Friday, October 11, 2013

On Not Just Walking It Off: A Romance Story

***trigger warning: depression, eating disorders, sexual abuse, abuse***

Mom always encouraged me to write romance stories.  I fucking hate romance stories.  I hate formulaic writing.  I hate lies about intimacy and connection.  I hate gender stereotypes and two-dimensional characters.

I tried to read the romance novels my mom would hand me.  I could never get past a couple of pages.  Ugh.  Such horrible writing.  This romance crap is not for me.  The closest thing I ever came to reading through an entire romance story is acting as the Nurse in the play "Romeo and Juliet" in sixth grade.  I can't even say I read the entire story.  I just skimmed through the script enough to figure out when it was my turn to talk and what I was supposed to say.

My sixth-grade teacher who was producing the play loved my performance.  She wrote, "To my little thespian" on my report card, which I read on the last day of school.  I was supposed to ride the bus home, but it was the last day of sixth grade at a school I would never attend again, so what was the worst they could do if they caught me walking home?

I opened the envelope that had my report card in it.  I scanned the grades.  All Es and Ss.  Our school went by ESMIF, not ABCDF.  E for excellent.  S for satisfactory.  I didn't really care.  I always got decent grades in elementary school.  It wasn't until I hit high school and started skipping too much school that my grades began to drop.  I say skipping like I was out having fun with my bad-influence friends, and sometimes it was like that, although most people's parents treated me like I were the badder influence, not their kids, but mostly it was just me not being able to pull myself out of bed in the morning after a full night filled with commiserating with Morrissey on the turntable, writing bad poetry in my journal, and lying in bed in the fetal position or sitting inside my closet either sobbing or staring off into space after the endorphins kicked in after a good cry.

When I got my GED--after being informed I was ineligible to graduate high school during my last semester, even though I was on the honor roll and had a 3.4 GPA, because I had missed the official limit of days required to graduate by one day--I never had to take any practice tests.  I just showed up on the day, paid my twenty-five bucks, and took the test.  I finished before anyone else and I got a perfect score in one of the sections.  I can't remember now and I'm too lazy to go look it up.  I think it was in English.  I know for sure it wasn't math.  I barely squeaked by in math, but considering I hadn't taken a math class since tenth grade because I didn't give a shit that my counselor warned me I wouldn't get into any decent colleges without taking algebra, I did OK on the test.  Maybe it wasn't English after all.  I evidently don't know how to use a period.

Anyway, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, in sixth grade I was walking home on the last day of school.  I opened up the envelope that had my report card in it.  I scanned the grades.  Then I flipped to the back to see what my teacher had written under "comments".  I wanted to see what she had to say about me.  It had been a hard year for me, I thought.  I had only recently recovered from being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa the year before, in fifth grade.  Starving yourself makes your brain cloudy, so my school work wasn't as easy for me to fly through anymore.  But mostly, I felt isolated from everyone.  I felt like no one understood me.  Just as I had begun developing breasts at age eight and menstruating at age ten, at age twelve I began my teen angst phase early.

My sixth grade teacher said something about how much she enjoyed being my teacher and how great it was to see me improve over the year, and she ended her nice comment with something that made me gasp with worry:

To my little thespian.

Oh my God.  Why would my teacher write that?  And why does she think that I am one?  I mean, yeah, I kissed that girl I met at storytime when we were four years old, but that was just little kid type experimentation, wasn't it?  Surely she didn't think I like girls that way.  How was I going to be able to show this to my mom?  She'll cry.  She'll be so ashamed...

Of course when my mom finally got around to asking me about my report card and I drummed up the courage to show her, she laughed when she explained to me that a thespian is an actor, not a gay girl.

The funny thing is.  I'm no longer an actor, but I really am a gay girl.  Well, a gay woman.  Well, a bisexual woman.  A lesbian.  Sappho, who the term lesbian comes from, was married to a man and she wrote love poems to her female lovers, so if she is a lesbian then I am one too.  Only I don't take female lovers anymore.  In my young adulthood I had three long-term relationships with women, well, four if you count three months as long-term.  But something queer happened when I was thirty-one, just a few weeks after I had broken up with my latest in a series of monogamous lesbian relationships: I fell in love with a man.

Will and I worked together at the public library.  He was a twenty-one year old part-time page in the Reference department.  I was a thirty-one year old full-time clerk in the Interlibrary Loan department.  One of Will's tasks was to come into my department once a week, every Friday, and bag our mail.  Sometimes I'd get done with my work early so I'd go over and help him bag mail.  We'd get to talking about the things we were bagging.  "Have you read this book?"  "Have you seen this movie?"  That sort of thing.  He picked up the DVD "The End of the Affair" and said, in a derisive tone, "The End of the Affair?  I wonder what this is all about?"

"Oh my gosh, that's a great movie!" I exclaimed, sliding a bag under the electric stapler and tossing it into a mail tub.

"A great movie?" Will cocked his eye-brow at me.  "A movie about an affair is a great movie?  You mean, like a cheating-on-a-spouse kind of affair?" He asked, incredulous.

"Well, yeah," I said.  I didn't know what else to say.  I'm terrible at defending my appreciation of art.  I just like what I like and I don't often know why I like it.  All I know is I'm drawn to complexity, intensity, and ambiguity.  I don't go searching for religious awakening or moral guidance when I read a book or watch a movie.

But I didn't say any of this to Will at that time.  Now that we've been married nearly nine years, he knows all this stuff about me.  But back then, when we were bagging mail together, just co-workers who barely knew each other, he had no idea.

"How could you like a movie about cheating?" he asked me.

"Well, it's more than that.  It's about how love is complex.  You'd have to see it for yourself to understand.  It's weird, because I HATE romance movies, but this is more than that.  It's romantic.  But it's philosophical too."

I must have sounded condescending because he gave me a look and I felt bad.  I don't like to sound like a know-it-all, but I often do just because I'm such a poor verbal communicator.  I tend to talk at people rather than with them.

"Speaking of seeing movies," Will segued smoothly, "have you seen The Fellowship of the Ring yet?"

"You mean that Lord of the Rings movie you were telling me about?  At the staff chili cook-off?" I asked.

"Yeah.  Have you seen it yet?" He pressed.

"No, not yet..." I began debating inside my head whether or not I should break it to him that I also HATE fantasy movies...really, any movie that requires any amount of suspension of disbelief.  That part of my brain appears to be broken.  Maybe it's associated with verbal skills.  I like my stories as realistic as possible.

As I was off in my own little world contemplating my next move, something Will said suddenly interrupted my internal monologue.  "What?" I asked.  I knew what he said, but I needed a minute to think.

"Do you wanna go see it with me?  This Saturday?  It's still playing."  He stood there, his shoulders straight, smiling so wide, his blue eyes shining with confidence I'd rarely seen in a mere mortal before.

"Uuuuuuhhhhhh," I said.  "Sure."  I was so taken off guard, I didn't know what else to say.  I mean, he seems nice and all.  Really nice.  And loyal.  Wow, that whole conversation about affairs thing.  That's pretty impressive that a young kid like this guy would be so offended by a movie about a marital affair.

So there I was, a thirty-one year old lesbian, just out of basically twelve years of thinking of myself as someone who would most likely some day end up in a long-term partnership with another woman, standing there accepting the offer to see a movie with a guy, a young guy, ten years younger than me, a guy so young when we got a beer before the show he said to me, "It sure is nice to be able to legally buy a beer at a bar now," since he had just turned twenty-one six weeks before.

What am I getting myself into?  I thought at the time.

I'll tell you what.  Saying yes to Will's invitation to see a movie I didn't think I'd like with a guy I thought I had nothing in common with was the best decision I ever made.  Having Will in my life is the best thing that has ever happened to me.  Without Will, I would not have Katie.  Without Will, I would not have my sanity.

I don't say that lightly.  I don't say that as someone who believes in fairy tales and stories about men rescuing damsels in distress.  I don't believe a woman needs to have a man in her life to be sane.  I know lots of women who live happily single or in partnerships with other women, and they do just fine.

But something about Will has just clicked for me.  I did OK for myself before I met him.  I bet even if I never met him my life would be fine.  But he has illuminated my world in such a way that I thank the Universe for the opportunity to know him, to love him, to care for him, and to be cared for by him.

And I sure need it.

A couple of weeks ago I sat in my doctor's office, sobbing, after I explained to her why I stopped taking the meds she prescribed to me when I came to her in another depressive crisis when my brother, the one who, along with his friend, had sexually abused me when I was a very young girl, was dying of alcoholic liver failure, how I had been trying so hard to follow the advice of Dr. Andrew Weil in his book Spontaneous Happiness by tackling this depression of mine naturally, by taking fish oil pills, by getting enough sunshine and working fewer hours and writing more and eating healthier foods and walking.  Every day.  As often as I could.  Taking walking breaks instead of coffee breaks at work to stave off the mental illness fog I felt approaching.  My doctor said the kindest words to me when I said all of this to her.  She said,

This isn't the kind of thing you can just "walk off", Becky.

I pictured myself as a child who had just fallen off her bike and skinned her knee, my dad in the background screaming, "Get up and walk it off!"

My doctor, like my husband, is younger than me.  I'd guess she's around Will's age.  But the way she was talking to me in her office a couple of weeks ago it was as if she were my parent.  I don't normally respond well to authority.  I've had too many people in my life who were in positions of authority abuse me, so I distrust those in authority in general.  It's hard to crack my rebellious shell, but my doctor did in her office that day when she explained it to me so simply even I could understand:

I'm sorry you went through what you did as a young child, but you did and we can't change that.  Your early childhood trauma changed your young developing brain.  Your brain doesn't make the same connections other people's brains that haven't been through what you've been through can make on their own.  This medicine helps your brain make those connections."

Or, as Will put it, "Dr. Andrew Weil is a great doctor, but he's not your doctor and he doesn't know you.  If he knew what your young developing brain went through he'd say, 'Fuck you, Becky!  You don't have mild to moderate depression.  You have chronic, major depression, so take your fucking medicine!!!'"

Don't worry.  Will was smiling when he said all that.  He wasn't really yelling at me like my dad did when I was growing up.  In fact, Will has been the best caretaker I could have asked for these last couple of weeks.  These last eleven years.

While I was stuck in bed these last couple of weeks, waiting for the sertraline to kick back in, periodically sobbing and staring off into space when the endorphins kicked in, Will took care of everything.  Literally everything.  He went to work.  He took care of all the housework.  He took care of all of Katie's needs.  He took care of our two dogs and our cat.  And he took care of me.

Anything you need, Babe, just ask.  

The other day we laid in bed, kissing.  I like to whisper things mouth-to-mouth with Will when we're this close.  I whisper-kissed this to him,

Thank you for taking care of me.

He whisper-kissed back,

Thank you for giving me someone to take care of.

I finally got him back yesterday.  I've been back on sertraline for over two weeks now.  I don't feel 100% yet, but I'm out of bed and getting back to work.  I was in the kitchen making Will's lunch for him to take to work.  He was in the bathroom, shaving.  I packed everything up, neatly, the way he likes it.

If I were packing my own lunch (something I rarely remember to do, which is why I keep nuts at my desk in case I show up to work, absent-mindedly starving) I'd just grab a bunch of random stuff out of the fridge and throw it into my bag and head out the door.  I might end up with a cup of yogurt, a jar of left-over green beans, and a half-rotten but cold pear.  But when I pack Will's lunch, I try to make it the way he likes it: neat and traditional: sandwich, pickle, chips, fruit, treat.  Half the time we're out of chips and treats, so he's stuck with an all-healthy lunch, not because I'm a naggy wife trying to make him eat better but because I'm a wife who lives with depression and some days it's hard for me to get to the store.  He never complains.

So yesterday as he was in the bathroom shaving and I was in the kitchen packing up his lunch, I grabbed a square sheet of paper I'd cut up from some of Katie's discarded drawings to use as scratch paper.  I wrote a little note for him and taped it to the inside of his lunch box.  I smiled as I imagined Will opening his lunch, the one I finally felt well enough to pack for him, and smiling as he read my note:


I love you so very much.  I don't know what I would have done without you these past two weeks, and longer.  Thank you for taking care of me, Katie, Earl, Sawyer, and Thatcher.  



I love making a lunch for you to take to work so you feel cared for too.

I guess my mom was right to encourage me to write romance stories.  I just had to find the right one.