The Women In My Brain

April 28, 2012

Angelia & me on honeymoon, Seattle's Space Needle, May 20, 2001. (Donald Earl Collins)

Today’s my twelfth wedding anniversary. It means that I already have one woman in my brain almost all of the time, mostly around the mundane tasks of running a place of residence, other domestic duties, and watching over/nurturing the midsized human that is our eight-year-old.

Gaius Baltar & Caprica Six, Battlestar Galactica image (2004), June 25, 2009. ( Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws due to low resolution of picture.

But the reality is, there have always been women in my brain, with images that inspire, voices that encourage, and actions that embolden. This post isn’t about undressing a woman in my mind’s eye every six seconds. Nor is it about putting women on some pedestal so that I can mentally kneel and worship in an empty space. Trust me, I’ve done both and more over the years. No, this is about who gets into my head and how they stay there.

Of course, no one has had more air time on my mind’s screen over the past forty-two years and change than my mother. She did give birth to me, after all, and for better and worse, helped me make it to my preteen years before things in our lives fell apart at 616. For years, I’ve lived with the lessons learned at my mother’s hip, lessons about race, trust, religion and relationships. Many of which I’ve had to revise in order to make better choices in my own life. Still, I can hear my mother’s voice, bad jokes and all, in the things I do with my son, in the mistakes I hope to avoid as a writer and as an educator, in the bills that constantly have to be paid.

I hear my wife’s voice every time I go the grocery store. Or when I’m dealing with my son. Or when I think about our travels over the years. Literal and figurative. I think about all of things we’ve made happen, and all of the things that are still works-in-progress for us, as individuals and as a family. I hear her doubt, her most critical of voices, her scalpel sense of editing in what I write, in how I speak and in the diplomacy I show the folks in my life who otherwise don’t deserve it. Though our marriage is as complicated as astrophysics shows the universe to be when accounting for dark matter, my wife’s voice bounces around my 100 trillion nerve ending almost as much as my own.

Then there’s Crush #1. She’s more insidious than my mother or my wife. The tenacious ballerina of a

Inception (2010), Paris dream construct screen shot, April 27, 2012. ( Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of poor resolution of shot, not intended for distribution.

tomboy who one represented my personification of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman often will show up when I least expect. Often enough in my dreams, and usually when I’m writing in my head. I hear her giggles and see her smiles under the strangest of circumstances. A pirouette here, a punch to the jaw there, an encouraging word and a thoughtful look will surprise me in my dreams as much as it would’ve in real life thirty years ago.

Are these women anything like the folks I’ve known and learned to know again over the past three decades? Yes and no. They likely represent the many sides of me as much as they each represent themselves. Loving or not, caring or not, forever elusive, and yet always there for me to grasp, love and even despise. They all represent the best and worst in me, the best and worst I’ve seen, endured and overcome in this life. Hard, tough, blood-from-a-turnip love. Unrequited, one-sided love. And deep, conditional, familiar love. They’re all there. They seem to always be there.

Jennifer Lopez in dream sequence in The Cell (2000), April 27, 2012. ( Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of screen shot's low resolution.

God, my own thoughts — however deep or shallow —  the billions of images of sports and men and women in my head from every walk of life and every song made in the past four centuries also remain constant in my brain. But mother, wife and first love can’t be shut off or out either. I could use some endorphins for the headache I have now.

One Good Woman

April 28, 2011

My Wife, Angelia Levy, April 2010. Angelia N. Levy

Today is our eleventh wedding anniversary. Tomorrow is a Crush #1 day. The next month covers a series of events that includes my first “date” with my now wife nearly sixteen years ago. Not to mention my last “dates” with the woman who’s the subject of my blog post, “The Power of Another E” (April ’09) from twenty years ago.

And then there’s my Mom, somewhere in the background, distant but still there, reminding me of all that made me, well, me. At least the me that wanted Crush #1, thought too highly of the twenty-two year-old version of “Another E,” and was ready to be involved with my eventual wife. Things have grown so much more complicated since the days when I couldn’t say “Hi” to a woman, much less date or be married to one.

One of my favorite adult contemporary songs about how women can inspire in relationships is Peter Cetera’s “One Good Woman” (1988). It was the first song I’d heard that really summed up the way I’d felt about my first crush back in ’82. And it provided a stark contrast to the way I felt about my second crush/obsession by the time the fall of ’88 rolled around. I bopped to the feelings in that song for much of my sophomore year at Pitt.

But I wasn’t a fool. I knew that there wasn’t anyone in my life at the time, or had been at any time, who could measure up to those lyrics. While Crush #1 definitely “brought out the best in me,” it certainly wasn’t because of her “love and understanding.” The two things I longed for in my life from others I cared for and about was love and understanding. My mother had little of either by the time I was a teenager, even though I know that she did the best she could. It just wasn’t close to good enough. So I put some of my faith in those lyrics, my romantic side in singing those words, eventually with no one in mind.

Even with dating and the ’90s, and even though I played “One Good Woman” less and less, I sought someone in my life who’d fit those lyrics. The problem with a country full of arrogant narcissists — me included — is that most of us present with DSM-IV neuroses (and in some cases, psychoses) long before we reach the stage of love and understanding. For better and certainly for worse, my mother was really the only woman who approximated any sense of the feeling Cetera releases so well in his song. And by approximate, I mean less than one-tenth of the full strength of the music and lyrics of “One Good Woman.”

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sons shouldn’t really think too often of their mother in a romantic light. It certainly would’ve helped to have known how deeply or how superficially I was loved by my mother, but I had nothing in my dating life really to compare it to.

That was, until I met my eventual son’s mother. Angelia was everything in Cetera’s “One Good Woman” lyrics. She wasn’t a dream of it like Crush #1. Or an obsession like Crush #2. Or someone who could be that for a moment like “Another E” or be a trifling ass the next minute like so many women I dated between ’91 and ’96. She was a real woman, good, bad, warts and all.

So when we married eleven years ago, with the Napster era that was, I downloaded Cetera’s “One Good Woman” and made it a permanent part of the collection that would end up on my iPod in ’06. Except that in recent years, my “One Good Woman” image feels more like John Legend’s “Ordinary People,” proving that even women that inspire you to love, cherish and understand are human beings as well.

When I listen to “One Good Woman” these days, I do think of my wife. But I also think of all of the other women who’ve inspired me over the years. Including my mother. Including even some of my more trifling exs. I love my wife, and I hope things in our marriage continue to work even as we work through whatever issues we have from time to time.

Still, I need to remember that romance comes and goes, but marriage only works when people work hard to communicate when they don’t understand, despite their love for each other. If either of us were to quit, it shouldn’t diminish all of the good that I saw and see in that woman, my wife, and the life we’ve had over the past fifteen plus years.


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