Becoming a Familiar Stranger

There are a thousand previous versions of myself. They are not so different from one another, some a little sassier or little quieter, a little more doubtful or a little more confident. For most of my life they have bled into one another, and it is only later I can look back and see the change.

But when my friend Céline died, it was not a shaping or shedding but a rupture. When she was killed in a car accident in January, the version of myself I used to be shattered. She broke and forced me out of her before there was a new version for me to inhabit. It is as though I am without a shell, looking at all the other shells of myself I used to inhabit. These versions of myself I used to be are not so dissonant from me, but they are not me. They are not me as surely as my reflection is not me, as my favorite character is not me, as my best friend is not me. They are relatives, close but distinct.

Some of these versions I do not miss-angsty ones, dramatic ones, depressed ones. At 16 I was convinced I was wildly conspicuous and wholly inadequate, a feeling I wouldn’t reclaim for anything. At 25, however, I was exuberant and bursting in a way that makes me ache with longing to think about. It felt like every skin cell on body was a different possibility and every possibility was on fire. It felt like my life was a map with huge uncharted territories that were mine to explore.

The map I hold now is more filled in, and the woman I am is not quite so wild and unformed. I have made choices, which closed off other choices. My time in the blindingly blank spaces of the map has sometimes been thrilling, but often isolated and confusing, leaving me unsure if it was the map or I who was incomplete.

And, of course, both the map and I are incomplete. Not because we are inadequate as my 16 year old self feared, but because the world and I are always changing. Because my skin is not on fire anymore and part of me is devastated and part of me is relieved. Because there are landslides and earthquakes and the coastline of the soul is difficult to pin point.

I can feel the coastline shifting especially poignantly now, in the wake of Céline’s death. I can feel the sand slipping away beneath my feet, I can see debris and pebbles carried in by the waves. Perhaps it is no more true than it ever was, that I am becoming some other person, becoming some familiar stranger. It is just that I have mourned it, grasped at it, tried to keep the oceanfrom shaping the shore, from taking Céline, from taking me.

And yet we are both gone. Her body is gone and my former self is gone, and there is nothing to do but try to honor us both in this person I am becoming, in this new shell that is forming over my raw and swollen heart. This new person I’m watching myself become will probably not be so foreign from the other versions. I know she is sadder. She is both angrier and more empathetic. She is more forgiving of herself, and I hope she will be more forgiving of others. I hope that she will be like Céline and make friends everywhere she goes, that she will move towards fiery possibility instead of away from fear, that she will view faith and adventure as intertwined.

Most of all, when I leave behind this new stranger I’m becoming to become a different new stranger, I hope to bring these threads with me into every new self, that in my own quiet ways I can always live into both Céline’s and my possibility, be wild and gentle with both of our souls.

-Holly Mueller