The Other Me, Part Two
I found writing the second half of this project for New Moon Project incredibly challenging. In Part One, I was exploring a fictional dialogue from the perspective of my current self. That was easy right? But for Part Two, I needed to immerse myself in the motivations, the expressions, the personality - the entire entity - of a fictional version of myself. And that second version of myself was going to have some strong opinions about the other person she was talking to.
I don't know how I come up with these things...
Once I got it out, I found it to be intensely therapeutic. It gave me a chance to really look at my life through another pair of eyes, and honestly, I got rather emotional about it. A couple times.
As always, let me know what you think!
THE OTHER ME
“Do you mind if I eat?” I ask her, “I’ve been running around all morning and I forgot to eat breakfast.”
I quickly scan my menu before she can protest. Actually, my fridge is just empty. I had to renew my license and it cost me an entire mortgage payment. I’ve been eating at mom’s all week.
She picks up a menu across from me. I peer over the edge of the coffee stained paper and watch her scan the breakfast page. She gnaws on the corner of her lip. I spot a couple strands of grey hair crowning the top of her head. I have the same scattering beneath my fresh dye of chocolate mocha. I wonder if she knows she’s going prematurely grey.
The waitress barely gives me a moment to decide while she flicks her pen between her first and second fingers. God, I just feel so rushed all the time. Even the fucking waitress is rushing me. That’s the only reason I rear-ended that fucking Honda. I wish everyone would just back off me and give me room to breathe.
“I’ll have the café breakfast,” I say curtly, “rye bread, eggs scrambled. And I’ll have a latte. Vanilla please.”
She scribbles down my order.
“Bacon, sausage or ham?”
“Bacon, please. Actually, can I have an extra order of bacon? And I don’t like it crispy.” If they overcook it I’m sending it back.
She nods and turns her attention to the Other Me without asking her what she’d like.
“I’ll have your house salad with chicken.”
“Oh, I hate salad,” I say in reaction, surprised of her order. I quickly bite my tongue. God, why did I say that? Of course she likes different things then me. We’re different. Just look at us. She isn’t going to order the exact same thing as me.
“No offense,” I say quickly.
“No, that’s OK. I hated them a lot when I was younger.”
She smiles at me and brushes off my rudeness. I run a nervous hand through my hair and take a sip of my water. There is so much I want to know about her but I don’t even know where to start. She looks older than me. Tired. Do I look tired?
I take a deep breath, trying to relax myself.
“About that,” I add, “how old are you?”
She’s twenty-seven? Christ, we’re the same age. Why are we so different? I take in her careful black-winged eyeliner and light pink lipstick. Her hair is thrown effortlessly over the bare skin of her shoulder. There is a long scar just above her clavicle. I don’t have that scar.
“Me too,” I add, “You look older than I do though.”
She erupts in laughter, and her eyes disappear.
“I feel old,” she says. “Ever since I had Hawksley, I feel really old.”
“He’s my son. He’s going on nine months.”
A baby? Sweet Lord. Nine months ago!
“Oh my god, so you like, just had a baby.”
She shakes her head, and calms her laughter.
“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.”
I relax a little and settle into my chair. A fucking baby! That’s insane. Thank god she still likes being alone. At least there is a strand of similarity against our stark contrasts. I can’t function if I don’t have quality alone time.
“I know the feeling,” I say, straightening my blazer.
I can see pieces of myself in her. What made us such stark versions of each other? How, in another life, can I have a baby right now? How did I ever find someone to settle down with? I’ve dated and dated, and broken up with every single one. Does this Other Me have it figured out? Should I ask her? Is she better than me?
“So this is weird, right?” I ask. “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.”
She takes a long sip of her coffee, and I feel embarrassment prickle in my stomach. I immediately regret telling her what I’ve been thinking about over and over, ever since I first saw her.
“So you’re me just from another… dimension?” she asks.
Ugh. She doesn’t get it.
The waitress places my vanilla latte on the table in front of me, and hands us each two rolled up pairs of forks and knives. I give her a tight smile and wait for her to be out of earshot before continuing.
“I’m a big believer in parallel universes,” I try to say with conviction, “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.”
This shit is credible. She needs to know that.
“That sounds really cool,” she says politely, “I’d love a class like that. What did you take in school?”
What did you take in school? That’s her first question? She doesn’t get it. She must be left-brained. Or stuck in mom mode. She’s probably a boring accountant or something.
“What did you take in school?” I ask her.
She gives a tiny smile, her eyebrows rising slightly.
Whoa. “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.”
Well that’s kind of neat. I used to write all the time when I was younger. I didn’t know that could actually be a job.
“Can you even make a living doing that?”
She lets out another chuckle.
“I get by. I work hard. It’s about more than just the money.”
I wish I could say the same thing. Nothing fulfills me. I can’t even count how many careers I’ve had. I get bored with every one. I should have stayed overseas. I liked the new identity. I could be whomever I wanted.
I add a teaspoon of sugar to my latte before testing it.
“Honestly, I’ve taken a bunch of different things and I kept changing my mind. 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.”
Her eyes widen. “Oh wow. My heart is completely invested in the prairies.”
Oh my god, how awful. “But it’s so boring here. There is nothing to do. And there are no good guys here,” I emphasize.
She gives me a little shrug, her sweater slipping a millimeter lower on her shoulder. She looks at her purse beside her, but I can’t tell where her head is at. Her thoughts are somewhere else.
Wait. She’s a parent. I wonder if her kid is sick or something.
“So you have a kid. WOW. That’s nuts. Kids freak me out. I can’t believe I could have had a kid at 27.”
Her eyes find mine again, and a deep warmness spreads across her face. It makes me feel…
“Yeah. He was a surprise,” she says, her face animated and silly.
“Like an oopsie?”
She purses her lips, but her cheeks tighten, holding in a laugh. She lets out a gentle sigh and pulls her coffee closer to her.
“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.”
I blink a few times while I digest her words. I don’t know how they make me feel. I’m suddenly very aware of the wooden chair I’m sitting on, and the loudness of the room. I begin thinking about her private thoughts again, and wonder if they’re as pondering as mine.
Is she sick? Does she have depression or something? Christ, is she medicated? I fucking hate drugs. People pop Tylenol like its fucking vitamin C.
“What’s wrong with you? Like, why do you have doctors, or whatever?”
Her face quickly changes, and the warm demeanor around her evaporates.
“I had cancer. Chemo. Radiation to my ovaries. The works.”
My stomach falls out of my ass. I feel my mouth go dry. Dad’s dead body flashes through my mind like a deranged film wheel and my throat tightens at the memories.
“Oh my god…” I whisper, “You had cancer? Like dad?”
“Not the same cancer as him. A different one. They’re completely unrelated.”
The room spins around me. I sit up in my chair. Her voice is emotionless. Something around her has fallen away, and I feel like I’m actually seeing her true colours. But they’re even more different than mine. More different then I could ever imagine. Have I somehow dodged cancer?
“Oh my god… that is so crazy,” I say quietly. My words sound stupid. My eyes float back to the scar on her neck while she sips her coffee.
Snotty pants returns, placing our plates down in front of us. I eye her until she leaves.
“That is so scary… I can’t believe I had cancer in another life! That’s insane.”
Stop talking, stop talking, stop talking.
Her eyes drop to her food and she picks up her fork and knife, one in each hand. I feel sad looking at her. She cuts the chicken sitting on top of her salad, her eyes somewhere far away. I can’t even imagine where they are – a memory? Is she reliving some horrible cancer experience?
Dad’s pale blue lifeless eyes appear in my mind’s eye, and I quickly seal my own eyes shut, forcing out the memory.
Not today, dad.
“I’m so sorry you went through that…” I say to her, softly.
She looks back up at me, with a smile. I can’t tell if it’s real or a façade.
“Oh, it’s OK. I’m glad I did. There is so much I know now that I wouldn’t trade for anything – cancer taught me so much.”
I stare back at her, but I don’t know what to say. Being diagnosed with cancer is my biggest fear. Was it recent? I mean… could I have cancer right now?
My heart begins to race.
“You said you’re only 27 – when did you get it?”
I throw my head back, “Oh my god – sixteen!”
It’s as if her words give me a physical blow. Sixteen! Sixteen… I was Vice President of the Student Council, playing two guys at once, talking to those stupid producers in California… Michelle was always over and mom was always gone. How did cancer fit in there?
“Grade eleven,” she says, “Did you go to Aaron’s graduation as his date? I went to the hospital the next morning.”
My throat tightens again.
“Yeah,” I say nervously, “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?
“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 stare at her. My world feels like it’s spinning. I take a sip of my water and try to wash down the buildup growing in my throat. I give one good cough to try and clear it.
“I slept until noon and then went camping with everyone at Lake of the Woods.”
My words sound hollow. Stupid. Camping is barely a memory. I remember frolicking through the campsite, excited to be around teenage boys. God, what was she doing; lying in a hospital bed?
I suddenly feel guilty. I poke at my eggs. My breath is ragged as I try to keep my throat open, forcing tears away. I haven’t cried in years. I look up at her again, the scar on her neck – a purplish arcing moon – stares back at me. I want to ask about it, but I’m too afraid of the answer. I have spent years wondering what dad’s cancer felt like for him, and the Other Me knows exactly what it felt like.
I remember lying awake in my childhood bedroom, listening to the worried mumble of my parents in the other room as dad’s cancer progressed. When he’d forget to get dressed, and I’d catch him lying naked on his bed, unsure of where he was. What did it feel like to just forget? When he’d try to guilt me into staying home with him rather than going out with the rest of the family – what was he thinking? Was he scared to be alone? Scared he would die while we were all out?
I still dream about the gnarled wound on the back of his head where they removed part of his tumour. I thought I could see his brain through the gaping hole. The backside of his head was concave; it looked like he had been hit with a baseball bat. What did he feel when he saw that in the mirror? What did it feel like to hear, “You only have two weeks to live,”?
No. Not today, dad.
“This is Hawk and Derek,” the Other Me says, holding her phone out to me and breaking into my drowning whirlpool of memories. I take a moment to let dad’s dead body fade from my mind.
“It’s OK,” she says to me. I look at her for a long moment. She has lived through my nightmare, and she’s consoling me.
I hate myself.
I reach for her phone.
I’m unprepared for what I see. First, she’s married Derek from high school – an off-the-limits guy in my friend circle, who had been with my best friend. I find myself pouring over how the hell that came to be. When did Derek and Courtnay even break up? I try to remember hearing something about it, but I draw a blank. I can’t believe another version of me would even date him. Isn’t that disrespectful to Courtnay? Oh god, I hope they didn’t break up because of the Other Me.
I carefully look over at her as she picks at her food. She isn’t wearing a ring. I’d have a baby with someone without being married? I wonder what dad would say about that. He wouldn’t even let my sister and me date before turning sixteen.
I look at the little dark-haired boy sitting on Derek’s lap – identical happy, squinting eyes as his father. The boy is a strange mix of the two of them – of me. Of the Other Me. Of dad.
I stare at the little boy, trying to memorize his cheeks and his chubby hands. A part of me feels like I’ve seen him before. But another part of me feels empty. This tiny person doesn’t exist in my world.
I debate scrolling through her phone’s pictures, but I put it down before the temptation overtakes me.
“So you’re a reporter with a kid who married a guy from high school – and you’re a cancer survivor.” And you probably broke up the nicest couple in high school.
“You recognize Derek?”
Oh god. She’s on to me. I didn’t say that out loud did I?
“The beard doesn’t hide him that much,” I say quickly, trying to make my voice light. She laughs and takes a sip of her coffee.
“He’s friends with Aaron still,” she says.
“He is? Weird. I haven’t seen Aaron in ten years.”
“And I’m a writer,” she adds quickly, “Not a reporter. I write books and poetry. Journalism has faded in recent years. But, I guess it’s something like that."
She stops poking her food and looks up at me. Her face crinkles.
“Wow it sounds so… bland,” she says through a crooked mouth.
“Bland?” Her life sounds far from bland. Scary, maybe. “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.” It comes out in a grunt. I quickly stuff some toast in my mouth to detract the awful taste in my mouth.
“I think its perspective,” she says, “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.”
Did she think she’d end up where I am? Alone, well-traveled, obsessed with pilates and yoga, and jumping from career to career like a twitterpated bunny? I’m so fucking pissed with myself right now. How can she even say that? Regardless of how great my life was, if cancer was thrown into the mix, my life would be pure shit. It would be my worst possible life.
“Is it?” I ask her. Is it really a good place to be destroyed by a disease that we have no cure for?
She looks at me across the table. After a moment, her lips curl slightly.
I shake my head, flustered and irritated. I stuff a bunch of eggs into my mouth, and suffocate them with potatoes and bacon. I don’t know if I’m more annoyed with her rosy cancer outlook, or with myself for feeling so pathetic and sorry for myself.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish I was more like you. 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.”
She lets out a big laugh. I snap up, looking around the room at the other people looking at us. She’s laughing at me?
“Don’t worry,” she says, her voice still too loud, “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.”
I soften. My chest loosens. I stare at my plate, hearing myself in her voice. I let out a small puff of breath to hide a chuckle that wants to rip apart my throat. She still wants what she doesn’t have. Is that just something to my nature? Am I destined to be a grouchy, ungrateful woman despite my good circumstances?
For some reason, the thought comforts me. I feel less guilty about feeling guilty all the time. I wish I was more positive. In love. In a career I love.
She wishes she was prettier.
“I’m such a sucker for compliments like that.”
Of course she knows. Because she’s still me. Behind all that messy hair, precise ambition, and romantic scandals… she’s still me. Just with a different life.
The New Moon Project journal draws on themes from astrological and kabbalistic wisdom, in a really raw, honest way. Learn more here.