Giving Up The Ghost
there is an imaginary sort of friend, a woman who exists in my mind as an ideal version of a woman. it's not my best self, or the best version of someone i love. she sort of just floats there, silent with small movements here and there. adjusting her hair, or bending over to get a better look at something.
she's there when i get dressed in the morning. perched.
and i compare myself to her. she's a guide for the life i think i should be living, or the performance i think i should be giving. she's the person who makes heads turn when she walks into the party, not because she’s so beautiful you want to find her flaws, but because she’s muse-like. her hair is just wavy enough to look soft, and she never wears makeup or a bra. i'm not unlike her, but i'm also not her.
her jeans always fit, and she doesn’t get sweaty and red-faced when she dances. she is slinky but not skinny and she is loved and she loves. she isn’t afraid of things like i am and she is effortless like i try to be (maybe i am getting better?).
she's not real, though. i've imagined her laughing but it's always with her mouth sort of open and none of the work that goes into it. effortless. i don’t want my imaginary sort of friend to be here forever. i don’t want her around when i’m a mom, if i have daughters i don’t want them to have their own versions of her. i don’t think she makes me better or happier or kinder or smarter. i think she makes me doubt and critique myself.
for some reason when i actively try to think about her, like i am right now, i imagine her at my favorite bar in the old neighborhood. she’s perched on a stool (she is always standing or sitting in ways that would make a real human woman uncomfortable because it requires a lot of core strength) and there are people around her talking to her and to each other. she is in the center but not always the center of attention.
sometimes when i remember moments, usually insignificant ones that i recall more for the way they make me feel, i retroactively see myself as her. it’s revisionist movie memory: there’s always good lighting and the right song playing at just the right time.
when i feel like her, i catch myself thinking that this is what i imagined my life would be. effortless and joyful. knowing that melancholy exists and i have it sometimes but i can push it away. i use these moments for proof that i’m doing things right, the way she would do them. like walking up washington square park on my way to a first date and it’s lightly raining and i’m wearing an outfit that makes me feel like her – or feel like people will look at me the way i wish they would. or in college, waking up next to an old boyfriend, snow on the ground, sleep in my eyes, feeling like her – effortless in all things. and it doesn’t matter that the first-date guy was a dud or that i no longer talk to that boyfriend because i’m doing the damn thing and i feel like the version of myself that i want other people to see.
i got in a fight with a friend and i didn’t know why she was mad at me and i don’t think she really knew either. another friend later told me, not in so many words, that it’s because she saw me as my imaginary sort of friend – or whoever her imaginary sort of friend is. my friend thought of me as effortless at a moment when her life was effortful, and it hurt. i never knew practiced ease could be hurtful.
there’s an old trick for when you’re feeling self-conscious or you’re doubting your choices (anything from who am i waking up next to every day to do i really want to wear this shirt): look at yourself through the eyes of someone else. i relied on this a lot when i was younger and usually i looked at myself through the eyes of my imaginary sort of friend instead of the real women in my life who look at and see and hear me and know my motivations before i do. she is cruel while they’re the ones who greet me with generosity and humor and understanding – the way i do with them. and together we see women who are both effortless and effortful. effortful in writing thank you notes and never showing up empty-handed and checking in after your interview and when you’re home for the holidays with a family that makes you long for your friends. effortless in being quick to laugh and throwing on a sweater that’s probably not going to be warm enough and singing dolly parton’s “9 to 5” every time at karaoke even though you sound horrible. effortless and effortful in the lithe way that women are, because we’re used to being watched and hiding what we don’t want people to see.
i think my imaginary sort of a friend will stick around for a little while longer. it’s hard to get rid of a constant. but i want to see myself less through her staid eyes and more through the practiced eyes of the women i love.