Thursday, May 9, 2013

Trigger Warning: Sum of my Experience

There are a few moments in my life that I can point to and say, "That right there, it changed everything." Realizing I liked a girl in that way, when my father developed a seizure disorder (and I developed PTSD), being raped...they were Big Deal times, and they took one hell of a lot of processing to come to terms with. For most of my life, the worse of them have been secrets, and even after I stopped being ashamed of what happened, and how I reacted, they haven't been easy to talk about. How do you tell someone you've been friends with for 20 years that this HUGE thing happened that you've never talked about? I haven't figured it out yet.

I do want to share though, because I read about other people's dealing with their own damage, like Allie Brosh, or Jenny Lawson and their depression, or Julia and her infertility, and I see what a positive effect it has on people to hear about another person dealing with the same shit, and I know that it makes me feel so hopeful to see others making it out the other side. If I have stories to tell that could make other people hopeful about their own hurts, I should try in spite of that I don't feel powerful enough to manage any such thing. There's 7 billion people on this planet but it's so easy to feel like you are alone.

So, no more stalling, no more silence.

* * * * *

October in Northern California is usually balmy, and the second month of my 7th grade year in 1993 was no exception. My friends dressed me in black jean shorts with rolled cuffs and a turquoise stripped tank top - much cuter than the faded, slightly ratty jeans and shapeless t-shirt I arrived wearing.

We three were going out to the movies with two neighbor boys and my friend's cousin from Indiana. The boys were all 13, and near strangers, which was cool, but made my socially-awkward, 12-year-old self extra nervous.

We caught a bus to within a couple blocks of the theater, the six of us sprawled into the last two rows of seats: the boys legs taking up all the space they were reserving for their impending manhood, and us girls curled into ourselves, playing at coquettes with none of the necessary confidence to pull it off.

We bought our own tickets - six Adults for Cool Runnings - and sodas, the boys bought massive bags of popcorn, and had gummy candy from the grocery store bulk-bins stashed in the pockets of their big baggy jeans. One of my friends paired us off when we sat down: boy/girl, girl/boy, boy/girl in the center of the second row. The cousin from Indiana and I were the third pair.

The theater was never so dark that I couldn't see the cousin unfurling his arm across the backs of the seats to drape around my shoulders, the tips of his buttery fingers resting on the top curve of my right breast. It was the first time a boy had ever touched me with intention or kindness. The whole world reduced to the spot under his hand.

There were no buses when the movie let out into an indigo twilight, so we walked the three miles back to the neighborhood. I was edgy from the unaccustomed and unexpected attention and wished to latch back on to my friends, but they were happily paired off with the neighbor boys, so I was left with the shambling cousin at the back of our straggling line. He was bold in the lowering darkness, his arm back around my shoulders, his hand closer to my breast with the advantage of height and the lack of a separating armrest.

We fell farther and farther behind, his slow lope no match for the purposeful strides of the neighbor boys. At the turn to his cousin's street, we cut into the park, to catch up, I thought, until he steered me to the picnic tables past the horseshoe pit. We sat on the edge of a table, our feet on the bench, and he told me about Indiana, his parent's suburb and the uncoolness of it all. I told him about how boring my neighborhood was, and how lame my family was, and he stuck his tongue in my mouth.

It was hot and sloppy, his teeth mashed my lip and his wispy stubble rasped my chin. I pulled away has his inhalation threatened to suck the air out of my lungs, but in a breath his mouth was back on mine and he was leaning me back onto the top of the table with his hand sliding under my shirt to be frustrated by the band of my bra.

"No!" I gasped, trying to squirm away from his hands, but his thigh pinning mine and the splinters digging into my shoulders held me still.

"It's so hot when a girl plays hard to get."

And I froze.

His too-strong hands slid the band of my bra up over the swell of my too-large breasts, and he grunted as his hands made contact with my nipples. He soon had his pants loosened, and it was only one long moment until my overlarge borrowed shorts and Jockey underpants were down to my knees, and then scraping to my ankles as he wedged my thighs apart with his bare hips. Then he was punching me in the crotch, but his hands were by my shoulders and I realized it was his penis, and the hardness of an erection.

The punching stopped as he dropped his weight onto my chest and reached a hand down between our pelvises. He propped himself up to his knees and brow-furrowed, aimed his penis against my vagina with his hand. When they were lined up he thrust his hips forward, into a sensation of fire that displaced a keening, "ohh" from my throat. His grunting intensified to moans as he thrust into me, and in a few seconds or an eternity he was done, with a final grind and a gasp, he flipped onto his back next to me.

"That rocked," he said. "That was awesome," and still panting, he grinned at me. We lay there staring at the sky, me surreptitiously trying to slide my clothes back where they belonged, hoping that it was okay for me to do, and that he would be ready to go home now, wishing I could go home, or anywhere that no one would know what had just happened.

I got my clothes all the way on, and tried to suck swelling tears back into my eyes. He got his underwear back on, thankfully covering that which I was too embarrassed to look at, and pulled his jeans up as he rolled off the side of the table and popped to his feet. He held out his hand, gallant now, and proud of his manhood.

I took his hand, and swung of the edge of the table. He pulled me back under his sweaty, stinking arm to walk back to his cousin's. It was hard to match stride while trying to keep the seams on my underwear away from the wet rawness at my crotch, so I gave up and let the pain draw me inside myself, away from the touch of my rapist, away from this quiet, fancy neighborhood where no one walked in the park at night to interrupt two kids on a picnic table.

The cousin flew back to Indiana, to be homeschooled in an uncool suburb. He wrote me a letter about how he hoped I could be his girlfriend again the next time he came to visit.

I didn't write back. He doesn't know that he would have been a father, had I not spent all my savings to go in secret to a clinic that would call me a whore, but help me birth a quivering, purple, translucent, baby boy who fit in the nurse's hand, as she bagged him in plastic, and took him away. He doesn't know about how I pressed my aching, leaking breasts against the icy cold handrail, and at the last minute, decided not to jump, so that no one had to fish my corpse out of the bay. He doesn't know about how I spent the next eight years hating myself for my failure to fight him off, but so much more than that, hating myself for killing my son. He doesn't know about how I forgave myself and learned to be whole again; he will never know that I needed to.

I’ll be 32 when October rolls around again, more than old enough to be that raped girl's mother (old enough to be mother to a going-on-19 year old son). I look back on that child, and I wish I could mother her with what wisdom I have since earned, and show her the beauty in the life she would have. I am married now, my home and my heart are both warmly filled with true and honest friends and support, the likes of which that 12 year old girl couldn't imagine. I'm sorry for what that girl had to live through, but I am so glad for the me that she became.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gratitude

I have so much to be thankful for. My wife and I have been married for 6 years, and we are each others' anchors. Without her, I would not have found the confidence that landed me a permanent position with a great firm that pays me well. Without my push, she never would have left the job she hated to pursue higher education in a field where she will thrive. We make each other better people.

We are about to become homeowners. My wife's family is letting us take over the mortgage on the house we've been living in for 9 years, all the current equity having been taken out to repair the roof and foundation (daily, we curse the builders of the houses in this town).

There is so much going good with our lives now, but I want more. I was watching a show last night called Kitchen Nightmares. Fancy TV chef Gordon Ramsay goes and helps restaurateurs fix their failing businesses. One of the episodes I watched was of a family business that had been going since the 50s, and I was immediately struck by how much that is something I want.

Not the restaurant - lets not be crazy, the only things I knew how to cook into my 20s were scrambled eggs and spagetti - but the family business. What greater gift to give to your kids and grandkids than a living, a sense of where they come from? When I was quite little, I started working in my uncle's coffee house on weekends, and some days after school. I had to kneel on a wooden barstool to reach the espresso machine, and I was only just tall enough to set dirty dishes on the high counter of the sink. I was so proud to work there. I was a part of making a living for my family.

I'm getting antsy about the lack of shop space in the garage. We are storing a lot of bins and boxes for a couple of friends, it's all inventory for a yearly summer festival. They are going to put a shed in our backyard so we can get it out of there, but they got sick, and then we got sick, and then their kids got sick, and when we aren't sick we have other obligations, and so it's been delayed by months. Without more room to move around in there, I can't even get to most of our stuff, which desperately needs to be sorted, and purged. There was already a lot of crap in there when we moved in, and we've accumulated a lot more in the past nine years.

I'm so grateful that my problems have more to do with my ambition butting up against the constraints of time (and money, of course, there is very little in my life that an extra $10k wouldn't solve). I'm so close, I don't even have to close my eyes to see the place as it should be - as it will be.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Guess that Makes Me Columbia

 I am ridiculously excited for this weekend. For the first time in I can't  even remember how long, I have no obligations and I am not (very) sick, which means I get to do chores!

This should not be so exciting, but when you spend a bunch of weekends in a row cleaning up after other people's messes, helping other people with their yardwork, while your house and garden languish...I'm bloody thrilled to be able to hack on my own weeds and mulch my own garden.

My huge backyard is a wasteland of invasive weeds, and weed trees, which would be manageable if I could dedicate all my weekends to yardwork for a year, but that will never, ever happen. I have decided to reclaim the yard 130 square feet at a time, by hacking down a section of weeds, and then laying a tarp over the space to kill anything still clinging to life. I have three tarps in my backyard right now. One is ready to be removed, and the ground below seeded with white clover, but i want to get a good margin around that space hacked down and tarped so that none of the evil creeping weeds encroach on my beautiful bare ground.

I also have a lot of debris to burn. I bought a fire pit specifically so that I could burn all the wood that isn't allowed in the city green waste bins, and I have a small mountain of branches from last year's assault that are now seasoned, there will be many hours of cutting this mountain down into 1' long segments to fit in the fire pit, and burning will go on all day. Tomorrow I will pick up marshmallows, I will totally be earning myself some s'mores.

I have the supplies to build raised beds on hand, just waiting for me to have that section by the back fence cleared. It gets just the right light for corn, beans, and squash. I am so excited!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Outcomes

My diagnosis is Unexplained Infertility. This means that there doesn't appear to be any reason why I am not getting pregnant (this is where the anti-gay religionists start jumping up and down, waving their arms, shouting "I know! I know!" but I'm quite comfortable in my certainty that an invisible sky man is not withholding my fertility because I don't subscribe to his newsletter. If crack whores can get pregnant, I feel pretty confident that even if there is an invisible sky man, that fertility doesn't work on a merit system.). Using donor sperm (DS), I've had 5 unmedicated intrauterine inseminations (IUIs), 2 IUIs medicated with clomifene (generic for Clomid) pills, and 2 IUIs medicated with Letrozole pills and injections of Menopur and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). Basically that means I've absorbed $200 in useless drugs, and had $5400 dollars worth of strangers' sperm shot up my hoohah for nothing.The outcome will always be either 0% or 100% pregnant. The chances of either of those outcomes for each of us is always an unknown. We know what the odds are, on average, for all women in our situation, but statistics do not apply to individuals. It's possible that my odds are as high as any fertile woman using frozen sperm, about 20%, and I've just been terribly unlucky, and it's possible that my odds are 0% because of some undetectable something that doctors don't know to look for yet (hence the unexplained infertility diagnosis being common). I hope very much for the former, but I know the latter is possible.

I'm really interested in foster adoption, but...I have a hard time seeing it work. I'm sure every person who signs up for a home study shares this same fear, but I'm really afraid we wouldn't pass. I don't live in the greatest neighborhood, it's not bad exactly, but we've gotten some harassment for being lesbians, experienced some vandalism and thefts of plants and decor in our front yard, and I'm fairly certain the guy up the block who works from home as a mechanic is dealing meth. I work full time, and my wife is in school full time. which means we are both away from home 10 hours a day. Foster children get subsidies for daycare, but it just feels wrong for me to put a foster child in day care, they've got so much stuff going on already. It really makes me want to get on this home-based business thing, but family stuff has derailed me temporarily.

And...I know it seems selfish, but I really want a baby. I feel good about the skills I have to be the parent to someone under three, but less so for school-aged kids. I want to be a parent, not a charity-home, and I want to have a child that I feel equipped to parent well. I know I would become a good parent for an older child, but I don't feel ready to jump into that right now, I want the opportunity to ease into it over the course of days and months and years. I know that you can specify the ages you are comfortable with in a foster child, but is this preference going to bump us off the list? I feel this pressure, like because I'm infertile I'm expected to "save" a disadvantaged child, but that expectation gives me the creeps. I want to be a child's mommy, not their benefactor.

If I'm going to be serious about this, my wife and I need to start talking to the county, but my fear of rejection has me holding back. I need to be braver.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ashes to ACHoo

I've slacked on writing because I caught a cold at my uncle's cremation. We always attend family cremations, because back in 1992 the Neptune Society in San Diego was playing fast and loose with the laws surrounding proper handling of the dead - a fact we did not know until some years later when we were invited to partake in a class action suit. According to the rules, every person should be kept separate, each to their own coffin or casket, one person per retort. To save money and space, they were piling bodies in the freezer like cord wood, and cremating multiple bodies together, then sorting the ashes into the appropriately sized containers. My mother and her sisters still get red-faced and ranty when the subject comes up. I hope whoever's ashes we scattered enjoys the sea.

So anyway, me, my uncle's second wife, her raging cold, and his eldest daughter all went to make sure that everything was on the level, which, mostly, it was. We were supposed to be able to view the body, but were not allowed to, only matching paperwork. The casket was supposed to be fiberboard, but was cardboard. We were supposed to be allowed to include a small wooden box containing his dog's ashes, but were not. Now that I've crawled out from under the 8 comforters that were keeping the fever chills at bay I have to go talk to the funeral director, to have a bit of a "what the fuck" conference, since we paid out the nose for services we didn't get.



Dying is complicated. No, actually, dying is probably fairly simple, one minute the lights are on and the next they're not. Surviving on the other hand...messy.

There is the literal mess that is the apartment of a chronically ill man, his dog, and his primary caregiver who -  through saintly in his ability to deal with the moods of a sick old drug addict, is the kind of guy who doesn't really see dirt. As far as he is concerned, if it's been spritzed with bleach, it's clean. I'm a little more literal about cleanliness, in that I see it as the absence of dirt, grime, toothpaste spatter, cigarette ash, and OH DEAR GOD how long have these leftovers been sitting? Six bottles of cleaner and 40 giant bags of garbage later and the apartment is ready for the next tenant.

Then there are arrangements. No funerary arrangements were pre-paid, and everyone in the family just recently had some giant expense to wipe out our cushions (mine was a $700 vet bill). Thank goodness the crematorium had a coupon, "Only $995 for a limited time!" Though after cremation casket, and basic urn, death certificates, autopsy, toxicology, and witnessing we were looking at closer to $2200. Luckily our family doesn't really go in for funerals, or that would have been another $10,000. We're more the potluck type - sort of like sitting shiva lite. Our one nod to a service was the recitation of the Kaddish. It spite of my terror of being the center of attention, and the fact that I Do Not Sing, I was the only person who knew it, so I ended up being our Cantor. I managed not to pee my pants, or faint, so I consider that a win.

And there's his financials, too. which creditor needs to be payed first? What if we can't pay? Do we have an obligation to sell his van at highest possible market value, or can we prioritize selling it fast? Even in death, being destitute is a pain in the ass.

It's motivating though. I have started writing out a will, I'm looking at options to ensure that my own end of life costs are covered. My wife and I are talking about having a friends and family workshop/BBQ where we all make sure everyone has written down everything we need to know in the event of their death, from estate execution to online passwords. This is one of those things where you can only ever learn from other people's mistakes.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kaddish

My uncle, Big S, died on Saturday. It wasn't exactly a surprise. He's basically been living on borrowed time since he  discovered heroin in 1967. It's hard to explain to anyone who has not loved a heroin addict, what it is like to share a life with a junkie. I could tell you about the neurological changes, the tempers, the mood swings, the hateful lashings out which are such an integral part of the disease of heroin addiction, that you stop being able to tell when it's the drugs talking and when it's the person being ridden. I could tell you about that, but I'd rather tell you about how in spite of all that, my uncle was loved.

Everyone knew the Family, in the county where I grew up, Big S made sure of that. He bought a coffee house in 1985 and made it The Place to Hang Out for all the artists, weirdos, and misfits. He trained as a therapist, and worked in half-way houses for troubled kids. He translated his feelings of isolation and damage into security for others, even when he didn't like them, preferring instead the company of dogs and horses.

During periods when he was sober, he was kind. Even when he was using he aspired to fairness, never cutting down anyone he didn't think was up for the battle of wits. He once got down on his knees to fight a man in a wheelchair who was bugging female customers.

Family was first above all. His home was home to a never-ending stream of nephews (blood and honorary), down on their luck. He craved to hold us all together, and close.

If he hadn't been an addict, he could have been anything. He could have stayed a businessman, reformed mental health treatment access, been a diplomat, been president. But he was, and always would be. In spite of it, he was never alone, people bent over backwards to please him, in hopes of thanks and praise. He was the anti-patriarch, and he was loved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Anti-Socialite

I was a hippie child. We lived in the woods, with frequent appearances by my parents pseudo-spiritual, cultural co-opting friends. We had a sweat lodge, and a tipi, and did a lot of cooking in a fire pit. My mom worked cleaning rich people's houses, and my dad was a "farmer." We spent an uncommon amount of time following rock bands, and making friends with people who would let us hang-out backstage. To this day, my mother believes that a psychic surgeon at a healing retreat at a friend's house actually performed surgery on my father.

But I also went to private school, where I learned chemistry, ancient pottery techniques, and French. My dad liked computers, and my mom liked stained glass. They enrolled me in riding lessons, where I learned about teaching horses to dance. My playmates were the children of international rock stars.

I felt like I lived two lives. There was the poor girl who wore tie dye, and no shoes, and the rich girl who wore itchy designer dresses to school. The one who peeled the bark from willow branches for the frame of the new sweat lodge, and the one who showed horses. The girl who taught herself to leach acorn mash in the creek, and the girl who was taught to sing in four languages.

I didn't reconcile those two worlds very well, and I felt myself often doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. The hippies didn't want to talk about Egyptian embalming techniques, and the private school kids didn't want to talk about techniques for clearing invasive brush. Neither group was particularly comfortable with my involvement in the other, and to move back and forth meant keeping secrets - secrets about what my dad did for work, and that the teachers at school used corporal punishment.

When I was very young, this felt lonely. While there were quite a few kids that I played with, I didn't have any close friends. When I passed the age of friendship-of-proximity, when your parents' friends' kids are your friends because it's expected you will all get along, I didn't have any close friends at all. I would have been a socially awkward nerd forever, had I not taken up one of the nerdier hobbies available: acting at the Renaissance Faire. It was my first experience of acceptance. Attempting social interaction was safe, because I was surrounded by people who were also always looking for the right thing to say.

I did a lot of growing up at the Faire. I made my first real friends, people I could cry in front of when my dad almost died, who knew about my family, the drugs, and the sometimes violence, but didn't hold them against me. They helped me find the strength to effectively move out at 15, a step which probably saved me from full-blown PTSD. They gave me places to stay, and wash, so I could visit my parents as little as possible, while still making it to school and work.

I had my first crushes at the Faire, both towards a woman (over whom I had the devastating epiphany that I was a lesbian at 13) and a man (over whom I realized there really was such a thing as bisexuality at 14 ). At 16, the man was the first person I "dated" though it wouldn't occur to me for another 5 years that dating is what we were doing. He taught me to share of myself, to drive a stick, and was the first man I voluntarily allowed to see, and touch me naked. I wrote bad poetry about him, which I never showed anyone, and he wrote me stories about artisans in love, and homicidal house-cleaners. In many ways he taught me to trust, but not so well that I ever told him I loved him. I didn't treat him as well as I should have, out of pure ignorance that someone like him could want to be the boyfriend of someone like me. Eventually, he drifted away.

He was my first step though, in finding friends who were also lovers, so that after a time, I did find it in me to lay myself bare enough to tell another person that I loved them, and to believe it when I heard it in return. I can be the person who mills her own acorn flour, and the person who negotiates contracts, who weaves baskets, and gets manicures. I'm in a place where it's admirable to be odd. This is happiness.