The Other Me, Part One
As one of my first contributions to New Moon Project, this really awesome monthly collaborative contribution/reflections from creative women all over the globe, I wrote a piece (really two pieces) of a fictional conversation I had with two versions of myself. It was so cool to write. So healing. So weird. So delightfully good.
I had no idea how this piece was going to turn out, but I wrote Part One as my current self, and Part Two as another version of myself... missing a very key experience from my past. At one point, our paths split, and the two versions are similar, yet very different. Both stories are from the first person perspective, a really challenging way to write, especially since it is the EXACT same conversation they exchange. However, perception, inner monologues, and a different way of viewing the world makes these two reads quite different.
I invite you to compare. I really did write the same dialogue twice.
THE OTHER ME, PART ONE
“Do you mind if I eat?” she asks, “I’ve been running around all morning and I forgot to eat breakfast.”
I shake my head and give her a quick smile. I pick up a menu as well out of politeness and try to scan for something relatively healthy. I’m trying to lose weight. My coffee is refilled while the she orders a vanilla latte and a regular breakfast with extra bacon. It’s boring. She takes her eggs scrambled, the same way I would.
I quickly order a salad with chicken.
“Oh, I hate salad,” she says. “No offense.” Her eyes widen as she looks up at me to finish her thought. I let out a polite laugh.
“No, that’s OK. I hated them a lot when I was younger.”
“About that, how old are you?”
“Me too.” She eyes me for a few moments. She’s studying me. “You look older than I do though.”
This time I let out a real laugh.
“I feel old. Ever since I had Hawksley, I feel really old.”
My phone vibrates inside my purse. Speak of the devil. It’s probably Derek asking me about a bum rash or prunes or some other constipation related question. I ignore it.
“He’s my son. He’s going on nine months.”“Oh my god, so you like, just had a baby.”
“Nine months ago. I wouldn’t say just, although it has really flown by. I miss sleeping and being alone. Being alone is such a luxury.”
She gives me a warm smile. “I know the feeling.”
The air falls silent between us, the same way it has for the entire fifteen minutes we’ve been trying to make conversation. The clamoring of forks scraping across plates fills the air around us, making it feel more crowded than before. I take a long sip of my coffee.
“So this is weird, right?” she asks me. “Like, I don’t understand how you’re here and I’m here, and we’re both so different. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think we might have stepped onto different paths at a particular moment, but we’re still the same person.”
I take another long sip. She likes to talk more than I do. Or at least, more than I do lately. Or used to. I don’t know. I don’t know who I am since being thrown into parenthood.
“So you’re me just from another… dimension?”
The waitress arrives with her latte.
“I’m a big believer in parallel universes,” she says, taking a gentle sip and flipping her long thick hair over her shoulder. It’s longer than mine and scattered in beautiful layers. And it’s shiny. So shiny.
“I had this really interesting class in my third year of school – a really wild prof – and he had this whole semester about other dimensions and different things all happening at once.”
All I hear is third year of school. I was only in college for two years. Everything else she talks about is usual dialogue among my friends so I hardly hear it. I feel like all I think about is other realities, missed opportunities or bullets dodged.
“That sounds really cool. I’d love a class like that,” I say half-heartedly. “What did you take in school?”
She eyes me before answering.
“What did you take in school?”
She lifts her eyebrows. “Like a reporter?”
“Something like that. There were a bunch of other components. Actually I majored in advertising, but I’m a full-time writer now.”
“Can you even make a living doing that?”
I laugh. “I get by. I work hard. It’s about more than just the money.”
My phone buzzes again. I clear my throat and continue to ignore it. I hate when people obsess over their phones more than the person in front of them. Only now I’d love the distraction.
“Honestly, I’ve taken a bunch of different things and I kept changing my mind,” she says while twirling a spoon through her latte and diluting all the foam. She gnaws the inside of her lip while concentrating and I wonder if I do that.
“I settled on a BA just so I would have something and be done with it. I’d rather travel. But I mean; I’ve been working in town for years now. I miss Europe. I don’t feel like I belong here.”
“Oh wow. My heart is completely invested in the prairies.”
“But it’s so boring here. There is nothing to do. And there are no good guys here.”
I’m surprised how different we are in these areas. I’m a champion for my home. And I feel like an eternal student. I would love to be in school forever, learning and absorbing everything I can, but life gets in the way sometimes, and spending money on endless school isn’t always practical.
And well, I have Derek. My love life is sound.
“So you have a kid,” she says, “WOW. That’s nuts. Kids freak me out. I can’t believe I could have had a kid at 27.”
“Yeah. He was a surprise.”
“Like an oopsie?”
I try to stifle my laugh, “Well. I don’t know. My doctors said I wouldn’t be able to have children – or it would be difficult, at least. So I was pretty shocked when I found out I was pregnant.”
“Ohh…” is all she manages to squeak out. And for the first time she looks as uncomfortable as I feel. It’s easy to see when she’s thinking hard. Her lips disappear inside her mouth. Is it easy to see when I’m thinking hard? I probably laugh too much.
“What’s wrong with you? Like, why do you have doctors, or whatever?”
I take a long sip of my coffee. If she has to ask then she probably doesn’t know. If she doesn’t know then that means it probably never happened to her.
My heart flutters before falling into my stomach.
“I had cancer,” I say robotically. “Chemo. Radiation to my ovaries. The works.”
“Oh my god. You had cancer? Like dad?”
I mentally check that our path didn’t change before dad getting sick. We both experienced that demon, unfortunately.
“Not the same cancer as him. A different one. They’re completely unrelated.”
“Oh my god, that is so crazy. That is so scary! I can’t believe I had cancer in another life! That’s insane.”
The room spins slightly, but thankfully the waitress returns, placing two plates down in front of us.
How had she never had cancer? Cancer has been such a defining aspect of my life. Who would I be without my cancer?
Would I be her? Shiny-haired, overly chatty with mild ambition – and single?
I quickly stab at my salad and chicken. The chicken is cut in strips and not fitting for a bite. I nervously start cutting the chicken into smaller pieces, frustrated with the chicken, and frustrated with my frustration over something as stupid as sliced chicken. I’m careful not to look up at her. Something begins to pool in my stomach and I can feel my ears getting hot.
She never had cancer.
“I’m so sorry you went through that…” she says softly.
She hasn’t even reached for a fork yet.
“Oh, it’s OK,” I say lightly, brushing her off. “I’m glad I did. There is so much I know now that I wouldn’t trade for anything – cancer taught me so much.” My words are automatic; the same quip I always offer when someone tries to offer me solace over a disease that destroyed me.
Her eyes are wide as she looks at me. I’m sure my sentence doesn’t resonate with her at all. She’s one of those people who are so clueless about cancer, just caught up in her own life blissfully unaware.
I take a deep breath. I can’t dwell on it. I know better than to get angry.
But it bugs me.
She is me.
“You said you’re only 27,” she says, breaking into my thoughts. “When did you get it?”
“Oh my god – sixteen! Grade eleven?”
“Yeah…” I abandon cutting the chicken and stuff some lettuce in my face.
“Did you go to Aaron’s graduation as his date? I went to the hospital the next morning.”
She puts her fork down.
“Yeah – I went with him…”
We look at each other for a moment. So is that where we split? Some graduation party, a pale yellow dress, a late night and a pair of fake eyelashes? One of us woke up with cancer and the other never did? But there were months and months – years of symptoms and buildup – had she somehow bypassed all that?
“Mom came into my room and woke me up at nine the next morning. She said the hospital called and I needed to go in right away.”
“I slept until noon and then went camping with everyone at Lake of the Woods.
I sit back in my chair, trying to digest my salad and my thoughts. She looks nervous across from me. Unsettled. Scared. I look at her from across the table, watching her thoughts consume her. She does seem younger suddenly: not as certain as she did walking in. There is something in her that is me, which still feels like my spirit but it’s also not at the same time.
What things interest her? What does she care about? Is she as prone to brooding as I am? Who the hell is she if she never had cancer?
My phone buzzes again, so I lean to my side and pull it from my purse. Derek is texting me. It’s a photo of him and Hawksley playing in the yard. Hawksley is toothy and crinkley-eyed. I smile to myself.
I hold the phone in my lap for a moment before reaching it across the table to show the her.
“This is Hawk and Derek.”
She hesitates and looks me square in the eye. Was it rude to show her a child she could have had? How does that work exactly?
“It’s OK,” I assure her. I’m surprised how calm I sound – how soothing and parental my voice sounds.
She stares at my phone for a long while, and I let her. I keep picking away at my salad, my life folding over and over through my mind. When she finally puts the phone down, sliding it across back to me, her face is unreadable.
“So you’re a reporter with a kid who married a guy from high school – and you’re a cancer survivor.”
“You recognize Derek?”
“The beard doesn’t hide him that much.”
The air lightens around us and we both share a gentle laugh.
“He’s friends with Aaron still.”
“He is? Weird. I haven’t seen Aaron in ten years.”
I hadn’t either before reuniting with Derek.
“And I’m a writer. Not a reporter. I write books and poetry. Journalism has faded in recent years. But, I guess it’s something like that. Wow it sounds so… bland.”
“Bland? Here I dwell on and on about all the bad things I think happened to me and I’m not even living my worst possible life.”
Her words lash me slightly, though I know she doesn’t mean them to, but the warm air from moments before quickly disintegrate.
“I think its perspective. I think my life is great. I mean, it has its moments but I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. I’ve ended up in a place that I never thought I would be, but it’s a good place.”
“Is it?” she asks, eyeing me as if she was peeling my skin away. I roll her words around in my mind before answering her.
She shakes her head and pushes her sleeves up before stuffing a bunch of eggs in her mouth. Her wrists are thin and her nails are kept nice. She looks like she takes care of herself. I like that in a woman.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish I was more like you,” she says. “And I don’t mean to sound rude saying that, I just mean, I wouldn’t ask to have a life with cancer – not after watching dad deteriorate. I’m so negative from that experience.”
I laugh. A big bold laugh. “Don’t worry. I’m negative too. No matter how hard I try I always default to negative. And I also wish I was more like you, but mostly for vanity reasons.”
She looks up and smiles at me, her eyes nearly disappearing as she tries to conceal the food in her mouth.
“I’m such a sucker for compliments like that,” she says between bites.
I smile and raise my eyebrows. “I know.”
The New Moon Project journal draws on themes from astrological and kabbalistic wisdom, in a really raw, honest way. Learn more here.