Because of you.

July 7, 2011 § 15 Comments

Ray, when we first met.

If you’ve ever had a kid, or been a kid with siblings who are nothing like you, you know every child is born with an innate personality.

As if “self” were a suitcase packed for the journey, each of us arrives predisposed to be a certain kind of person.

But from the moment we draw our first breath, it is the people around us who encourage and nurture that natural self, reshape it, or so deprive it of oxygen it withers.

The force of other personalities is especially effective when applied to a temperament like mine. I’m a natural-born sidekick. Ask me what I want to do and I’ll say, “I don’t know, what you want to do?”

And I mean it. Seriously.

You open the car door and your dog jumps in? That’s me.

Temperamentally, I’m just like my mother, with one very big caveat. My mother didn’t come into the world just like my mother. She remembered herself as a willful child with stand-up courage. Unfortunately, this was not a temperament that was encouraged or even tolerated in a daughter when she was growing up.

She remembered the child she was wistfully. I could tell she missed her original self, but over time she became the right kind of daughter.

Luckily, many of her inborn qualities survived, and because they matched mine, my natural self flourished.

Like her, I’m a breathless optimist. I always think something amazing is about to happen!

Like her, I believe that the truest representation of life is the story, because story discards everything inconsequential, repetitive or boring, leaving only the grand emotional sweep.

My mother was a romantic in love with life. I learned from her how to toss my heart like a penny down a well, sure when I heard an answering splash, that my wish would come true.

My father, who whistled and sang and learned to play viola from his dad, encouraged the melodies that still run ceaselessly in my brain. I believe that one day I will walk down a street and all the doors will fly open. People will lean out those doors and begin to sing—life the musical! (This is a combination of my father’s music and my mother’s imaginative optimism).

As a natural sidekick I’ve had a lucky life. I was born to the right parents and have been fortunate in who I’ve traveled with since.  I was twenty when I met my husband, Ray. He was thirty-two and way ahead of me in knowledge and experience.

His natural temperament is unlike any other I’ve ever encountered. He is not a leader, he is not a sidekick. He is a lone explorer who will always carry his own pack up Everest.

When we met he was a photographer—that was his label, but he has worn so many before and since: commercial fisherman, helicopter repairman, secret agent man, boatwright, newspaper reporter—but each is temporary. His true calling is curiosity. He figures things out, learning new skills so that whatever comes up he can do-it-himself.

He is quiet and observant. Tramping around with him, hiking along railroad tracks, or sitting in a canoe as the morning mist burns off, I have learned how to be quiet and observant too.

I’ve picked up some of his self-sufficiency. His carelessness about the yardsticks used to measure success I have down cold. He doesn’t answer to that kind of pressure so neither do I.

With him I have done so many things I would never have tried, or even thought of on my own (when he opens the car door and says, “jump in” the destination is always  interesting).

Do you ever think about who you are at the core, the essential self that is non-negotiable? Conversely, do you ever think about the revisions made to that self by the daily wear of the other lives that jostle against yours?

No one can take full credit or full blame for who they turned out to be–and the possible selves that might have been are endless.

Although the me who sits here writing this feels inevitable, I wonder who I might have become had I been the sidekick of different people.

And because I am essentially a story-teller, I can’t help but wonder if, in some alternate universe, that other self sits at her computer imagining me.

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§ 15 Responses to Because of you.

  • Linda Guy says:

    So interesting! Just realized that I’m a natural sidekick also, though not so much the optimist. And since I was a child I remember seriously wondering what it would feel like to be someone else.

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    • Sidekick, thy name is woman.

      Even now I wonder about being someone else. I remember a girl in my dorm at college who changed her name to Nicole the day she arrived because there was another girl on the hall who shared her real name. It seemed so daring, as if she was becoming someone else.

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  • Though I sometimes have found myself in the sidekick role, I’ve always wanted to be … and tried to be … the hero – the one that says “let’s go” and leads the pack. I have disovered this “Alpha” personality in my main characters and find that from time to time I must take them down a peg or two because … well … no one is perfect after all!

    MLS

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  • You have all the right qualities to lead: you are brave, organized, decisive and you don’t appear to give too big a flip about the opinions of others.

    Yell “Let’s go!” around me and I’ll be the one running along behind you.

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  • judyransom says:

    You are the sidekick, and I am the chameleon. I have learned to be very careful whom I will call “buddy,” for I take on their characteristics, both good and bad. As Cicero wrote on friendship, only someone who encourages you to virtuous endeavors can truly be a friend (very loosely translated). If they ask you to do something immoral, for the sake of the friendship, then they are not a friend.

    I am truly happy for your good fortune, Adrian — loving parents and husband! I could say my chameleon within is turning green with envy … but I won’t, for I am on my own path … and it’s all good.

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    • I imitate in a much more embarrassing way. I adopt the accent and speech patterns of the people I’m with, often without realizing it. My daughter can attest, it’s mortifying to those who are related to me.

      So far I’ve been pretty reistent to adopting the bad characteristics of others–and that is thanks to my parents who instilled lots of moral values along with a great big dose of Catholic guilt.

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      • Hi, I do that too! It means we’re good at languages. When I was growing up I used to go to family reunions in S.C., and from the moment I got there I had a southern accent that I couldn’t get rid of until the day I left. It didn’t sound right, but I couldn’t stop myself. I don’t think I do that anymore, though.

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  • Sheila Merlau says:

    Your lyrical prose soothes me along, and when it ends I am sad. But then I am always glad when there are lots of remarks, banter to read that extend your ideas.
    I just finished a Facebook discussion with my 20 yr old granddaughter with a paragraph that said, “I deeply love all of the members of my family, although I don’t necessarily like all of the decisions that they make. But then MY life would be very different if I had followed everyone of my mother’s suggestions.”

    My mother and I were so different, yet she tried very hard to make me into the mold she had planned. I was and am such an optimist. I think one of the most hurtful things she ever said to me as a teenager was, “Oh, Sheila don’t be such a Pollyanna!” Books were my escape and Pollyanna was a childhood friend and model. I never told my mother how that had stung me.

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    • Sheila Merlau says:

      Gosh, you’re so right.

      I wonder what I’ve said to my own children, or someone else, that haunts them. One liners can ring on for years, can’t they?

      Like

      • That was the other thing I thought of putting in this post, the influence we have on others. I know the comments that affected you and me were meant to last a moment, not a lifetime. Let’s hope whatever we carelessly said it was encouraging.

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  • A single remark, one that probably meant very little to the person who said it, can have such a long life. My grandfather once said, “If I had to listen to your voice for any length of time it would put me to sleep it is so boring.”

    For years I felt as if my boring voice was an imposition on anyone who had to listen to me “for any length of time.” I do lots of presentations and the first time someone said they liked my voice I was stunned. They seemed to mean it–and no one in the audience had gone to sleep while listening to me!

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  • craig reeder says:

    loved your description of ray! he is a fascinating character who marches to his own drumbeat (with a cliche like that, you can see why i’m not a writer) but it is SO true; his zaniness, humor and creativity might hide his heart of gold from some folks, but I can see it there beating. you both are some very lucky folks, and i’m very happy to count you both as friends.

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  • Tgumster says:

    If I had not been content to “go along” or fall into every accent I ever met, I would not be this way in this moment. While I am no longer either one, my style as a sidekick was to absorb many beliefs and then try them out in a drawl or clipped speech. It was my way to see what “fit,” always another view, a cloak of optimism that still serves.

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    • I hadn’t thought of it that way, but going along with other people’s ideas is a way of trying their lives out. Perhaps being malleable is not a sign of weakness, but one of wisdom. Dang, I like that idea!

      Like

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