"of all of my women friends," Rocko, 40-years-old today, announced to the crowded table of mostly men I didn't know very well, all awash in the drowsy, grinning glow of an afternoon spent comemmorating their friend's fourth decade of life. i sat with them, smiling to the contrast in my weeks-long sobriety i had no intention of undoing, despite the constant pressure to the contrary coming at me from every direction; i found myself ironically unfitting among the colorful glass graveyard on the table, the place where birthday beer bottles go to die.
unsure how Rocko's proclamation would end up, especially knowing he was already halfway through his bottle of celebratory truth serum, i prepared my reaction for light flattery colored with the slight embarrassment of being so publicly honored for whatever he was about to say. after all, Rocko is one of my closest friends and confidants - complimentary kindness, and making you feel special and adored, virtually core to his very nature. qualities in a man this world could use a little more of.
"of all of my women friends," Rocko repeated, shifting his weight and holding onto the wooden chair so as not to fall over: "Tara is the most difficult woman of them all."
i watched eyes widen on the few friendly female faces sitting beside me at the table, moral support attempting to qualify his unexpected, uncomfortably uncomplimentary honesty. my demeanor took a moment to adjust to the circumstances of not hearing anything even slightly resembling the flattery i had emotionally and viscerally prepared for.
"...Tara is my favorite to surf with."
"...Tara is the most like the sister i never had."
"...Tara is the smartest, funniest, most awesomest, [insert desirable character trait here]..."
the array of possible other endings to Rocko's grand statement failed in attempt to drown his actual words into insignificance. instead, he went on, getting deeper into the specifics. i set the uneaten section of my smashed fried plantain back on the communal plate-o-meat, watching it soak up some grease from the chorizo.
there was absolutely no escaping it now.
"like, look," he spoke confidently, the rowdy crowd at the table suddenly all ears. "all of your friends are married, except for you," he laughed, directing his words towards me. at this point, i think my mouth was open.
"you're the most radical," he said, almost eloquently. "radical in the way you think, and how you are. see what i mean? you are a very difficult woman."
by now, shots had been poured and the group grew bored, on to the next topic of shared, celebratory interest, like where we should surf tomorrow, or when we should head to the reggae fest happening down the street; leaving me alone, stone-cold sober, with my thoughts.
Difficult woman, I repeated to myself, uncertain what to make of it. i knew Rocko meant no malintent in his words, and if i didn't respect him as my brother, i could have just brushed it off as debaucherous banter-babble and gone about my business.
instead, i thought about all the ways he was right. about how my beliefs and habits and ways of being might not always make me the easiest person to be around. i imagined what it might feel like being on the receiving end of me.
i empathized that it would get tedious trying to like me when i refuse to take a shot of chile-guaro, even when it's our friend's 40th birthday and everyone else is along for the ride, and there i am raining on everyone's party parade with the simple act of my sober presence in your otherwise festive encounter. that it must get old tolerating my critical perspective on everything from Christianity and real estate to eating GMO popcorn and watching Batman on TV. that i can't just throw my banana peel in the trash can instead of in the bushes so it goes back to the Earth where it belongs. that i don't simply translate your website into English without telling you your ethics on intellectual property need revisiting. that i won't just agree that your ex-best friend is an asshole without asking if her parents had a healthy, loving relationship during the formative years of her adolescence. i bet all of those things get really difficult to deal with a lot of the time.
and that it's probably downright irritating that despite the social pressure of being what i'm supposed to be, and doing what i'm supposed to do, i still keep saying no and choosing not to; and worse, i still keep showing up, every single moment, as me. and there i am, me doing me, no matter what.
i bet that makes me a difficult woman, indeed.
because i bet it makes the fact that you don't always show up as you a little more difficult to bear, too.
is that what it means to be a difficult woman? to be challenging in ways that aren't always comfortable? to hold a mirror up to the parts of you you've swept under the rug and don't necessarily like all that much?
former love interests have described me in ways that justify their not wanting to love me anymore.
often, i don't blame them.
because often, being me is even difficult for me.
and i wish i didn't have to make everything such a thing all the time.
and i wish i could just do what everyone else does and close my eyes and forget about it.
and i wish i were easy.
...but then i realize, fortunately/unfortunately, i'm not. easy.
and, in fact, i've worked hard not to be.
and i realize that most of the people i admire aren't so easy either. and, in fact, they've probably been called 'difficult' a time or two, too. and the truth is, i love them for the strength in their authenticity, for the power of their vulnerability, for the brilliant glow of their light despite life and all of its lessons. and in my admiration, i realize that the difficult woman i love in them, is actually the very same difficult woman you see in me.
and embracing her as a vital part of me - the part that challenges me to live in integrity with my values, to inspire others to celebrate their own authenticity and special ways of being in the world - i realize that the difficult woman is actually a lot of what i love about me.
and i think, when you think about it, that the difficult woman is a lot of what you love about me, too.
...because i have this theory, that me doing me, no matter what, makes it a little more okay for you to do you, no matter what, too.
the difficult woman?
you bet, that's me.
the difficult woman,
right down to the T.
so 40-years wise in the drunken depths of truth and authenticity, i thank you, my brother Rocko, for honoring the difficult woman in me, and for lifting her veil of shame for all to see. for the gift of embracing the parts of me i don't always find easy to love, but whose lessons of integrity i wouldn't dare live without.
...for reminding me that, often, our hardest-to-hear messages are our greatest gifts of all.