I am a deeply divided human being. Those who have known me longest have known this best. I have grappled with this throughout my life, at times calling this way of being flexible. At others, compartmentalized.
I grew up in New York City. I went to a private school and I wore a uniform. Then I moved to Northern California when I was 12 with my mother and my parents divorced. Our new home was on a mountain, balanced safely (I was told), on stilts. There was a hot tub. It was inhabited by a family of raccoons.
I lived there until college, traveling back to NY to visit with my father several times per year. In this hippy haven I went to school. In my NY life I went to parties with socialites, going through a period in high school during which this NY experience filled me with disdain. The arrogance. The agression. The competition. The opressive lack of greenery and fresh air. This was easier to do in a very real sense back then because NY was a very different city than it is now. People were simply not as friendly. It was not as pretty or as clean or as safe. But then after college and I had moved to Portland, I slowly started to complain about the lack of ambition, of drive, of genuine talent in the west. It was so slow. The conversations lacked sophistication. When I went back to NY the increased sense of community had made the city more relaxed and because of that you were better able to appreciate what was so interesting about it.
Over the past year I have remained rooted in Portland, making it my 10th year here, the longest I have ever remained in one city since having the capacity to choose it, but am traveling more and more often back to NY. I have started to leave my toiletries in my father’s apartment there, marking my territory so that when I return to my home in Portland, something of mine stays behind. I am a coastal swinger. I am in love with east and west. I am enmeshed with both, I am loyal to neither. I feel sick every time I am on the plane traveling between the two not because of the motion but because if feels like I am being stretched like silly putty and until there is only the thinnest of string connecting the separate globes until eventually it is no more, leaving the two unattached. I regroup into one mass upon landing, only to have it happen again when I return.
This may sound a tad bit dramatic. I conceed that. But I promise you that it’s what I feel. Every time.
To make matters worse or to perhaps such solidify them, my parents continue to this day to embody in human form and in an almost a cartoonish and parallel way the west coast (mom) and an the east coast (dad). My mom bought an RV. She attends women’s groups and does a lot of volunteer work. She loves her garden. She was married for ten years to a man who spent a lot of time in “the shop” or “out back” until he passed away. She often eats cereal for dinner. My father eats at Cookshop every night and has multiple engagements every week with people who are exceptional in all walks of life; fashion, art, politics. He goes to the gym and frequents galleries. He sees dance regularly. Dance. He has sex but not long term romantic partnerships.
Despite their very different lifestyles they are both highly compassionate people who are generally lovely to be around. That’s the thread, the theme, that they share. I’d like to think that I am that way, too. That compassion and accessibility are core traits of mine that are unwavering despite my current acitivity or location.
But the trouble I am having is that I can’t, simply cannot, reconcile both Me’s. The Me that thrives in the east and the Me that flourishes in the west. The Me that is my Mom and the me that is my Dad. And traveling back and forth between them all the time is as exhausting as it is expensive. And being both of them doesn’t seem sustainable. And it doesn’t feel entirely healthy either because I don’t think I want to be two different people but I don’t know how to be both in the same body.
It’s not something that can be boiled down to “the best of both worlds” or “the grass is always greener”. That misses the point. The point is that I am totally both and fully neither. The point is that everyone can be this way and many are. Whether it’s about gender or orientation or values or beliefs or career we can all be conflicted. Deeply. Sometimes we spend 40 hours a week doing a job we don’t care about. Sometimes we are parents and we used to be free sprits, never believing we could be tied down in such a basic way. And as much as I love wherever and whoever I am at any given moment, I am also then and there grieving for the part of me that feels like it is lost or sacrificed despite every effort to be authenic, integrated. Because it’s really hard to create a life for yourself that is that way. Because we don’t generally get to be fully ourselves all the time. Because though there are many things in life that do not require choosing one or the other, there are some things that do. You can’t be both married and single. You have to pick where to live.
Maybe one day I won’t feel like I’m straddling, like I always have one foot out the door and in another room with a heel on. Just one. I hope so. I’d like to find a way. Whether it involves living somewhere that perfectly blends both or pehaps in no way resembles either. Or whether I simply just settle the fuck down. It seems like it would be a relief.
Alyssa Siegel, MS, LPC, CGAC II
First published on Alyssa’s blog, Innerworkings, on April 11, 2012.