Once upon a time, I spent an evening arguing with a complete stranger about my dominant humor.
I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles, and she brought me along to a get-together at her friend’s apartment. We sat on the balcony, doing shots of rum as we watched the sun set through the LA haze. The conversation wandered to medieval medicine (as it does), and the subject of the four temperaments came up.
“Melancholic,” I said immediately. I was still coming to terms with my new identity of “clinically depressed college dropout.” It seemed the obvious answer.
“No, you’re not,” said someone else. I had no idea who this person was. He was sitting across from me on a cooler, wearing a suit and smoking a bong he made out of a Jack Daniels bottle. Blue-gray smoke surrounded him like a halo. “You’re phlegmatic.”
“Melancholic,” I said again. Who was this asshole? I’ve spent years trying to figure myself out. I finally knew who I was. And then this stranger was going to correct me in between bong hits? Fuck this guy.
He shook his head. “Phlegmatic.”
“I am not!” I knew my voice went shrill, but I didn’t care. I needed this jerk to stick to what he knew, which was apparently stoner arts and crafts. I knew me. He wasn’t taking that away from me.
“You’re fuckin’ choleric,” interrupted a third. “Quick to anger.”
“He doesn’t know me!” I snapped. “Fuck you ‘quick to anger’!”
The guy with the bong shrugged, completely unbothered (unsurprisingly). “I say what I see.”
“I see an asshole,” I said, and tried my best to walk away with dignity. As one can imagine, this is a bit more difficult when you’re five deep with a contact high. But I made it, and spent the rest of the night in the kitchen. Never saw the guy again.
I remembered this because I took a quiz recently to determine my temperament (the things you do when you’re bored, eh?). I got melancholic. When the result popped up, that night (at least, what I remember of it) hit me full force. I remembered clinging to that word like a life preserver. It was my identity. It was a definite.
I’m not the girl on that balcony anymore. There are so many things about that person that no longer apply to the person I am now. All these things, all these facts that I thought had such permanence, and I can’t remember them. But I remember the guy in the suit. I remember the breeze as I sat under the indigo California sky. I remember not knowing who I was, and being terrified of that fact.
I still don’t know who I am. Not really. And I’m okay with it. I think that’s the biggest difference between me and her. I’ve gotten more comfortable with the unknown. Other things still terrify me, of course, but I’ve come to terms with change. It is the one constant in life. Everything is fleeting. Just like that breeze. Just like that sunset.
Just like now.