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The victory lap

It's my last day as a 30-year-old. This is an age I used to talk about like it was the Promised Land.

At 12, I started telling people that if I could just make it to 30, I'd be okay. Things just seemed different for people, especially women, once they hit 30. The women around me seemed to settle into themselves like no one else did. Well, I didn't think of people as growing yet, so I didn't think about them maturing and becoming different than they seemed right then.

Teenagers had a modicum of cool, but mostly they were assholes. Folks in their early 20s either seemed completely disinterested in my awkward self, or the treated me like a pupil the could mold. You know, because they'd stumbled on so much wisdom and were busy going about their lives in this beatific eyes-high way and, like the popular notions of Jesus, would bestow it upon me from time to time.

They had potential, but they didn't listen to me very often.

And then there were the 30-year-olds. These were people young enough to be relatable and seemed to have crossed some threshold of serenity and self assurance that I desperately wanted for myself.

As I got older, I learned about developmental milestones. When we are teeny, we go through tremendous growth in relatively short periods of time. Our first year of life is when we double in mass. It is our largest, most concerted period of growth in our lives. The first six years is devoted to becoming human beings.

Our core, fundamental character solidifies by age 8. Who we are, the broadest strokes of our character and worldview, cures like concrete, and begins to become more nuanced. But other wise, our development slows and plateaus at times. We settle in.

At some point after age 9, puberty begins. Lots of folks hope that this means the beginning of the social and emotional aspects of our sexual development as much as it does our physical development.

The teen years suck. Between hormones and more growth spurts, a whole new dimension of the human condition dawning in our consciousness. The ever increasing challenges and responsibilities make this one of the most stressful periods of our lives. This is when folks largely tend to leave the concrete thinking stage, where dichotomies rule, and begin to see the spectrum of experience from other perspectives. We consciously differentiate from each other and begin to form our unique identities for ourselves.

Sometime between 23 and 26, the human brain changes it's focus from development to maturation, and like the period immediately after puberty, it takes a few years after the growth spurts stop to get equilibrium back.

And then... you're 30.

There is no ambiguity left about whether or not you're an adult. I have never experienced a culture or society that doesn't consider a 30-year-old an adult.

Women especially seem to finally accept who they are, what they are, and what that means for them; whatever that might be. The most dramatic example I can think of is how they behave around the object(s) of their affection, and their sexuality.

At least, that's what it looked like to me, when I was 12.

I didn't think I'd make it to my 16th birthday. I didn't think I'd be allowed to live that long.

Because I was young and this period was so traumatic for me, my timeline sometimes gets confused. I'm going to put all this under a cut because it's all one big trigger warning.

[lots of ugly details about the abuse]My parents divorced when I was 7 or 8, and mom moved away. It was the summer between second and third grade. She was my sole protector. She took care of me. I didn't even know how to brush my own hair, because she did that. Ever read The Secret Garden? I very much identified with the narrator.

She left me with Dad, the guy who would seethe with anger and resentment at the slightest provocation. He was hurt and confused and frustrated by my mother's decision to leave him for a man he viewed as his lesser. After all, knew what the rules were and he followed them. He worked hard and led a moral life. His biggest gripe seemed to be that no one would just listen to him and let him guide them. Not even his own wife.

I didn't have a choice. I was a child. His child. And I was female.

It didn't take me long to learn to avoid him whenever I could. I'd scavenge cans of corn from the pantry and scraps from the refrigerator rather than tell him I was hungry, because I couldn't predict what would trigger his anger and violence. When I did run afoul of him, he'd frequently administer what he jokingly called "beatings," or more seriously called "spankings" whenever anyone voiced concern. He never left a mark. I don't know how he managed that.

One time I'd been asked to take the trash down to the dumpster and the dumpster lid was closed. This would mean I'd have to brave the spiders that lived in and around the dumpster. In my desperation to avoid them, I put the garbage beside the dumpster, hoping the garbage service would pick them up with the rest. That didn't happen. Dad came home to find the garbage scattered across the parking lot by animals, and he was pissed. He came upstairs and interrogated me about it. He was not pleased to hear why I hadn't put the bags in the dumpster.

Remember those "beatings" I mentioned. I got one. He wailed on me so much and so hard that I pissed myself. Then my left leg started shaking and eventually went numb. He was yelling at me between swings, but I don't remember what he said. When he was done hitting me, he tossed me through the front door. I think he was aiming for the landing in front of the door, but he'd thrown me by my arm so hard, and my legs were so shaky and numb that they wouldn't stay under me. I was nearly thrown down the stairs.

I caught the railing and hung on for dear life while he screamed at my back to clean up the mess I'd made of the garbage. After he'd slammed the door shut, I carefully inched down the stairs, stopping at each landing to rest and catch my breath from sobbing so hard.

I don't remember the next part very well, but I know it was nighttime. Somehow I got the dumpster lid open, or it was left open my another tenant. I gathered the garbage up as best I could in the dark and put it in the dumpster. I seriously considered finding somewhere outside to sleep. Not just because I didn't want to go back into the apartment, but because my butt and legs hurt so bad and my feet were still so numb that I was afraid to try to climb the four flights of stairs.

For all the years I lived with him, I tried to take up as little space and be as invisible as possible, even to the point where our identities began to blur. He was angry with mom, and that generalized to all women. Right. Got it. Be male. Do whatever it takes to stay in his good graces when he spotted me and stay out of they way any other time. Need nothing. Want nothing. Always keep your eye on the tiger in the room.

What followed was life in an emotional war zone. My grades dropped so low that I was discharged from the advanced learner program at school. There was no extra energy for things like homework, when I had to pay such close attention to him all the time. Mom would call and I would lie. He was always nearby, and I didn't dare let on to how scared or hungry I was, or that my clothes didn't fit anymore or that I hadn't brushed my hair in months. I didn't dare reach out for help. No one would get to me in time. He'd have me first, and I would pay.

One day during that same summer she moved to Colorado with Fernando, Dad found my brushes and combs on the kitchen table. He was so angry. While he was yelling at me for leaving them out, he opened the kitchen window and one by one, threw them out the several story window. I think we lived on the fourth floor. Afterward, he told me to go find them and to not come back without them.

Behind our apartment building was a multistory high wooden wall that I think demarcated a piece of land to be developed into a housing community. There were a few yards of deciduous woods on our side of the wall, and then a few miles of thick Connecticut woods on the other side. In his rage, he'd thrown them over the wall.

I searched for hours, but there was no way I could have found those combs and brushes. Even though I was terrified of spiders, I was more afraid of my father. I stayed out in those woods until it good too dark to see my way back. Eventually I did, and I was cold and hungry and tired enough to creep back up the stairs, all the way to the top. I don't know how long I stood by the door, but it took me awhile to summon up the courage to open it. It felt like it took forever to walk past the computer, the bathroom, and finally the kitchen. When I finally saw dad, he was watching TV. He behaved like I had been out playing that whole time. He'd forgotten all about the brushes.

Months later, my hair was so matted to my head that I started using his handkerchiefs to hide it. Kids at school would rip them off, and my teacher made the mistake of ordering me to take it off while in school. She didn't do that again.

Letters were sent home about my appearance, because not only was my hair matted, I'd frequently wet myself in class, didn't often bathe and my clothes were getting so small that I looked like I was wearing hot pants and babydoll shirts to school.

Something must have happened. Either one of the letters finally got through or a teacher called or something, because one evening on a rare occasion when I was in the shower, he came into the bathroom, opened the shower curtain and with a pair of his upholstery shears, started cutting my hair off. It startled me, and I screamed. He cuffed me and I shut up.

My hair had never been cut before. It had been down to my butt when mom was still around, and a source of pride for both of them. By the time he was finished, by hair was chin length. I didn't know that for two weeks, because for two weeks, I didn't look in the mirror. By chance one day I glanced into the mirror on the way out of the bathroom, otherwise I would have continued to avoid my reflection and the violation it represented indefinitely.

Christmas wasn't long after that, and he'd decided we'd attend midnight mass at the Methodist church we used to occasionally go to when they were still married. Dad regularly made the commute from our apartment in Connecticut to his hometown in Pennsylvania, and he took me with him. It was an 8 hour drive, each way.

I attended midnight mass in sneakers and the only dress I had that I could still fit into. An Easter dress that was so short on me that I had to hold the hem down over my butt. Dad was worried that my hair was unevenly cut. He joked that I should hold my head cocked to the side. That way, no one would notice.

After mass, people approached my Dad and asked him how things were going since the divorce. They asked him how I was doing, and if he needed any help. He thought they were just making small talk and catching up with him. When folks he'd known at least all my life commented about my appearance, he seemed confused about their concern. He assured everyone that we were alright, and we left soon afterward. I never heard anything else about it until I was in my 20s.

Sometime before my hair was cut, I'd gone out to live with mom and Fernando. I know this because the family portraits taken with me in them show me with long hair. Life was certainly better in mom's house, but it wasn't perfect. Fernando was kind, and he never once struck me. Mom only ever spanked me once in my life, and buddy to I remember that. It wasn't even that bad, but it shocked into immediate obedience. I even got enrolled in school and finished out my 3rd grade year in Colorado. I think it only lasted a few months, because 4th grade was spent back in Connecticut with dad.

On one of Fernando's visits with his family in Mexico, driving back from a cock fight with his brothers, their car rear-ended a tractor trailer. Ever see those metal beams required by law to be under the end of 18-wheelers? That's to prevent cars from sliding under them in rear-end collisions. This was in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Mexico didn't have such careful regulations. Fernando and one of his brother's were killed instantly. They were decapitated. Pepe, the brother that survived the crash, had Fernando's head in his lap when the police arrived on the scene.

Mom was devastated. I was sent back to live with my father.

That lasted until the June between my 4th and 5th grade school years. By the end of 4th grade, I'd sprouted B cup breasts, underarm and pubic hair, and my clothes were so ill fitting that someone in the faculty at school took pity on me and had me pick out clothes and shoes from a donation collection the school maintained, for some reason.

We couldn't pretend that I wasn't what mom was anymore. My female sex characteristics couldn't be forgotten or ignored anymore in favor of the masculine behavior I'd adopted to put myself better graces with Dad and his friends. He was uncomfortable and exhausted. On Father's Day, he flew me back to visit my mom for the summer.

Things got better for awhile, then they got worse. Then better again, briefly.

So yeah, I didn't think I'd make it to 16, much less 30.

A few months before my 16th birthday, I started to panic. Being a teenager was something that happened to other people. It was something that other people got to do, to experience. At the time, I thought it meant that my death was imminent. I very quietly said my goodbyes, and braced.

My birthday came and went, with me like a soldier waiting for the mortars to start falling. Mom had to force me to get my driver's license when I was 17. I didn't think I'd need it. I spent my 21st birthday hiding behind a computer screen playing Dragon Realms, watching the clock wind down like I was waiting for the cops to show up and haul me away. I think I spent for or five more birthday alike that, until my birthday coincided I had a busy work day and passed without much acknowledgement from me. The gun didn't go off. I kept having more birthdays.

at 27 or 28, I finally accepted that I might actually make it to adulthood. I might actually make it to 30. By the time I finally did last year, I'd decided that I wouldn't wait around for something or someone to happen to me. I was worth defending, and I would never be that small again.

Last May I married The Man. We are actively trying to conceive our first child. I expect tomorrow, because tomorrow keeps happening.

I crossed the finish line. This is my victory lap.


Jun. 30th, 2011

One of the many things I like about living in the Sonoran Desert is that no one complains about the rain. The rain finally arrived last night, and the flickering of sky lightening woke me. I jumped up and opened my window for it. This morning, I read about the rain in the paper. It'd made headlines.

Contagious stress, Cortisol and saliva

As I was watching a PBS documentary about emotions, it occurred to me that there may be a connection between contagious stress, the hormone cortisol and kissing.

One of the ways researchers and doctors monitor the levels of this stress hormone is through saliva samples. This body fluid is collected by soaking cotton balls in one's mouth. That means that this chemical is just that freakin' soluble and that our tissues are just that permeable to it.

Cortisol has been linked to a wide range of physiological responses to stress, such as increased heart rate, hyper focus, etc. Basically, it's majorly responsible for the classic fight or flight response.

Our tissues soak it up and allow it to pass very freely throughout our bodies. It's immediately present in something as relatively innocuous as saliva... and we kiss each other.

We kiss our intimate partners. We do more than just kiss. We could potentially be bathing each other in this hormone if it's present enough to detect. And it creates a positive feedback loop.

Chronic stress could be chemically contagious. Why have I not read more about this? Is anyone else aware of this connection? Is anyone aware of any research or published data on this?

Please please please someone tell me this has been investigated.

Visiting State College, PA!

Sup Homies? I'm planning a trip back to central PA to help alleviate this crushing homesickness. When is everyone available within the next three months?
This is... really hard. I know I need to start posting. I just don't know what to post. What does anyone want to know? Maybe I can start there.

Jet set again, perhaps?

So, The Woman has moved to Arizona to pursue a post-doc.  She and I have been in contact everyday, except for the day I lost my cellphone in the Pit which is my new room at Mike's.  Had to go to work.  Couldn't be helped.

Things are going well between her and I, but it hasn't even been a week.  I'm still waiting.

She has a new boyfriend now.  He and I have been friends for years, and she met him about two or three weeks ago.  Things have been very up and down with those two, emotionally.  Ah, I suppose that is the nature of non-monogamy. 

School starts on the 24th, and I am dreading the return.  Last semester was a disaster.  I got behind on my work and my anxiety got the better of me.  I didn't turn a thing in unless it was perfect, which means I turned almost nothing in.  I still can't bring myself to look at my university email account.  I can't bear the emails from my former instructors.  I just can't face the grades.

The Woman is talking about me moving out there with her if I don't like nursing school at Penn State.  I wonder what my student loan situation will be like if I drop out here in PA and try to re-enroll in Arizona.  She says that I can call the folks that hold my loans and negotiate with them.  Anyone know anything about that?

For that matter, can ya'll teach me a thing or two about cheap airfare?

Is this still my journal?

I haven't posted in weeks because I'm afraid to.  I have several LJ friends that I love and respect... and I'm just too worried that I'll alienate them if I post about what I want to post about, using the language that I'm most comfortable with.  What am I to do?  Anyone have any suggestions?
The last time I considered myself a writer, I was a child.  That's also back when I considered myself an artist.  My adult life has been spent going from one survival strategy to another.  The object was to stay alive, that's it.  I just didn't have room for anything else.  For someone like haikujaguar , the very idea must seem soul-starving.  I didn't ave time to consider that, and now the bill for surviving has come due.

Instead of feeling emotionally bankrupt, I've been experiencing a...  Well, instead of finding those places in me dried up and atrophied by disuse, I've uncovered an overflowing wellspring of creativity.  Maybe it's like electricity that's finally found a conduit.

This is a writing intensive semester.  With Public Speaking, English and Sociology classes all expecting writing assignments on a regular basis, much is being asked of me.  I didn't think I could write a sentence, much less three research papers and several writing exercises due, I've found my outlet.

Here is the first draft of a descriptive essay that's due tonight in English class.  We were asked to describe something we were familiar with, make the opening sentence a very simple thesis statement, and use descriptive language to back up that statement.

"The room was intimate and inviting.  A white ceiling and bright, breezy windows gave the suggestion of air, opening up an otherwise limited space.  The remainder of the room tucked itself around those windows like smartly dressed bedding around a mattress, an effect of that ceiling and beige carpeting meeting a pale baseboard and lavender walls.  With the lights turned off and only the cool glow of a ripening evening to illuminate the interior, the effect darkened the walls and softly smudged the shadows into the corners.  Lush upholsery on the overstuffed seating coupled with the open, unshuttered closet and an abundance of soft blankets converted the noise of traffic outside into a gentle sussurus.  Further hushing any intrusive harshness, there was a big welcoming bed on the floor, inviting guests to relax and recline.  Even the most animated conversation had it's edges swallowed by the close, cozy profusion of pillows and plushness his place offered to all invited guests."

I feel like I've deviated somewhat from the statement, but I love what happened anyway!  Thoughts?

Tangle, Cadence, Isa

Sometimes a story burns in your chest, under your hands.  Is it yours to tell, or maybe to live?  Who the hell is this woman that's arrived in my life?