A tiger never changes his stripes.
That’s what someone told her, my ex. It pissed me off a little to hear her then say it, too. As if my past was my future and my future was doomed.
Think about that saying for a sec. A tiger never changes his stripes. Think about the meaning that comes bashing its hard jungle fangs up against the cage bars at you when you stare at it. Think about what someone is saying to you when they tell you that, when they tell anyone that.
What a terrible aspersion to toss recklessly around. Imagine if we believed that as a species, as humans to humans. Imagine if we really believed in the inability of our fellow man to ever wake up one day and tune into his or her consciousness like never before. What a world this would be. You think it’s bonkers now? Try imagining the notion that alcoholics or junkies can never change their ways if they really want to. Or that angry young men can’t grow into wise, loving fathers and husbands. What if we looked around us in the street or down at the Walmart or wherever and just decided that every single person standing their in our presence was exactly what they were always gonna be for the rest of their lives?
You’re lazy. You’re overweight. You’re mean. You’re bad with money. You’re too self-conscious and you don’t love yourself enough and you suck in the bedroom and you are under-skilled and under-paid and over-thinking the in-betweens and you’re finished, man. Kiss it all goodbye.
You can never change. Didn’t you know that? You had to get it all right from the moment of your birth and guess what? You did not.
You’re a self-centered moron whose only concern is for yourself and you can never better yourself, fool, even if you want to.
And look. Hey, even if you DO look deep inside yourself and happen to stumble across some bright/shining unknown island that had been drifting across your listless seas aimlessly up until now, bumping up against the very edges of your soul like an abandon life raft, you won’t be able to do it.
It isn’t possible.
Well, you know what they say. A tiger never changes his stripes. And that’s that.
All of this living we do, all of these harbors we enter and leave, sailing around trying to find ourselves, looking for happiness even when we’re such fools — is it all just a set up? Don’t we need to grow up out of our worst parts in order to find our best ones? I mean, you don’t just get born perfect, right? And you’re not born with the knowledge to know how to love someone right in the romantic way.
I wasn’t anyway.
But the way I see it, we deserve to be better if we want to be. We all deserve the chance to one day, maybe/hopefully, stop ourselves from drinking or getting angry or cheating or yelling or whatever it was that held us back and hurt the ones around us.
It’s easy to get this gut feeling that you’re going to be okay in love just because it appears as if you’re finally in love and you’re talking about what furniture to get and joking about the people on the news and you’re cooking stuff together in the nice, new pan.
And look, sometimes, in the middle of a Saturday night, after you have a little wine or some beers and the HBO is coming down and you’re both alone on the couch or lying in the big bed you got at Ikea, you feel her breath in your ear, and you get so happy and you feel so comfortable with your little foreverness act.
It’s understandable. You love it. You love being in love. You just roll with it, lazybones.
And years go by, mowing the grass/walking the dogs/Sunday papers/Monday commutes/text messages going from sexy to practical and it’s all good, things moving along right on schedule/here come the kids/ blah blah blah. And then one day you wake up to a pack of hell hounds circling your bed, dude, baying and howling and right then and there you pee your pajamas and you know instantly that you were the biggest idiot who ever kissed a pair of lips.
Poor poor couple of ghosts, you’ve both become.
This might sound kind of stupid, but it’s not, because people don’t always know who they’re marrying. Because a lot of times, people don’t even know themselves. Knowing yourself is such a cool thing. Plus it sounds so easy, so meme.
But it isn’t easy. At least it wasn’t for me. I thought I knew myself when I got married, when I was younger. I thought I knew myself and what I was made of and where I was heading and what the best parts of me were and what the worst parts of me were, but it turns out I was wrong. I didn’t know a thing about myself. And in so many ways, I couldn’t know a damn thing about her either.
And that made things, how can I put this …
We had something. We lost it in the lights.
The next chapter is what it is. But do I look back on everything that went wrong and blame her? Hell no. Do I chalk it all up as a mismatch and toss back a cold beer with my buddies and laugh about how I need to get laid ASAP? Hell no.
Do I spend my days pondering my loss, our loss, the kids’ missed chance to have real life parents in love out in the next room?
Yep, I do.
Do I go zooming in and out on the things I did wrong, slipping in and out of my past like a phantom, finally trying to get an inkling of who I am by looking hard at who I wasn’t?
Yes, sir. I do that, too.
Am I crazy?
I don’t think so.
Will I ever be able to change? To become a better man? To learn from my life, from the loss of love, and to be better for someone/anyone who ever loves me again?
I believe I will. I really do. I have to. Acknowledging my immature heart, man, it is a step in the right direction. It just is.
So why knock that out of my hands?
Change is everything. Change is living. Fundamental human change and mindfulness, that stuff is is maybe the coolest thing I have ever discovered in my life. It will, if you really want to work at it and let it in for the rest of your days, change your life for the better. I’m moving moment to moment now, easing in and out of every single feeling I feel, from joy and ecstasy to heartbreak and jealousy, with eyes so wide open and trained to spot my own BS that I think I’m almost morphing into this version of myself that I always dreamed I could be.
But I know I’m so far off still. And I understand that I’ll never get there completely. Still. You know what? If you think you can look at me or read my stuff or or watch me on the internet or simply dismiss me in the twist of a phrase, with a quickly typed “a tiger never changes his stripes”, I’ve got news for you. I think you’re wrong. Really really wrong.
I’m not going to lie to you. I wish I’d found myself around here sooner; oh, how I wish I had. I wish I had understood long ago that if I would have just let my tired old guard down and taken an honest look at who I was, at my potential, at the power at my fingertips to be stellar as a man and a husband and a friend and as a sex partner and a bank account sharer and a fellow parent and the guy at the other end of the couch on Friday nights, then I could have saved my marriage.
But I didn’t.
Yet, I’m here now. Trying. Intending. Not hoping, but doing. I’m changing my stripes, an inch at a time. Crawling through the high thick grass, eyes wide open, hungry as hell, a grown man trying to alter his ways. That’s a beautiful thing, I think.
And if you disagree, well, whatever.
But I’ve come a long way. And I’d say you’re way back behind me on this same road we’re traveling.
Image: S. Bielanko Private