The beauty of finding the ugly.

A while back, I got dumped by a girl.  We’d been dating for almost three years.  I was devastated.  I knew I had to break the news to my parents at some point, so I called them up, took a deep breath and dropped the bomb on them.

My mom sounded a bit distracted, like she was watering the flowers in her front lawn as she said, “Oh thank goodness, we never liked her much,” and then she told me which restaurant her and my father were going to eat at that night.

I called friends, looking for some kind of consoling words.  It didn’t really happen.  The responses were more along the lines of, “Sheesh.  Finally!”

I began reflecting deeply on the relationship.  It started to become extremely clear.  What the hell was I doing with her?  Our relationship was awful.  She made me miserable.

I’d like to put it on record that this is an extremely narrow account of things.  I’m about to describe only the terrible things about her and our relationship, but we also shared some incredible moments.  She is intelligent, caring and loving.  She always had the best intentions.  She is a great person.  But that’s not what this story is about.

This is a story about how she broke me down.  How she hurt me.  About the things I hated.  The things that, when she asked for another chance, led me to look her in the eyes and say, “I don’t ever want to see you again.”  And, ultimately, it’s about the things that made our relationship one of the greatest experiences of my life.

We met at a bar when I was 22.  I hurt my ankle earlier in the day and instead of seeking medical attention, my friends and I decided that the best course of action was to drink whiskey.  It didn’t work.  It just made me hungover in the emergency room the following morning.

Drunk and unable to walk, I got to know the girl dressed in black sitting next to me at the bar.  A friend of a friend.  We didn’t hit it off.  It was really difficult to make her laugh.  She was constantly looking around the room, like she was trying to find anyone else to talk to.  At some point, my friends carried me out of the bar and brought me home.

A few months later, I met the girl in black again.  She was just as curmudgeon-y as before, but this time, we exchanged phone numbers and agreed to hang out.  And we did.  All the time.

I can’t remember what made me want to hang out with her again after each time, but I can remember that she constantly talked about her ex-boyfriend.  She would either go on and on about how great, smart, accomplished and good-looking he was, or about how abusive he was.  It was weird.  And I always felt like she was implying that he was somehow better than me.  I eventually brought it up.  She looked at me with her head tilted and told me I needed to work on my confidence.

After a while, we were dating, I guess.  I was happy.  Not happy because of her, though.  I was just always happy.  A hopeless and relentless optimist.  I always saw the bright side.  Always found the silver lining.

I was also pretty sickly.  I had severe asthma and allergies.  I went to the hospital each week to get multiple injections in my arms.  They made me feel terrible.  Sometimes, I had to lay in bed all day after my injections.  But it didn’t bother me.  I was ok with it.  I saw the bright side.  I was thankful for the doctors and medicine that was supposed to be helping me.

I didn’t much like to bring my medical condition up in conversation, though.  It always led to some kind of sympathy that I didn’t care for.  I kept it from the girl until one day, while I was with her, I had an unexpected allergic reaction to something.

I was wheezing.  Gasping.  Turning colors.  I scrambled to get the inhaler out of my bag.  She rubbed my back while I was desperately sucking on the inhaler.  After a bit, I was breathing better, but still wheezing audibly.  She begged me to let her take me to the ER.  I refused.  She sat quietly with me until I felt well enough to drive home.

The next day, she asked if we could talk.  I agreed.  I expected the unwanted sympathy that I always get.  “Are you sure you’re ok?  What can I do next time that happens?”  I’d tell her I have great doctors that I saw all the time.  I’d tell her it was totally fine.  I’m happy and healthy.  It’s no problem.  But that’s not how the conversation went.

I sat down with her and she grilled me about my medical history.  How long has this been going on?  What do you do for it?  Has it gotten any better?  I answered all her questions.  I told her about all of the medications I was on and about my weekly injections.  It’s fine.  It’s taken care of.

Not good enough.  She told me that she didn’t want to see me anymore if there was any potential that it would happen again.  She didn’t want to have to deal with it.  I was shocked.  Hurt.  She was threatening to break up with me because I had a medical condition.  For some reason that I still can’t identify, I didn’t want her to break up with me, so I asked her what I could possibly do.

Her solution?  See her natural-medicine, hippy-doctor mom.  That sounded ok.  I was willing to try anything to improve my health.  Great!  Let’s meet the mother!

The first thing Dr. Mom said to me was, “Hello, I’m….Oh my goodness.  You’re a crystal child!”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  She asked me tons of seemingly irrelevant questions while attentively nodding and saying, “Mmhmm.”

She correctly guessed all the medications I was currently taking.  Then she told me all of the things I should stop eating and came up with this whole plan for me.  It was completely different than anything any doctor had ever told me.  She told me if I followed her plan, I should feel better in no time.  If my prescription medications didn’t cure me, how would this do anything?  It sounded a little ridiculous.  But I tried it anyway.

Well, it worked.  I felt better nearly instantaneously.  I never got another injection in my arms and stopped taking all of my medications.  I haven’t seen a doctor about that condition ever since.  It was incredible.  My 10-year nagging, annoying, painful, chronic disease was cured.

And I suddenly had complete trust in the girl in black.  She had me wrapped around her finger.  I was totally blinded to the fact that she was an unbelievable pessimist.  She found the ugly in everything and was quick to point it out.  I was just as quick to believe her.

I have a friend who is a bit, shall we say, spontaneous and passionate.  He had a tendency to stand me up when we made plans.  I knew this about him.  We were great friends anyway.  He had the best reasons for standing me up.  It was always something totally unexpected and incredible that he couldn’t pass up.  When I thought about it, I wouldn’t have wanted him to pass up those opportunities to come waste time with me.  It just never bothered me at all.

In addition to that, I always seemed to accomplish something great while waiting for him.  I remember going to the girl’s house one day after being stood up.  I played her a new song.  It was a good one.  I was proud of it.  When I told her I’d just written it, she asked if I wrote it with Mike.

“No,” I said.

“Where was Mike?  Weren’t you with him?” I could see her trying to find the worst case scenario.

“He didn’t show up, so I played music instead,” I told her with a smile.

She was furious.  I was happy until then.  I looked at the situation and saw the great song I wrote, the amazing sunset I witnessed, the beautiful evening I had.  She saw that Mike was selfish.  He didn’t consider my feelings.  He tried to hurt me.  She must be right.  I began to feel hurt.  My beautiful evening faded away.  I was angry.

That night, she decided to tell me all of the ways Mike was a bad friend.  Things I never noticed.  She must be right.  I believed her.  From that point on, I only saw the ugly in Mike.  I saw everything he did that could be considered selfish, that could hurt me.  I pushed him away.  Our friendship fell apart. (Don’t worry, it didn’t last…he’s my official JamesIsTrying editor!)

It didn’t take much for this attitude to spread through me like a fire.  I started to see the ugly in everything, without her pointing it out.  My job.  My friends.  My living situation.  My life became unacceptable.  It was all so ugly.  I was unhappy.  I needed to do something about it.

I made changes.  I quit my job.  I moved to Hawai’i to get a pre-med biology degree.  I shattered and destroyed countless friendships.  I forced things to happen.  I completely reinvented myself.  And after all of that, in spite of my many blatant mistakes, I was excited.  I was proud of myself.  I didn’t see any more ugly in my life.

She did.  When the dust settled from all these changes and we had a quiet moment together, she pointed out all of the things in my life that she decided were terrible.  And suddenly, the spell she had on me was broken.

While she certainly had many moments of brilliance, she was incapable of seeing the things I found beautiful and important.  She was a pessimist.  I stopped blindly trusting her and our relationship quickly became painful for both of us.  She eventually dumped me.

Months went by and I realized that I still had a piece of her with me.  I could point out the ugly in everything.  It was impossible to ignore.  It was always there.  And it made me so angry.  I blamed her.  She took away my optimism.  She jaded me.  She turned me into a pessimist.  I hated her for it.

I was convinced that she was damaged.  Her pessimism was holding her back.  And maybe I was right, but that would mean I was damaged, too.  I lived on the opposite side of the spectrum but it was just as damaging.  It held me back.

I used to think that optimism was the only way to live a happy life.  Always find the silver lining.  Always smile.  Always look at the bright side.  It’s not the way.  My optimism only made me happy settling for a life that could be better.  Made me content in the face of opportunities passing me by.  She showed me how to find the dark corner of every situation.  And I already had the hope and optimism needed to do something about it.

She didn’t take anything away from me.  She added to me.  She gave me a tool.  She taught me a skill.  She showed me how to see everything that was in front of me.  Not just the sunset and beautiful evening, but also the selfish act of a friend.  My optimism was still in there, but now I had something extra.

Now I can find the ugly in everything and view it as an opportunity to learn, change, grow, improve.  It was a miserable lesson to learn, but I needed to learn it and I’m a happier, better person because of it.  I’m not jaded.  She didn’t make me lose a piece of myself.

I’m extremely thankful for the girl in black.  She changed me.  She helped me.  She gave me one of the most important tools I have in my life.  I’m living out dreams I didn’t know were even possible because of it.  I’ll never settle for a life that could be better.  I’ll find the ugly and make it beautiful.

She doesn’t talk to me anymore.  I haven’t heard from her in years.  She occasionally crosses my mind, though, and I like to think that she was able to learn something from me, too.  But maybe that’s just me being optimistic.

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