Monday, August 23, 2010

Split Personality

Life can be absolutely hilarious in its irony.

I began this summer staring hopelessly at the big, scary expanse of time in front of me, completely bewildered - four months in Toronto, no job, certainly no traveling, and no friends who didn't completely remind me of high school.

I felt like I was slowly being pulled backwards in time, to a period where I was so sure I had moved from. But one funny thing about life is that in order to prepare yourself for the future, you have to reconcile your past. And Past Jessica was the one person I had spent three years desperately running from. Past Jessica is that ugly, misshapen, mothbitten sweater flattened in the bottom of a closet, beneath years' worth of less embarrassing, probably more expensive other garments. But, of course, what happens when the shiny new clothes have been taken to the cleaners or moved into a new home in another province?

I had left my baggage in Montreal. Before leaving, I had emotionally detached myself from some of my closest friends, lost interest in a new romantic prospect and had stopped looking. The weeks before leaving, I spent my nights sweating and shaking alone in my empty apartment, battling an existential crisis into the early hours of the day, squeezing my eyes shut and helplessly unable to keep my mind from asking questions darker than the last about life, and death, and what comes after.

I thought a lot about death those days - wondering how it would feel, when it would come, what would go on after, accepting that it was going to happen eventually, and just as quickly as my university career had swiftly passed before me, so would the rest of my life. I worried about the future, crammed my early adult life with enough plans as to not waste these fleeting years - if I was lucky enough to make them through alive. Lying in fetal position, I would mutter between gasps, "Please get me through these few nights. Please get me at least enough to get back home to my family. Please don't let me rot here in this bed, ignoring calls until they finally find me when my lease is through and they need to break down the door to forcibly evict me."

When the sun rose the next day and I woke from my blurred half-sleep, I would literally let out a sigh of relief and say a quick prayer to get me through the day.

I was ready to go home. There was very little left for me in Montreal. And then, inevitably, time folded and sighed and I was back in Toronto.

Between May and July, I slept irregularly, often going to bed at 5 AM and waking up at 11, still entertaining my dark thoughts. But some time in those months, a strange intruder slowly crept into my mind. She blew the dust out of some of the forgotten corners of my brain and wafted through the vents and awoke some old familiar habits. I had rudely set myself up in her domain, so she made her presence known to me. It was Past Jessica, back to haunt me.

She re-opened the floodgates of all my insecurities, my awkwardness with men, my vanity, my selfishness, my jealousy and my temper - all parts of me that I shrunk and slowly grew out of. She floated into my speech, made gossip more biting, lit the short fuse, spurned my parents and my friends, and I was helpless against her. She argued with me into the night, mocked me relentlessly, cut me down when I felt high. But slowly, like a babysitter dealing with an impetuous child, I got tired of her antics and ignored her when she lashed out. I got busy. It was a gradual shift, I was just so sick of worrying and battling. So I threw myself into project after project. I did the Fringe festival, I tutored English. and she, the jaded teenager, slowly slunk back into her space and blasted her angry music. And in those situations, the only thing you can do is let it rest and then wake up wthe next morning and talk it out. It was time to stop running away and finally face her.

Between Montreal and Toronto, I had left everything behind - my friends, relationships, school drama, and had violently intruded her space with this air of self-importance, bringing back with me nothing but tension and negative energy. And the more I willed myself against her presence, the more she acted up.

I sat her down in a quiet edge of my brain and asked her, finally, what it was that she wanted. She replied matter-of-factly: I want a room. She wanted to be able to settle back in with me. What else was to be done? I let her back in. I unlocked my door, found her a space with a bed and blank walls for her to hang her punk rock posters on, poured some tea for me and got a bottle of Coke for her, and suddenly, she just lived there.

I talk to her sometimes now. She's got her room in an attic in my brain, and constantly offers her two cents. When I get into an argument with my parents and shrink away silently, boxing myself up in my own isolation, a discipline that I have practised over the years for these situations, she with her biting honesty will sarcastically snarl, "So, what, you think you're, like, better than this now? Who the hell do you think you are?" When I am faced with moments of heartbreak and in typical Jessica fashion, turn my back and check out, the over-emotional teenager will rip off her headphones, leap out of the bed in her attic, land in that unignorable little crook that connects to my eyes and my eardrums and scream, "FEEL SOMETHING!!!!!!!" so violently it reverberates through my body.

Okay. I tell her, calmly, shaking, and finally allow myself to feel something.

I'm back in Montreal now, after the four months, and I've taken her with me, the little brat with her angry music and her cold shrugs, but also with her moments of youthful wisdom. Together, we slid the key into the lock, stepped in and looked around at the apartment that I spent three years away from her to cultivate. Being there after all that time was eerie. It was suddenly not my home now; it was haunted by a different presence. Standing in my kitchen felt like I was meeting a stranger who somehow suddenly knew every detail about me - my interests, my friends, my history. This strange presence, I gathered, must be Future Jessica, waiting for me to catch up, beckoning Past Jessica and Current Jessica to sit down at the couch and chat over tea - and, of course, a bottle of Coke.

I wonder what we'll find out about her.

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