The Not-Quites: Who Are They?

Imagine yourself, the entity that you know yourself as, sitting in a room. This room, for all intents and purposes, is nondescript—the color, size, proportions, and contents completely of your own choosing; it does not matter. As for the “you” that inhabits this cell, imagine it to be the quintessential you. The “you” you want to be, or was, or could be; the “you” that was or is or will be; imagine every detail of this person—fingers, toes, clothing, hair, nose, etc. Leave nothing out. What do you see? What kind of person do you imagine? Are they attractive, or ugly? Dark or fair? Young or old? Benevolent or malicious? It is yourself in its entirety; make sure you leave nothing out.

Regardless of the detail and quality of this portrait, it will always be inaccurate. This sole person, the quintessential you, alone in this imaginary room, brushes nothing more than the mere surface, the very top level of scum, amidst an ocean of what lies underneath. Perhaps a better, more precise way of imagining yourself, is as a diamond, cut to perfection, another edge sparkles as it turns in the light and then another; multifaceted and multi-layered—all sparkling in its own rotation, adding to the greater whole of the jewel itself. But even then, the diamond has its limits; the edges have a finite number; you, on the other hand do not.

Instead, paint another image of yourself, in the same room, with as much crystalline detail. This time, imagine as many copies of yourself as you like, but once more, leave nothing out; capture every potential self that you can imagine in the time it takes to read this. The “you” as a child, do not forget them; the teenage self, twenty-year old, twenty-one-year-old, middle-aged, the one with a shaved head, one with long hair that goes to the waist, do not forget them; The benevolent you, the cruel you, the artist, the mechanic, the teacher, the firefighter, the child, the parent, the sibling, the cousin, the aunt or uncle—even the man you or the woman you, imagine them all. You have, at one point or another, been faced with the option of becoming this “you”. Perhaps in childhood, you had made the decision to become a novelist, and that self was freed from this tiny room while the mechanic, teacher, and plumber versions of yourself were to be trapped forever. Perhaps you have married, and the husband or wife self was freed, damning the single man or woman facet of yourself to remain in the room. These facets can change, just as easily as you change yourself; you are, perhaps, kinder around your friends, drawing this image into reality, only to be swapped out for the angry, irritable facet while you are at work, dealing with a particularly irritating coworker. If you are still attempting to imagine all of these individual selves in the room, stop now; you will never finish; the number is infinite, growing more infinite by the second. The endless diamond, each facet having the opportunity to sparkle and gleam at one point or another, makes up the true “self” that you are trying to imagine.

How glorious life may seem, when one thinks of oneself as an infinite diamond. But perhaps it is as equally damning to realize that the diamond will never reflect all at once; it is the nature of life, from birth to death, to call forth only a handle of these facets at any given time; the single “you” and the married “you” can never shine together, never coexist to encompass the full vastness of your person. To become a police officer can mean nothing more than killing the nurse that you could have been. These unrealized selves, ones forever dead or ones changed out at times, become the Not-Quites: the facets of your personality, that exist, as real as the screen before you, but never to gleam, refract, or glow in this world (or perhaps only at select times).

Life then seems to become a shame; the infinite diamond that you are, cannot exist. Others will never see it. Your husband will never see the “you” that exists when he is not around. Your parents will, most likely, never be exposed to the party-you, the drunk-you, the during sex-you. They will only ever see the facets you present them, all beginning with the notion, “My parents are here. I now can, and cannot, act a certain way. They cannot see this side of me. They cannot know this part of my self.” Life then becomes a tragedy. The infinite amount of Not-Quites, the could-have-beens and the almosts, the was-befores and the not-yets, all remain dormant, in the dark, while the one sliver, the inexplicitly, insignificant fragment of yourself that currently shines and glows, takes the spotlight. One cannot help but ask, why? Why does this facet currently deserve the spotlight?

Life then always feels like a series of missed opportunities. You, uncomfortable with yourself now, straining against your career or your home life or your nagging spouse, cannot help but ponder and wonder the “you” that could have been; the “you” that was killed, hidden away, locked inside this nondescript room of your own choosing, becomes the object of despair and regret. One cannot help but regret the life one has lived; one cannot help but feel pointless and insignificant, when one realizes the endless maelstrom of Not-Quites that live in your own mind, much less the stranger you pass on the street. The rush of traffic and people passing by you, bumping into your side, cutting you off, speeding through, seems less calamitous than the highway that lives in yourself, in the tiny room pouring and filling with limitless missed opportunities and facets of you. You, in the entire essence of the word, become your own universe.

Life then seems hopeful. One cannot help but then imagine every person they see, every child of ten, every man of eighty, every mother and father, possessing and fighting and failing to conquer the same torrent of Not-Quites that live in their minds as well. One cannot help but feel more sympathetic to others, or more considerate to the anxiety and irritation others feel. One cannot help but wish to see others in a better place, knowing they experience the same daily torment as anyone and everyone else. The obnoxious coworker and the nagging spouse suddenly become objects of your compassion and your understanding; would you wish for any less for yourself? Knowing the battle, the waging war inside yourself, that affects each and every one of us, how could you not? As humans, we are all victims of the Not-Quites, and all at the mercy of the unilluminated facets of our own lives. Overcome by missed opportunities and disillusionment with our current selves, we are all experiencing the human-condition. But, we all experience it together.

How glorious life seems once more, when one realizes they are not alone—they could not be alone. Every man and woman has regrets, harbors thoughts about the almosts and the could-have-beens. It becomes our struggle to recognize this, our duty to fight it, and, knowing that we could never defeat the torrent, resign together. Life has meaning once more. Our current selves, young or old, single or married, the mechanic or the teacher, become our tools as humans in a fight together. Life is about fighting these Not-Quites, lessening the distance between yourself and your fellow humans, and realizing that change can always happen; the light will always rotate; the diamond will gleam from different angles. It is only in death, that this rotation ceases, and the lights die out. But life? It becomes endless, filled with a new version of yourself every moment of every day. Life then, instead of death, feels infinite. Life then, feels hopeful.

So understand this war within yourself; understand this ocean that lies beneath the surface, infinitely deep, always changing, always moving. Understand the maelstrom that exists in your own mind, and embrace it. Understand others more, because of it. It is only when one recognizes their mind is a room filled with infinite people, that one can recognize it in others. Everyone then becomes worthy of your compassion and sympathy, and you theirs. Your irritating coworker, shy neighbor, nagging spouse, are now your fellow soldiers, charging, swords raised, into the same darkness that you are now running towards. The Not-Quites, averted disasters and missed opportunities alike, are nothing to be afraid of. Yourself, as you are now, is what shines in the spotlight. Life then seems worth fighting for.