Eleven Years and What-Could-Have-Beens

Sunday, February 14, 2016

I saw the musical If/Then on Tuesday night at Cleveland's Playhouse Square, & though it wasn't necessarily my kind of show, the second half had me crying during, like, every scene - in a good way, mostly. So much of it resonated with me, with my anxiety, with the way my mind works, with my feelings about my ex-boyfriend's death.

He died 11 years ago last Wednesday; we buried him 11 years ago today. Happy Valentine's Day, right? Bear with me on how this relates to the musical.

In If/Then, a character named Elizabeth lives out two completely different versions of her life, a Sliding Doors-esque plot that develops two storylines dependent on one little decision. In one version, "Liz" goes out with her friend Kate & ends up meeting the love of her life; in another, "Beth" goes out with her friend Lucas & ends up scoring the job of her dreams. Both lives are beautiful, painful, complex. Both lives are real. And depending on the decisions she makes, both lives are possible.

This is the kind of thing I think about all the time - all the damn time, so much that I ended up in therapy for it & on medicine for it.

The crux of my anxiety is imagining every single scenario, every single outcome, every other option of any single decision, such that I am sometimes rendered unable to make any decision without mourning all the decisions I didn't make, or couldn't make - every other version of my life that I will never get to live.

There's a song in If/Then called "Some Other Me" about all the different versions of ourselves we could be if only we'd made other choices along the way. Some of the lines:
Somewhere there's a world where you and I are man and wife...
Somewhere there’s a me who never loved that other you...
And somewhere there's a you who simply worshiped other me...
You and I are strangers, or we’re lovers, or we’re not;
The other mes live with what they've got.
Look down each road left untaken, trace every turn and twist
The lives that we just let go by, the dreams we might have missed
And I couldn't help it: I sobbed quietly during this song, remembering Dave, grieving for the life we had, & mourning the one we didn't.

In 2011, I wrote a blog post called "Somewhere, in Another Story" about what life might have been like if Dave hasn't killed himself. If we hadn't fallen apart. If we still loved one another, or if we'd fallen in love again down the road. If we turned into the people our 17-year-old selves believed we could be.

But I wrote another blog post, too, back in 2009, called "Testing the Strong Ones," about how, if Dave had lived, I might not have. About how his death may have saved my life. About all the guilt that comes with that. About how lucky I feel to be alive, & how much I now value living.

Sometimes I still imagine that somewhere, in another story, Dave is a high school English teacher, & he plays guitar on the side. Maybe we don't even know one another anymore. Maybe we're friends on Facebook, feeling fondly toward high school love, but he's married to some formerly emo girl with better hair than me & smaller hips than mine. Maybe he's someone's husband, someone's father. Surely, he is not anyone's dead ex.

But in that story, who am I? That's a version of myself who lives someplace else, as someone else. She's lucky in some ways - she doesn't know this version of me or the pain of what she experienced - but I'm sure she has problems, too. Maybe she didn't even make it at all

I don't get to know. I'm not her. I'm just me - this version of me.

Because in the end, all we have is what we end up with in this Choose Your Own Adventure of a life, wholly dependent on the decisions we make & where they take us, or don't. We never get to know what might have been or could have been or which version we gave up. We live the one we've got, & we'll go crazy if we spend too much time imagining what we could have had if something had gone differently along the way.

Somewhere, in yet another story, some other me & some other Dave grew up to be the couple they were so sure they would be - & frankly, imagining that sometimes gives me as much comfort as it does sadness. I try to remind myself that the story that I have lived, for all its flaws & pain & regrets, led me to the life I have now - & I can't imagine it any other way. If I mourn him forever, I don't appreciate where I am - & so, on days like that, this version of me has to just thank that version of him for what we had & where it led me, even if it means he couldn't be here to see it.

See the good in the life you've got, right? But damn - even 11 years later, I sure do miss him.

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