October 20, 2016

A Field Guide to Getting Lost in Someone Else.

Unsplash/Toa Heftiba


I promise that even though I really like you I won’t lose myself completely.

I murmured these words into the side of my then-girlfriend’s arm before sitting up, untangling myself from her blue sheets (she never made the bed, much to my dissatisfaction), and rolled myself into a sitting position.

My therapist asked if I saw a pattern here , as she pointed to the space between us that seconds ago had been filled by my revealing the broken relationships of the last year. I asked her what the pattern was, to which she responded: “the pattern of losing yourself.”

The first time I got lost in someone else I didn’t mean to. I was only six or seven at the time. He was tall, very tall, much taller than everyone else. His hands were big, much bigger than mine—so every time we held hands his hands covered mine so I handless walking besides him. But, we had the same hair and that’s how you knew we were father and daughter.

Our curls sprung out from our heads, unable to be tamed, grasping for the freedom of humid summer nights that stunk of BBQ and blown-out fires; capturing snowflakes 10 or 15 at a time.

At night he would come to my room last. All of the rest of the house would be sound asleep except for me. He would make himself comfortable on my bedside with his feet touching the carpet, keeping me safe while I struggled to sound out the words in the picture books fanned out around my bed.

He would tell me stories—one more, please just one more—about growing up in Germany, how he made his first $1,000 (painting houses), and the torture he would reign down on his baby sister (like dismantling her baby dolls, so he could see how they worked). I would eagerly listen to him, fitting my expressions to the story: hoping that I was gasping at the exact right moment, that my sighs fit the dramatic pauses, that my giggles weren’t too loud.

I never wanted to be too much of anything. I wanted to be what he wanted me to be, and in those moments I was.

Before things got complicated. Before I learned what words like “alcoholism” and “drug addiction” meant. Before I left home for the first or the last time.

I was already trying to be what someone else wanted me to be, I was already losing myself, so it shouldn’t have been such a surprise where I turned up. It can all be traced back to those stories.

As I got older I started to lose myself in people on purpose. I no longer needed help spelling out words and I could tell my own stories, but that didn’t mean I wanted to. I looked for the newest and shiniest person to fill the void I was most scared of leaving empty. I went to bed at night feeling for the person next to me, but all I came up with every night was a cool, empty patch of sheet.

I wondered if I would always keep feeling for someone who wasn’t there.

The first girl I got lost in was my friend Sasha. This was middle school so everyone had best friends and second best friends and third best friends and then friends. You were either cool or you weren’t. Or maybe you were the artsy girl who wore ten rings on her fingers and worn leather jackets with concert tees passed down from your father (breaking the uniform code, but you were cool, so no one ever seemed to care).

My friend Sasha wasn’t cool, she was ordinary like me. I think she had a few records her mom had given to her, but I never saw them because I never went over to her house. She said she liked mine so she would come over every weekend.

Sasha loved theatre, and black eyeliner, and desperately wanted the other cooler girls to like her. I wanted Sasha to like me. I did my best at wearing eyeliner, so we would match. I would wake up early some days a week so my mom could outline my lids with a dull pencil she found shoved in the back of her bathroom drawer. We would giggle, as she would attempt to not poke me in the eye.

I no longer remember how Sasha and I became friends or why. I do remember that we would go to concerts together. I do remember doing a lot of what she wanted to dowhether it was sitting in the aisles of Barnes & Noble or going to see the latest horror movie. I do remember always feeling like too much.

Then one day, we stopped being friends.

I don’t remember the catalyst for losing my best friend, but I do remember that she stopped talking to me. I saw her with the cool girls that fall; she sat at their table, and did what they did.

Three years after we graduated I was walking down the street by my apartment and in front of me walked a tall girl. It was Sasha. I walked slightly ahead of her to see if it really was her, if she would maybe recognise me, but she kept walking.

The one person I never got lost inside was the one person who always tried to pull me into herself, stuff me into herself, hold onto me like I was the last raft on a sinking ship in the middle of nowhere—like I was an island she could escape to, like I was a glass of extra cold ice water on an August night.

But, I was none of those things and the challenge was to remind my mother of that. Mamma, I shouted.

Mamma, I cried, and sang, and pleaded, and yelled, and wrote on scratches of paper slipping them under her door begging her to let go of me.

My ex couldn’t have come along soon enough. I had been asking for someone emotionally unavailable and incredibly egotistic to take care of me. I latched onto her the way a fat boy eats a slice of cake. I wasn’t letting go.

I didn’t care that she told me, more than once, that she wasn’t a good person. I couldn’t hear her, I was too busy plugging a hole that had been open for one too many years. I didn’t dare consider that maybe she wasn’t the one.

One morning, my friend Bakara gave me a tarot card reading in which she said, when you feel like you need to leave, leave—don’t think about it, but run fast. I laughed. Okay, yes, I’ll run. What I meant to say was, yes, I’ll run, directly back into her arms.

It just felt so good to have someone, anyone. I didn’t care that we didn’t have anything in common, or that she lived 600 miles away from me making it nearly impossible for me to see her as much as I wanted to. I attached myself to her with a fierceness that didn’t match any of the previous people I had lost myself within. This time, I was in love, or thought I was, which after all is sometimes the same thing. Only in hindsight did I see that I mistook lust for love, a mistake I had made and would continue to make.

I sat on my therapist’s couch discussing my post-breakup rebound—a girl who I had met through a mutual friend. Already, she was causing me more drama and trouble than it was worth. I knew it, my therapist knew it, and to be honest, the girl probably knew it too, but that didn’t stop me from responding to her texts at rapid fire speed, feeling sick to my stomach when the interval between texts stretched longer than five minutes, or imagining daily what it would be like to date her.

I tried to explain to my therapist that I found myself disgusted and infatuated at the same time. I knew that this girl was playing a series of sick mind games with me, yet I kept going back for more, promising myself that this would be the last text; the last time.

The other day I was having lunch with a classmate when she told me she would have a heart attack if a guy asked to keep a toothbrush at her place. I looked at her dumbfounded. One too many times I had brushed my teeth at night glancing at the cup that sits above my toilet imagining what color toothbrush might stand next to it. It always bewilders me that not everyone is looking for their person, that some people are indeed fine within themselves.


Author: Haley Sherif

Images: Flickr/Tim Winstead ; Unspalsh/Toa Heftiba

Editor: Erin Lawson

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