"You Know What I Mean?"

I like to think that I pretty much know everything about myself so I was pretty surprised to find that is not exactly the case. This weekend while spending some quality time with my favorite husband, he pointed out that I tend to finish my comments with, “You know what I mean?” or some variation of it. This surprised me not only because I fancy myself an eloquent speaker (thus making it impossible someone wouldn’t know what I mean) but also because one of the main reasons I fell in love with Zach in the first place was because he always seemed to “know what I mean”.

In true Tesi form, I pondered over this revelation for quite some time. In true Zach form, any time thereafter I said it; he would point it out revealing just how much I say it. After much thoughtful consideration I’ve come up with the hypothesis that I say it because I have went through most of my life being misunderstood. My earliest memories of endless misunderstanding frustrations were in Junior High. My mom and sister were both big into romance novels so I dabbled in them as well. My mom and I have always been told we’re very much alike so I figured I would find as much satisfaction as she apparently did. Of course I found them altogether boring and pointless and was frustrated at the differences between us. I needed to find a deeper meaning in the books I read. I could read a few here and there if there was nothing better to read or do, but for the most part my thirst for mental stimulation in books went unsatisfied until my dad gave me my first copy of “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand one Christmas in high school. I read through it quite quickly and have since revisited the book many times. Every time I read it, it takes on a whole new meaning. It stands out as being the first “text” that understood me. It stands out also as the first moment I realized my dad and I were a lot more alike than I had ever given either of us credit for.

In high school I pretty much hung out with the female “jocks”. We had an immense amount of fun every time we hung out but there was still a sense of not belonging. We were all so different in personalities that sometimes it felt like talking to a brick wall. I would try to scratch the surface of issues and get to the real heart of our teenage angst, only to find it was too dark of a place for them to visit with me. I searched for meaning all by myself and would sometimes find a night hanging out with them too exhausting, too lonely. The women who I hung out with all the time still looked at me funny when I tried to go on one of my philosophical diatribes and it was so extremely frustrating. I obviously stayed in those relationships anyway (and still find much joy in them) because every once in awhile they’d respond “yes” to my $1000 question.

It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I met my match; I found the male version of myself in a guy by the name of Derek. The first night we hung out we immediately started talking about things never even covered with my high school friends. We stayed up all hours of the night discussing things like divorce, spirituality, what it meant to be “crazy” in a place like Vermillion, South Dakota. My idiosyncrasies became commonplace in our relationship and it was such an awesome, relieving place to be. Of course I had my moments of uncertainty, having someone understand you so well after years of not feeling that was very alarming, very tough in a lot of instances when all I wanted to be was my crazy self. I missed the anonymity that came with people not understanding me and giving up hope that they ever would. But in the end I found comfort, and still do, in the friendship that was my first of knowing each other without history. Of never having to say, “You know what I mean” because I just knew he did. Of saying anything without the fear of being laughed at or getting another set of eyes rolling away from me. That understanding transferred us both back to Iowa City and to a life I never thought possible.

That’s where I met Zach. My relationship with Zach became different than that of Derek and myself because in moments when Zach didn’t understand me, he worked to do so. Unlike Derek who never seemed to have those moments in the first place, or my high school friends who gave up and changed the subject; Zach would challenge me to dig deeper and explain where my crazy theories originated. If we ended up still on different pages, he chalked it up to my cleverness and loved me more intensely. We were so much alike yet different enough to keep things interesting. Our passion for philosophy extended to the wee hours of the morning and ended with lots of professions of love and a few near-breakup moments. We were constantly parched for each other’s thoughts and went to bed giddy at the thought of hearing each other’s versions of the latest chapter in The Republic. I taught him the beauty of the literary world and he taught me the liberation of feeling comfort in my own skin. I taught him to hear Eddie Veder’s words and he taught me the uniqueness of Outkast’s sound. In our 4 years of loving each other there have been definite moments of not understanding. His look that says, “You’re freakin crazy” is never too far from his face yet I know a large part of him understands the craziness. He understands what I mean when I say, “Burski babies”, he understands why I cry every time I’m at a wedding or a funeral. He even understands why I randomly use words from the 80s and why I sing along to songs even when I don’t know the words.

So I ask myself why I would say, “You know what I mean” to a man who sincerely does. Why would I say that to my husband who was the first man to either know what I mean or at the very least be interested at my working, thinking brain? I think it’s because I’m so scared of losing that. Of being the family member that everyone talks about behind his/her back. “Did you hear what Tesi said today? Wow, she’s freakin crazy!” I want to feel a little bit of certainty in this uncertain world and that’s what Zach has always provided for me. It’s a beautiful thing being understood by someone who is not going to tease you for having random thoughts after being awake for 24 hours straight but yet is not too afraid to call you out on your moments of ridiculousness. Even through the transformation of self I’ve had since meeting Zach, I still find comfort in him knowing who I am and what I’m thinking. Still find great joy in hearing him say, “That’s an interesting question” or “You’re so smart”. I’ve realized even though in my younger years I held onto my identity of not being understood, it’s an altogether better place to have a partner with you in this crazy thing we call life.

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