The other day I had a thought, like: March is the purgatory of months.
In March, I always find myself staring at puddles for too long, and eating more cheese than I should. My socks are never dry. If it were a song, it would be of the folk variety. With lyrics about dead Christmas trees, and dried out heat packets.
It’s the time of year that makes me reflect on all the things that were almost, but not quite.
Last week, I received a rejection email–not a letter, an EMAIL–for the only grad school I applied to, and I’m feeling very March about it.
I’m disappointed, but not really.
In all honesty, it would’ve been more surprising if I’d been accepted. (I applied to the best Writing MFA program in the country, and a Buff State grad isn’t going to stand out.) So whatever. Pursuing writing means getting comfortable with rejection, anyway. And–it’s something I’ve only come to fully understand in the past year–grace is an art that needs to be re-learned, over and over again.
Yes, typically, I’m a pretty easygoing person.
But not when I really, really, want something.
When I really, really, want something, I put all of myself into achieving, or obtaining, that thing. Regardless of how humiliating, excruciating, or unfeasible, the path to achieving it might be. (I once read this line, in Sylvia Plath’s journal, and I believe it describes my intense focus on certain pursuits, perfectly: “Hurl yourself at goals above your head, and bear the lacerations that come when you slip and make a fool of yourself. Try always, as long as you have breath in your body, to take the hard way.”)
I’m someone who is more afraid of NOT knowing; who prefers knowledge over comfort. Because wondering “what could have been” seems so much more daunting than any amount of embarrassment, or pain. In short: I want to see everything through, to the bitter end, regardless of what that might look like.
Which is fine. Who I am has never been the problem.
The problem, however, has always been my struggle to accept that some people are not like this. (Some people like warm blankets, and safe bets, and never wondering what might be lurking beyond unresolved anxiety, or fear. And this sheltered way of living isn’t necessarily “wrong” or “bad”, in spite of my harsh judgment of it as kind of cowardly, and insecure.
These are not cardinal sins, I understand.)
See, in the past, I harbored a lot of anger with, and resentment for, what I’m going to call: March People.
People who are moody, and prone to indecision. Who need the world around them to be accommodating and prepared. (The snow’s gone today, but it might be back tomorrow: I know you’re happy it’s 65 degrees, but March isn’t trustworthy. Don’t change your studded tires–keep your winter jacket in the foyer.)
My ex-boyfriend was a March baby–an Aries, if that means anything to you.
His moods were fickle. He could be the sweetest, most lighthearted person. (Appealing to my affinity for cute and girly things by leaving Teeny Tys–those bloated beanie babies with the big eyes–in my purse.) Or he could be the most insecure, unreasonable, person I’d ever met in my life. (Slamming doors and cupboards, out of nowhere. Refusing to say what was wrong. Recoiling, and lashing out, at any hint of uncertainty, or confrontation. Twisting up all my attempts at communication, and using them against me.)
The weird thing was, who he was, when he was nice, was worth it. And I’d never laid down my defenses like that before. In the past, with people like him–the difficult kind–I’d always been too quick to internalize the other person’s mood; I took it personally. I thought it was up to me to fix it, even though it had nothing to do with me, and nobody asked me to fix it. I had yet to realize that, going into a relationship, feeling as if I needed to “fix” someone, could be just as damaging, and controlling, as narcissistic abuse.
But, with him, something had shifted. I could separate myself, just enough, from his emotions and problems, to see the good in us both. And it came as a sort of shock when I realized this might mean he was the first person I’d ever loved, without reservation–beyond some underlying, and self-righteous, resentment. (He might not have always been as kind to me as he should’ve, but he reminded me that I was worth something, during a time in my life, when I didn’t feel worth anything. And that alone makes it difficult to condemn him for his anger, or inability to take responsibility for his own insecurities.)
Shortly after we broke up, I read Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut. (A novel he’d constantly recommended when we were together.) It’s about an American spy–impersonating a Nazi during WWII–and the deterioration of his integral identity. The novel focuses on the human inclination to rationalize evil–especially the evil within oneself–and questions whether or not one’s values can really hold any weight, without reflective action. The most memorable, and summarizing, quote is: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend to be.”
(My ex once said, “I’m a really good actor,” and, even at the time–before I knew him well–I remember finding the declaration odd. It wasn’t like he’d ever acted in a play, or anything. In fact, the statement felt kind of eerie. It seemed like he was implying that everything about himself was a façade. Like he couldn’t locate any true identity in himself, so he just morphed to fit whatever situation, or person, happened to be right in front of him.
The moment I read, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend to be,” I could see why Mother Night might have meant so much to him.)
Coincidentally–in terms of how this whole column began–my favorite chapter in the book is titled “Purgatory”. It’s a very short chapter–not even a page–and the narrator talks about how the children from his New York neighborhood would play hide and seek in a private park.
At the end of each day, he says, he’d hear one child cry out, “Olly-olly-ox-in-free!” Signifying that it was okay to come out of hiding, and go home.
The narrator confesses that he is always waiting for that call, after committing such horrendous crimes against humanity–in spite of his “good” values, or any genuine desire to identify as a “good” person. And I felt a severe pang of sympathy for my ex-boyfriend, for all of the March People. I wondered: What’s it like, feeling like you can never come out of hiding? Like no one could ever love you–forgive you–for admitting to the “bad” parts of yourself?
And grace came a little more easily after that. I could fail–I could be misunderstood and rejected–and none of it would matter. I could just surrender, and say: “Thank you for the good times,” and move on. Because, at least, at the bitter end, I wouldn’t be afraid of admitting to who I was, and who I’d been.
Which is a relief, I think.
I hope March is the olly-olly-ox-in-free everyone is looking for.