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    A Filthy Combination

            About five years ago, my girlfriend came to one of my gigs with a few of her friends. During one of my band breaks, we were standing near the bar talking when my girlfriend walked over to another table to get something. A group of guys stood between her and the table, and when she walked by them, they all checked her out. Rather thoroughly. When she came back, she mentioned that she was aware that the guys were gawking at her. She was smiling as she said this, and why not? It’s nice to be noticed, and she was noticed.
            I smiled too, because she was going home with me, and let’s face it, virtually every man likes it when other men think their babe is hot. Even men who are pretty evolved will admit, if they dig deep enough, that it’s flattering if other men desire the woman you’re with. Some of it has to do with hundreds of thousands of years of evolution still stuck in our DNA. The alpha male got his pick of the women, and that was a bragging right of the highest order.
            This dynamic can also lead to trouble, as we all know. More than a few fights have broken out precluded by the line “Are you checkin’ out my girlfriend?”, especially when alcohol is involved. Throw in some inappropriate male behavior, some jealousy, and a woman who likes stirring up the testosterone pot, and you have the makings of all out mayhem.
            This was not one of those nights. But something big got triggered in me. Immediately after my girlfriend made the comment “Did you see the looks I got when I walked by those guys?” with a smile on her face, I took off. Not physically, but emotionally and mentally. Instantly, without a thought to act as a torpedo, my heart sank. I didn’t know why at the time, but I knew the feeling. My throat and my heart took a header into the middle of my stomach. My voice, and my love for this woman, suddenly got buried beneath years of internal emotional garbage that I was still holding onto. Spread throughout my metaphysical body, this amalgamation of old pain instantly collected itself into one massive heap and dropped itself right into the center of my being. Chicken Little was right. The sky had fallen.
            For the rest of the night, I was off my game, and my playing suffered. Nobody else noticed, and the band sounded great, but I knew I was off.
            Instead of taking a personal time out when I felt my heart plummet, I just acted like nothing was wrong. I pretended that I wasn’t suffering a sudden attack of heartache that I couldn’t explain. To be honest, I was ashamed of myself. I was the drummer in this band that was kicking ass in front of a large, rowdy crowd. I was going home with the best looking woman in the room, I loved her, and I knew she loved me. I looked pretty good myself, was getting more than my share of looks from females, and my playing was solid and fluid and fun. I should feel like the king of the world. Or at least the king of the room. Certainly in contention for the role of alpha male, at least in this narrow context.
            But all I felt was pain. Heartache. Anxiety. Confusion. Anger. Shame. What the fuck?
            For the rest of the night, these emotions got stirred and heated inside of me like a simmering stew while I just soldiered on. If I was crumbling on the outside, though, nobody, repeat nobody, was going to know about it. Here was a skill that I had gotten very good at. Looking peachy on the outside while I was rotting away on the inside, like a piece of fruit that looks great until you bite into it and all the brown, mushy crap comes dripping out of it. Well nobody was going to bite into me that night. Not even the woman I loved. In fact, especially not the woman I loved.
            In my temporarily distorted frame of mind, she was the one who had injected the flesh eating bacteria into me in the first place. But on a deeper level, I was aware that this had nothing to do with her; I knew that this was my stuff. Yet I was in so much pain that I could justify being mad at her. I know now that, at that point in my life, I needed that anger to keep my wall up. Without the anger to energize this emotional electric fence I had put around myself, I would have broken down and cried like a baby in the bathroom behind closed doors. And damn it that wasn’t going to happen.
            By the time I got back to her place after the gig, I was a mess. She had come separately, so I drove just myself and my equipment back to the cape. In my car, I started to cry, and I had no friggin’ idea why. When I arrived at her home, she was on the couch, waiting for me, looking as inviting as a woman possibly could. Wrapped under a blanket with her blond hair pulled back in a pony tail, wearing her usual sleeping attire: skimpy cotton boy shorts and snug workout tank top that stopped just under her breasts, exposing her trim midriff. She looked good enough to eat, but I wasn’t hungry. I was hurt. And I was behind my wall.
            So when she asked me what was wrong, I said the only thing I could, which was, “Nothing. I’m just tired.” Eventually, though, I knew I had to tell her, because I wanted to. I wanted to feel better. But I didn’t even know what was wrong. And I was completely ashamed that I even felt this way.
            The filthy combination of shame and fear is like a horrible long, dark alley infested with vermin. You can’t see anything, and you’re getting attacked by these toxic thoughts. The only way out is to start walking through the alley; that is, own where you’re at and starting talking about it. But if you’re ashamed you’re even there, you’d rather hide out in that alley than move through it and therefore expose yourself. Because then, somebody else will know what a shit-head I am for being in this fuckin’ alley in the first place. At least right now, I’m the only one who knows I’m here. So all the judgement and hatred is coming from me. The last thing I need is to pile somebody else’s judgement and hatred of me on top of that. That’s not a solution. That’s just another problem.
            That’s really how I thought then. Opening up was so difficult for me because I was so sure that whoever saw this would be horrified and bolt on me, triggering the mother-load of all fears: Abandonment. As horrible as the current pain inside me was, I knew that it was nothing compared to the ten million needles of viscous, toxic, agony and shame that would befall me should I ever be abandoned. I was choosing the lesser of two evils. But as a wise friend has repeatedly quoted: “Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.” But I didn’t know of any other way. To me, it was a lose-lose scenario no matter how I sliced it. I really didn’t know I could do it differently. I didn’t know that I had the key in my hand the whole time and could have begun the process of healing by just opening the jail and walking out. Or if I did know, I was just too scared shitless to do it.
            Tune in tomorrow for part two, where I spill my guts to my girlfriend, take a plunge into the emotional unknown, and pass along what I discovered.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a long, dark, nasty alley full of Wrongs) Reserved.

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