her in a blanket, tossed her up, and up and up and up (she was super tiny), and then, because time is all goofy when you're stoned, promptly forgot about her.

Everyone holding the blanket literally forgot they had tossed someone in the air only moments before and somehow simultaneously looked down at their hands in unison and thought, "Dude. Why am I holding this blanket?" And walked away.

Amy hit the ground with a thud.

This is a good analogy for my love life.

Now, contrast that to my late sister's. After Brooke's funeral we held a reception at our house. And because Brooke's death was so sudden and shocking and she was young (36, my age now) and single, and because we were all upside down and unmoored, what was supposed to be a somber reception somehow turned into a massive cocktail party.

Let me stress this was not my family's doing; in fact I can assure you, we, every last one of us, did not know what the hell we were doing.

Hundreds showed up and packed our house from wall to wall. Personally I remember asking people if they'd like a gin and tonic, completely numb but smiling sweetly; a perfect Southern Belle offering magnolia blossoms to those crossing the River Styx. None of us Phelps understood where we were in the space/time continuum or what was really happening, so we just did and said what we were used to doing; we were friendly and accommodating, all the while deeply mourning, fluctuating through our individual stages of grief. I'm not sure how appropriate our behavior was, but it was all we could manage at the time, and it got us through.

So at Brooke's funeral reception (cocktail soiree?) there were a gaggle of her former (and current) boyfriends on hand. All of them devastated. All of them teary, broken-hearted, in my family's house mulling about forlorn from room to room. It's a large split-level house with tons of narrow stairs, my childhood home, and felt like I was constantly bumping into one of those damn men on the damn stairs.

There they all were, weepy and talking to one another, like something out of a Fellini scene. And in the dining room, which is at the very center of my parent's house, lay a book my dad had found at Brooke's, a collection of love letters and photos from her past relationships, a scrapbook diary of sorts, that people were flipping through while chuckling and telling anecdotes about Brooke and each of her hapless men. ("Remember the time when two guys found out she was dating them both at the same time and confronted her on her doorstep: 'It's either option A or option B,' they told her. 'It's Option C: none of the above!' She said and slammed the door.'")

The takeaway: Brooke was a heartbreaker, which was always relayed with a twinkle in the eye and, thanks to me, a gin and tonic in hand. And as the night wore on, one thing became very clear to my siblings and I: the prettiest and most popular among us had died.

Now what?

Back in Dallas, after New York, after Brooke, I was a reporter and used to pal around with a famously sartorial drunk. We would hit the parties and the galas and the fundraisers and drink ourselves through a sea of fabulous people and nutty conversations. His dress was always impeccable: custom suits with special flourishes, crisp white shirts monogramed at the pocket, wonderful hats (sometimes with plumes!), cufflinks that could be displayed at MoMA. And then there was me, stylish but disheveled, bloody, bitten cuticles, ceaselessly digging through my purse for my wallet or a pen and paper, spilling my drink. One day the satorialist said to me, "May you become a little more vain." I turned to him and shot back, "May you become less so."

You see as far as I was concerned, vanity and pretty were one in the same, and that was Brooke's role. I equated those qualities with modeling contracts, vapid women, and boyfriends who wore braided leather belts who cut the of fat off their fajitas at Tex-Mex restaurants. "Pretty" was a sad fall from grace, directionless and defined by boob size and liposuction. Pretty was prescription drugs and lies. Pretty seemed ugly. I did not want pretty.

And yet in Dallas, pretty is everything. So...?

When we were little and brother had bad dreams, he would climb into bed with me and we would touch our feet together so that we both knew we were there and were safe from any nightmares. And when we talked, we would divide our hearts into pieces.

We couldn't grasp how you could love one object/animal/person with 100 percent of your heart and another, separate object/animal/person also with the same 100 percent, so we'd say of our pets, for example, "I love Betsy fifty percent and Ginger fifty percent." That way each pet got exactly one-half of the whole. Fair and balanced. 

I think this magical thinking grew out of a childhood spent in a tense, blended family where half-sister and full-brother roles were clearly defined but never discussed. We could all feel the divide between us but were never supposed to acknowledge it. We were loved equally, we were told often and emphatically, and yet, in all honestly, looking back, whether real or imagined, it felt off

And here's the thing: I now realize I've taken that magical thinking into adulthood. I've somehow held on to the notion it is OK for someone to love you with only 50 percent of their heart for just 50 percent of the time (or less), because they have another half waiting for something or someone else that's equally important. I've told myself no one can really do 100 percent and somehow I've made that my status quo.

With this thinking, I've managed to hold on to "pretty" is one thing because "smart" is another and never the twain shall meet.

And what's funny is that not only is there a gaggle of girls out there, gin and tonics in hand reading this saying, "That ain't right!" Science is also kinda telling me the same thing.

Lately I've been reading about quantum mechanics, which, you see, "can... have several identities at once." Or so says the 2012 Nobel Prize-winning physicist Serge Haroche. Basically (really, really basically), the reason Dr. Haroche and his peer Dr. David Wineland won that Nobel is that their experiments have shown us ways in which we can finally measure all those weird little photons, previously unmeasurable,"like marbles in a box." And you know what they found?
"Dr. Wineland compared the electron to a marble rolling back and forth in a bowl. 'At some instant of time, the marble is both on the left-hand side and the right side of bowl at the same time.'”
In the end the most basic state of being is to be everything and everywhere at once. In fact, that is the most precise, accurate measurement there is at a quantum level, and remains the case until the object starts to choose one distinct path and becomes part of the world we can see.

I love this. And I love to imagine that in the beginning, at the essence of who we are and how we were made, there was no division where one sibling was the popular one and one was the arty one and one was the athletic one, etc. We, each of us individually, were all those things and more. Until we chose not to be.

Brooke was bitchy, sure, (as a flight attendant she once told a very famous passenger who wanted more cookies "This is a 747, not a 7-11,") but she was also kind. We were told her neighbor's little girl cried for days when she found out Brooke died, she just idolized her so. Yes, she was my definition of pretty, but so is the view from the top of Mt. Livermore, staring down at the rest of the Davis Mountains. Pretty is the left side and the right side at the same time.

I know now we can love 100 percent of 100 things 100 percent of the time and people can love us back 100 percent. We can embody qualities that are both complementary and divisive within ourselves. I love my sister Brooke but I'm also still really, really angry with her for leaving us the way she did.

What do they say? God is in the details? Listen, God is the details.

And my first boyfriend who used to chug Boone's and try to kill himself every Saturday night also asked me to marry him.

How quantum.