A poster hung in my kindergarten classroom with a silhouette of a coyote howling at the moon that read, “Be Yourself.”
I never really understood what that had to do with a coyote howling. I can only assume it was a very self-actualized coyote.
Ever since we are little we’re told, “Be yourself, just be yourself,” and it seems easy enough to do. I was always myself. Mostly for the sole reason that I had no idea how to be anyone else. I was very good about it my entire life. I was never Al Pacino, I was never Sheryl Crow, and I was never even Oprah (excluding one occasion on Purim which I would prefer not to discuss.)
It seemed silly that society felt it was so necessary to constantly remind us to be who we are, as if that was much harder than completely transforming into another human being.
I had no idea what they were talking about. Until I met Yitzak.
He was beautiful. Not in the mainstream superficial way that all the magazines flaunt, but in the way that I liked. His glasses hid his kind eyes, which I assumed were probably strained from several years of diligent torah study. His jaw was defined, yet fragile looking, suggesting compassion and femininity, and his hands were stained with ink. Just like mine.
He was a family friend and it had been arranged that we meet for coffee one afternoon at a place near his parents’ home.
I wanted him to like me more than I had ever wanted anyone to like me. I was overwrought about my manners, my movement, my conversation. I was being overly nice, unusually awkward, and trying all too hard. But I wasn’t trying to be myself. I was trying to be whoever I thought he wanted me to be. The only problem: I didn’t know who that was yet. Unless it was Oprah, I was in trouble.
“So I’m really into basketball.”
“Oh no way! That’s so great, I love basketball!!”
…I thought basketball was okay.
“Oh yea? Who’s your favorite player?”
…Because he’s the only one whosename I know.
“Oh yea, he’s great. I’m excited to see how he fares with The Heat.”
I am not. I’m from Cleveland. Lebron leaving was one of the worst things to happen to our city since the Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1969. But contrary to what I had just told him, I don’t follow basketball, and merely thought he was commenting on how Lebron would handle the hot summer weather.
The dinner continued with him listing things he liked and me enthusiastically agreeing with everything he said. If he liked chocolate, I liked chocolate. He wanted to travel, I wanted to travel. He studied the effects of humic acids on the mineralization of low concentrations of organic compounds, I knew what a few of those words meant. I was convinced we were perfect for each other.
“You shouldn’t bother trying to act like someone you’re not,” advised my very wise friend Avi. “If you’re not compatible, it’s best you find out now rather than waste your time.”
He was right. It might have been easy enough to make some embellishments over coffee, but if this was to turn into anything serious, I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for long. I wanted him to like me, but more importantly he needed to like me, even if it’s the version of myself who doesn’t know anything about basketball or humic acids.
On our next date I told him about my interests. I admitted that I don’t always follow basketball, that I much prefer vanilla, and that I was never really a science person.
We didn’t have a lot of mutual interests, but as it turns out, we did have some things in common; hopes, dreams, goals and life philosophies.
Suddenly chocolate versus vanilla didn’t seem like such a big deal.
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