Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Rise and Fall of Carlos (Uni)

"And in my mind I'm every one of you..."

The Smashing Pumpkins, Porcelina of the Vast Oceans

*If this post doesn't convince you I could benefit from some professional help, nothing will. :)

On several message boards, Don Carlos is my screen name now, but when I was younger, there was a time where he was his own person, and referred to as such by myself and others. He was the Superman to my Clark Kent, the Hulk to my Bruce Banner, the Spider-man to my Peter Parker, the ROJ Luke Skywalker to my ANH Luke Skywalker...

I never thought I'd owe so much of my social development to my first-year Spanish professor. In first-year Spanish, we were all assigned Spanish equivalents to our given names. Since my name is Chris, it should have been Cristobal. However, since there was another Chris in the class, I was given Carlos.

Towards the end of semester, there was a snowstorm and my Spanish exam was rescheduled. So my prof called me at the residence, but my roommate answered the phone. Not remembering my given name, she asked if "Carlos" was there, to which he answered "Carlos? There's no Carlos here..." and I said "no wait, that's for me, I'm Carlos". With all my floormates partying in my room at the time, the nickname instantly stuck.

So the joke became that Carlos was my suave Spanish alter-ego, like a womanizing superhero type of deal. And somehow, over the next few weeks and months, that prophecy began to manifest itself. See, being raised in a strict household with a sick mother meant I had to repress a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff. I always had to be responsible, couldn't ever slip up, couldn't rock the boat. Girls, cars, sports, being popular, even though I wanted all those things, I had a black cloud hanging over me that I couldn't escape. And even in university, I had so conditioned myself that even though I was doing my darnedest to break out of my shell and really let loose, a lot of things I wanted to do were so far out of character for me that I just couldn't clear that mental hurdle. That is, Chris couldn't, but Carlos could. So I started to create a new personality for myself.

Carlos didn't have a past, and nobody knew him and nobody had any expectations, so I could pretty much build him from the ground up. Carlos lived in a world of no consequences, did what he wanted and everything was based on the next party, the next date, the next drink. As university should be. And the more I slipped into the alter-ego, the realer he became, the more a life of his own he assumed. Chris never wanted to upset people, tried to make people happy, kept to himself, internalized things, pined away at crushes he'd never bring himself to talk to. Carlos, having none of the baggage that Chris had, looked at himself in the mirror and saw a guy who was over 6 feet tall, slim, with piercing blue eyes, who was also funny, was a pretty good athlete and had a good head on his shoulders. And from that self-assessment, grew a confidence that bordered on cockiness, and he became brash, aggressive, and obnoxious. And everyone loved him.

Sure, people liked polite, reserved Chris, but Carlos, he was the life of the party. Chris was the "friend", Carlos was the guy who went home with the girl on his arm. In essence, Carlos was the guy who picked on Chris in high school. In my own mind, Chris had become boring, tired and weak, while Carlos was new and fresh. So that stronger personality began to emerge more and more.

Professional wrestlers will say that their characters are based on their real-life personalities, but they're amplified so they can project their personality throughout an arena, radiate their aura throughout a screaming crowd. The negative is that the adrenaline rush of putting your amplified self out there is addictive, and many wrestlers start to have trouble turning "off" their personality. Much the same way, Carlos became the dominant personality. The problem was that Carlos was a made up thing, a shell. So people would become attached to Carlos, and there was the inevitable letdown when relationships got deeper, after the initial rush, and Carlos gave way to Chris. And all of a sudden, the confidence was gone, the life of the party guy was gone, Cinderella's clock struck midnight and all there was left was the bookworm who always wondered why people didn't respect him, but let everyone walk all over him.

I had a bad experience in my third year, where Carlos had picked up, well, a variety of women. In
the same room. At the same time. Well, that wasn't a bad experience, per se. But out of that night grew a relationship that lasted for about 6 months. But the poor girl was bounced around constantly from the-world-is-my-oyster Carlos to needy, insecure Chris. And she wasn't exactly the picture of mental health herself. So ill-fated from the start, she dumped me for another guy, became an alcoholic, and the last time I saw her was a few years ago, where she staggered drunk out of a bathroom with her shirt tucked into her grandma panties, which were pulled over the top of her pants. I sure know how to pick 'em.

But, for as bad a fit as we were, Carlos was some pissed that there was always Chris behind him to ruin everything. Carlos came to the realization that he was incomplete, but he'd rather be incomplete than have someone like Chris to complete him. Carlos was the one who put the brains and brawn to its proper use, Chris never capitalized on what he was given. Besides, Chris was just as made up as he was, a fake personality put on to please his parents that fooled himself into thinking he was a whole person. Chris dropped the ball, it was time for Carlos to take center stage.

Carlos' first decision was not to return home for the summer. I found a job at the university to avoid having to go back to my parents, so I could have a summer completely alone with my newfound confidence, without anything to bring me down. Without Chris as the ego to Carlos' id, I went on a 3-month adrenaline high: I could talk to girls without even giving it a second thought, asked people for their numbers and actually got them, I didn't even care if they were seeing someone else, because Carlos believed there wasn't anyone better than him.

I even picked up a girl who had been saving herself for marriage, but she and her fiance broke up. And well, she couldn't say she was saving herself for marriage anymore after Carlos had his way with her. With Chris pounding away from his shackles and praying that Carlos wouldn't do anything rash, Carlos shut him out and proceeded to end up hurting someone that was unlucky enough to be with the wrong guy at the wrong time. She got clingy (can you blame her?), and Carlos dumped her over the phone. And he still wasn't done.

Carlos had so taken over by the time the next school year rolled around that people who hadn't seen me over the summer noticed the change. The id had totally taken control, and I was basically a walking, talking pheromone. It was to the point where, literally, I could walk onto a dance floor, pick a girl, summon her and start making out. And it was starting to get too easy. And it should have been fun, but it wasn't. Because Chris, that conscientious little bastard, wasn't happy. Somewhere, his voice of reason, however quiet and unassuming, became a little more convincing. But why?

Because over the course of the summer, I had met someone when I wasn't ready. When I wasn't trying to turn up my personality, when I wasn't expecting someone to befriend me. I was in a pretty vulnerable spot, locked out of my room with my guitar in my arms and my luggage strewn about the hallway. And she said hi. And we just talked. And I never thought anything of it, never tried to impress her with Carlos' bluster and nonsense. So I never got the chance to be anything but my real self, my true self, and she thought that self was pretty cool. And the more I learned about her, the more I learned that even though we seemed like complete opposites, she was just like me: an unfortunate upbringing had forced her to fabricate a personality that wasn't quite her own, and she was trying to find herself, just like I was. But one day, she saw what Carlos was, and thought he was a dick and didn't want anything to do with him. And it really made me feel bad. And I knew that I somehow had to find myself, to accept that I was Carlos and Chris, and somehow bring the two halves together. As usual for me, that meant a walkman, some tapes, and a long walk in the woods.

I left campus and kept walking. In a small town, I was lucky enough to have hiking trails, etc. around my house to lose myself in. But in the city, I had to walk for an hour and a half before I found someplace where I could really be alone with my thoughts. I climbed a large rock and laid down under the autumn sun, and felt the cold of the rock below me and the coolness of the breeze that sent shivers up my spine, but at the same time, the warmth of the sun beaming down on me. And I realized that I had spent my whole life making myself into whoever everyone else wanted or needed me to be, instead of being what I wanted to be. Chris had to be who he was to keep his parents happy. Carlos was who I thought everyone else wanted me to be. In my constant need to feel accepted, I had never really accepted myself. And I decided that from that point forward, I accepted everything about me. I accepted that I could be confident and insecure at the same time, funny and serious, moody and level-headed. I accepted that in certain situations, my perceived faults could become my strengths, and vice-versa. I accepted that I'm a complicated person, and that dealing with that would be someone else's problem. All I could do was be honest with myself, and accept that I would never be all of what anyone else wanted me to be, so I might as well be comfortable with the person that I was. At least then, I'd make one person happy.

So after 10 hours in the woods, I emerged a changed man. I accepted and embraced all of myself, Carlos, Chris, the parts of me I'd left behind, the parts of me that had yet to emerge. Because all of it was me.

So since the start of my fourth year of university, I've been blessed with an inner peace that comes with knowing that I've found who I am. And having bounced around from one personality to another helps me as a manager, when sometimes you need to use kid gloves, and sometimes you come down with the iron fist.

So, you ask, whatever happened to that person that I met unexpectedly that summer?

She's Brandon's mom.


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