Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fear of Flying

To most people that come into contact with me, I give the impression that I'm a very confident, self-assured person. I'm the quintessential Alpha male with a Type AB personality. I walk with my head high, shoulders back, and chest out. When I greet people for the first time, I look them straight in the eyes and give them a firm handshake (male or female). When I speak, people usually listen attentively because my words are sharp, direct, and delivered with the simplistic effort of one who gives profound thought to every syllable before speaking.

Like most people with a confident exterior, I am extremely introverted and insecure on the inside. This insecurity usually wields it's head when I am confronted by a person of greater intelligence and or by an argument that is more viable than that which I expouse. My latent insecurity is most visible in interpersonal relationships that I value, especially of the sexual variety with the opposite sex.

If Southwest Airlines knew how much personal baggage I had, they would start charging me fees.

I grew up in a home where my mom was either at work or at the local saloon partying for days on end with her fellow drug addicts. The one stable female presence in my life was my grandmother Ruth who, like her matriarchal namesake in the Bible, was loving, affectionate, and loyal. She died suddenly in 1993 from heart failure when I was only 9 years old. I have been searching for a female figure of that significance ever since.

I was a fat, pudgy kid in grammar school and was routinely met by the ire of the female students in my class. They routinely made fun of the size of my dairyair in proportion to the rest of my body. One memory that is indelibly etched in my consciousness is that of my first day of high school. It was my first P.E. class and, much to my dismay, the first class was swimming. To me, swimming was inextricably linked to being partially nude in front of the opposite sex. I implored the gym teacher to allow me to participate in the day's activities with my shirt on but she would have none of that. "Only girls are allowed to swim with their shirts on. You're not a girl, are you?" The irony inherent in that question was lost upon my gym teacher until, with much consternation, I took off my t-shirt and revealed man boobs that made the breasts on my female classmates look like bee stings. Adding fuel to the not so furtive fire was the fact that, to my misfortune, the male classmate to my immediate right looked like he had been lifting weights since he was aged 5. The girls in the class proceeded to point and laugh at me with an emotional disregard that only teenagers and sociopaths can successfully pull off . After surviving the constant abuse of my first quarter there, I transferred to a high school closer to my home. Transferring signaled a chance at a fresh start but, little that my feeble brain know, there were more tribulations to come. The damage had already been done and more was awaiting.

I went through high school in virtual anonymity to the opposite sex. Though I was a star varsity baseball player, I was no competition for the more glamorous and brash basketball and football jocks. I spent the rest of my high school career playing video games, listening to music, and playing paper football at the lunch table with my two equally anonymous compatriots. When my two best friends jumped ship and managed to get girlfriends, I was left alone to captain my ship on the choppy waters of seemingly perpetual virginity. I didn't make out with a girl until the last quarter of my senior year. Even then, I didn't understand what she saw in me; what I had done to facilitate this precipitous change in my fortunes.

When I arrived at college, it seemed that the word VIRGIN was written on my head in 72 point block letters. Girls mockingly threw their bras at me as if they were saying "we're doing all the work for you and you still can't score". A female upperclassman even slipped a mild date rape drug in my beer, stating in no uncertain terms that a unconscious me was more worthy of getting laid than a fully conscious me. I decided that it was time to remove the shameful yoke of virginity once and for all. Riding the high of having just been initiated into my fraternity after a long and arduous process both mentally and physically, I asked a fraternity brother that I was close to for the phone number of a girl that I had seen him take home from a house party. In what can only be described as a combination of desperation and a healthy dose of youthful naivety, I sent her the following text message: "You're so fucking sexy! When can I meet up with you?" After thoroughly vetting each other (and when I say thoroughly, I mean after a couple of days), I finally lured her to my room. With champagne in hand, I toasted away my virginity. I was finally a man.

I was in love (or so I thought) and blinded by the hormones and strong affections that I had for my new found girlfriend. As a popular song by the southern rapper Gucci Mane imbues, everyday was Christmas and every night was Valentine's. There's no part of her body that I didn't traverse and no venue that was off limits for our sexual escapades. There's nothing like walking in on your girlfriend being ridden by her ex-boyfriend like Sea Biscuit to permanently take the blinders off. It was as if I had stepped out of my body and right into the shoes of Luke Wilson's character in Old School minus the trip to San Diego and the hardcore porn. We lasted for another year after that but the resentment and distrust quickly snowballed into a level of toxicity that even the best relationships are unable to survive.

I had one meaningful relationship after that, which ended after just a year due in part to my insecurity and it's Siamese twin, irrational behavior. I relegated myself to a series of meaningless one-night stands with girls that I couldn't pick from a line-up if my life and those of everyone that I cherish depended on it. I didn't have to worry about being played because I was the one initiating and terminating the contact. It didn't matter what the women thought of me. They didn't really ever have the opportunity to know me beyond what I wanted them to know. I had finally achieved the leverage over the opposite sex that I always felt I deserved. The real D.Jones, the one that I always wanted to be had finally stood up. Revenge was sweeter than I had ever imagined.

Fate has a way of bringing out skeletons that you were pretty sure were encased in concrete and buried for all eternity safely below the Meadowlands like Jimmy Hoffa. Fate came in the form of a 5'8" Italian woman with curly red hair and a walk that makes grown men need a change of underwear. I knew the first time that I laid eyes on her what my intentions were and what my destiny would ultimately be. I don't believe in love at first sight and the concept of soul mates seems equally implausible to me but this woman must've been molded from one of my ribs (or vice-versa since there is a slight difference in age). She's beautiful, intelligent, funny, thoughtful, nuanced and passionate amongst other things. There are so many parallels between our adolescent and adult lives that an independent observer would swear that our respective existences were cut from the same cloth and then cast to the wind in different directions. As we've grown closer it has become evident that our fates are inextricably linked and that the trajectory of our relationship is trending upward. Unfortunately, as we've grown closer, the doubts that I had long since buried beneath a behemoth of one-night stands have emerged fully clothed.

In my mind, to find someone that you're attracted to and that is attracted to you back seems too good to be true so it must be. When will the other shoe drop? When will the table cloth be snatched from under the table setting, crystal stemware in tow? It's inevitable that the baby will be thrown out with the bath water, right? The funny (and humbling) thing is that she has the same concerns about me. Here's this young, tall, intelligent, upwardly mobile ex-womanizer attracted to a woman 6 years his senior. She's been burned in past relationship and, given the current tenor of her life, couldn't possibly survive another disappointment. Insert aforementioned questions about table cloths and baby baths here.

The great thing (and the thing that I respect most about her) is that she has a lot more faith in me than I have in myself, with extraordinary patience to boot. She knows that the connection that we have is real and has the potential to withstand the test of time because it is genuine. Now it's up to me to get out of my own way and fully embrace what I thought was an inch short of impossible, that someone actually, really, and truly likes me for me. Not the me that I caked on like foundation on a tranny for mass consumption, the innocent, flawed, vulnerable me - the me that was DeAngelo long before I was D.Jones.

That is the test for all of us in our lives. We've all been hurt, put down, trounced on, and thrown out like last week's leftovers. When that happens, it's easy to develop the scab of egoism to cover up the gaping wound in our self-worth. For me, that scab came in the form of finding women that were just as worthless in my eye as I felt I was to them. I was so afraid of being hurt and embarrassed the way I was in high school and college that I gave up trying to view women as anything other than a ticking time bomb ready to explode in my face. Whether in business, school, or our interpersonal relationships, when we become unwilling to risk failure, then failure is what we risk automatically. To paraphrase a famous saying by the late, great UCLA head basketball coach John Wooden, failure is never fatal but a failure to try might be.

Meeting il mio Italiana, as I like to call her, is by far the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don't really remember the infinite number of days that passed before I met her and, now, I can't envision the days ahead without her. What would my life be like if I hadn't acted on that initial impulse to find out who she was when I first saw her at the water cooler, paralyzed by my insecurities and a pathological fear of rejection?

That is a possibility that I am unwilling to consider now and one that I will not under any circumstances allow to color our future.

Fear of insecurity and rejection, consider this post your notice of termination effective immediately.

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