I was going to apologize for the loss of momentum and delay in getting this next post out, but I promised you I would be unapologetic and I meant it. I got stuck in a place that I was trying to leap over. I thought I was going to go right into sexuality after the last entry. It seemed appropriate since dancing has brought out my sexual nature and being sober has allowed me to feel it. However, when I started in on it, it wasn’t something I could just go right into. I had to think about who I am sexually; my first experiences, my first exposures, my first lusts and feelings and curiosities. Apparently this wasn’t going to be some juicy revelation about feeling frisky again, and I wasn’t going to just debate the primitive value vs. the emotional value of sex, and I certainly wasn’t going to contemplate out loud how sex doesn’t have the same value or meaning across the world, or in every generation, or sometimes in your own home. This just wasn’t going to go down like that no matter how much I tried.
So, I found myself going back in time. I have been feeling travel-worn from roaming around in my memories the same way I would roam around the neighborhoods I lived in, singing to myself, and looking for friends and daydreaming about being someone else. And when I started to write I saw myself as a little girl that I wanted to help. I wanted to reach into my brain and pull myself out and hold my child self. It’s strange when you learn something about your past as an adult even though you remember it the same. There were things that happened as a kid that, at the time, I didn’t really understand. I just remember those times as incidences, as moments that caused a change and maybe tears were shed, or words were yelled, or there were sacred moments of laughter. But, it’s not until I’ve gotten older and have had my own experiences, have made my own mistakes, have become a parent myself, that life events even from childhood have taken on so much more meaning.
For the past couple weeks after beginning this blog, I’ve struggled with insecurity, complete and utter sadness, loneliness and self-loathing. Simultaneously, I’ve been disgusted with myself for all of this, hoping my kids don’t catch me staring off with tears and snot running down my face as I stand over the kitchen sink with dirty dishes in my hands and hot running water wasting down the drain. I’ve tapped into this place in me that feels pathetic and the last thing I want is to feel sorry for myself. Still, I remember when I almost couldn’t feel any of this, and that’s a worse feeling.
I didn’t learn about sex from my parents. I don’t remember my parents talking or teaching me and my brother about anything that was personal. They told us to be clean, treat people the way we want to be treated, stick up for ourselves, be a good sport, and to eat all of our food. That’s what I remember about what they taught us. Surely there were more lessons and most likely I have a selective memory, but I also couldn’t tell you what those other lessons were. When it came to sex and puberty, my brother and I learned from the the kids in our neighborhoods, and from our own experiences. We almost never told my parents about it and they never asked.
My first secret was a sexual one, which is probably why it stands out so much. I’m a pretty open person, the type to tell on myself for doing something wrong, but this particular secret I didn’t tell my mother until I was about 20 years old.
I have a clear memory of almost being molested when I was about 4 years old. We were living in Navy Housing in San Diego. My brother was in Kindergarten, my father was either gone on another West/Pac Navy tour or just working, and my mother was home. I was wearing a hand-me-down PacMan raincoat, I distinctly remember the plastic smell and the squeaking sound the jacket made as I wandered around Navy Housing talking to myself and lost in my imagination. There was a boy in the neighborhood who was known for having every single Star Wars doll that was ever made. Looking back, I don’t know what he was doing home, but he was home alone when I knocked on his door to see if I could play with some of his toys. I was startled when he returned to the door with no pants on and holding a case that concealed most of his Star Wars figurines. Even at that age I felt conflicted because I sensed I shouldn’t be there, still, I really wanted to play with his toys. He sat cross-legged in front of his screen door that was ajar between us. I was kneeled down on the outside, eyeing the case through the screen. I’m guessing he was about 13 from the patch of hair I recall sprouting above his penis. That was what was strange to me, I’d never seen a penis with hair before. He began pulling out a few different Princess Lea dolls, one was wearing all red and another in a white robe. He must have seen my eyes grow wide with excitement because he held up the white one and said, “If you touch this [pointing to his penis] I will give you this Lea.” I hesitated for a moment then reached around the screen door with half my body in and poked his penis and grabbed the doll. I quickly sat back on my heels and anticipated the next deal he was going to make now eyeing the red Princess Lea like a dog would eye a steak on the dinner table. Next, he held up the red Lea and said “Now, this time, if I touch you [pointing down to indicate my private part] then I will give you this Lea.” I sat still for a few solid seconds, I didn’t expect him to say that. I thought for sure he was going to make me poke at his penis again which, so far, had been pretty painless so when he said that, an immediate wave of confusion and shame washed over me. I was so thankful for that screen door. I got up and bolted to the nearest place I could think of. I ran to the baseball field that was just a block away from my duplex. I hid in the dugout and played with my new Lea, not really enjoying her and not really understanding why. There was a hollow pole about 2 feet long sticking up out of the ground where a wooden bench once rested on top of. I was holding my Princess Lea above it, pretending she was walking on the edge and accidentally dropped her in. At first I was so upset I started crying thinking of what I had just done to get her. But, when I realized my mother would ask me where I got it when I got home, I was relieved I dropped her down the tube.
As I was writing this it dawned on me that I didn’t run home. I was 4 years old, why didn’t I go home? As a parent I especially wonder this because I hope that my own daughter, in a time of fear or uncertainty, would feel that her home is a place where she feels safe, protected, and loved.
And so it continues, this epic heartache, this break in my arteries that continues to leak out this ability to feel loved. Since I’ve been sober, I keep coming back to this. I grew up barely ever crying, trying to be so tough and knowing I wouldn’t get very much sympathy if I did cry. Now I cannot seem to stop the tears from coming, and I mostly do it in private. I do believe my child self would tell me to stop all this nonsense.
My mother went through some serious bouts of depression, some times were darker but it was always really there. I don’t have a lot of memories of my dad. He had interest in sports, which seemed to be the only way to connect with him, so unless you were active in any, he didn’t say or inquire much. For a couple years I rode in my dad’s Volkswagon Beetle at around 6am almost every morning to go to ice-skating lessons. This was the most time I’d ever spent with him which is what I liked about ice-skating the most. My dad loved ice-skating and seemed to love watching me. It’s like he finally found something to connect with me on. Ice skating was really expensive and I was well aware of it. I didn’t really love it enough to put my family through any hardships while I pouted my way through more lessons so, like every other sport I attempted, I quit. After that, my dad and I went back to not knowing each other. This was in Washington State where we moved to from San Diego when I was in 4th grade. It felt like the greyest place on earth and I’d never seen so many white people in one place. It was intimidating. I never felt intimidated by anyone until I moved to Washington. In San Diego, I went to school with mostly Mexican and African American kids in National City. My skin was always dark from the sunshine so I blended in and I never thought twice about people’s race or how much money anyone had.
Living in Washington was my first experience with classism. I despised what it did to my brother. He envied all the wealthy kids and their giant houses in new developments and all their fancy cars. He would criticize what we had and point out how awful and ugly everything was in our house. He didn’t like any of the clothes we got, he was never happy with the shoes we could afford. My brother was good at soccer and baseball, playing on select teams, receiving awards, and was friends with kids whose parents pretty much owned the leagues. He would show off his rich friend’s stuff to me, insisting I go with him to their houses so he can show me rooms that no one was even allowed to walk into because they might disrupt the carpet tracks vacuumed into them. It made me feel lonelier seeing my brother fall into this. Every day my mom grew less motivated, working odd jobs here and there spending her spare time making things, until all she had the energy to do was play video games while chain-smoking. I can barely remember my dad being home except for when we had home projects that he would work on. I learned my dad spent a lot of time drinking on the military base he worked on. In 6th grade, I also learned what the behaviors of an alcoholic were from D.A.R.E (Drug. Abuse. Resistance. Education.), so I came home to my mom and asked her if my dad was an alcoholic. She asked me where I heard that and I told her I learned about it in school. She looked straight into my eyes and said “Yes, he is.” Since I had always monitored my parents marital happiness and financial problems, I felt I was part responsible in making my dad behave better. I instantly became angry with him and thought he was the reason for all the issues that were going on in our family. Looking back, and having become an alcoholic myself, I don’t think that my dad drank as bad as I made it out to be. None the less, he drank to escape his family and his life, perhaps himself, which is the root of it all for any alcoholic. From 12-14 years old I would wait up late with my mom and interrogate my dad when he’d come home late after drinking, which did seem to be more often, though not daily. He would show up drunk to my brother’s baseball practice, or to my ice-skating lessons that were in the evening. My brother was embarrassed of our house and our stuff, and I was embarrassed of our family. We all stopped talking to each other. I spent most of my time in my room talking to my friend on the phone or at other people’s houses. My mom used to criticize me for how much time I spent at my friend’s house saying, “You always try to go find a better family.” When I was really little I would try to stay at my friend’s house during lunch because their parents actually made them lunch. One girl’s mother, particularly, often made grilled cheese sandwiches which to me was as good as eating at a restaurant when she would. My brother and I would scour our kitchen for whatever was readily available like cold hotdogs out of the package, bologna with the peppercorns punched out, or sometimes we’d even suck on bouillon cubes when there was nothing that didn’t need to be cooked. I was mortified the first time one of my friends told me that their mom said I had to go home for lunch and I can’t keep coming over to eat their food. After that, when I spent a lot of time at someone’s house I would start participating in their chores, feeling like I should contribute since they were feeding me and giving me a place I felt at home in. I did this all the way up until I stopped living with my parents. I still feel like I need to earn my keep wherever I am or else I have no right being there.
When I was 13, my dad had retired from the Navy and was working a couple jobs at a time. We were really broke and our family was at a low. My mom was the worst I’d seen her, barely leaving the house or changing out of her pajamas. It’s hard to believe that she was only a couple years older than I am now when she was like this, which is a huge reason why I am doing this blog. My dad finally got a lead for a job in Japan. He’d been traveling to California, maybe for some kind of training (I can’t recall) and had called to check in on us. My brother and I were both on the phone at the same time telling him how things were going and how aloof and dark my mom had been. He asked to speak to her so my brother gave her the phone and I stayed on in my room (the days of land lines and phones in every room,) covering the mouthpiece so I could listen in.
My dad: “The kids are saying you’re not doing anything, just sitting around playing Dr. Mario and barely leaving the house….”
My mom: “Yeah so. I don’t care… I don’t care about them…I don’t care about any of this… So what?”
After hearing her say this, I became the most scared I ever felt in my life. I had been experiencing “mean girls” for a couple years and only had a couple of real friends. The rest were superficial, not people I would ever invite over let alone allow into my house to meet my family. People at school seemed afraid to like me because it could result in having other people not like them for being my friend. And now my mother didn’t give a shit about me. I really believed that I had some kind of unlikeable quality in me and I couldn’t figure out what it was.
I was in eighth grade the first time I confronted my mom about her depression and how scared I felt about her. I wrote her a long letter telling her that it worried me to see her not care about anything when we needed her. I left the letter for her to find and when I got home she was waiting for me in our kitchen sitting on a barstool. She had been crying but she also seemed a bit happy. I think she felt a sense of purpose, a new sense of urgency or hope. I couldn’t believe it, it worked! She was better and she was going to try to stop being so depressing. I really believed that. I didn’t know depression was a sickness. I thought she had a choice to be better. But a few days later I came home from school and she was kneeled down on the carpet with a Nintendo controller in her hands, and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth just daring to ash on her threadbare, pink sweatpants that she always wore. I said “Hi Mom” in a voice that was sure not to hide my disappointment, to which there was no reply. A couple years before that, my dad had hand-written a “contract” to me promising me he was never going to drink again because it meant so much to me, his “Sweetie.” It was a silly piece of paper that I held onto for years and eventually threw in his face to remind him of how often he lied. My father once read my diary when we first moved back to Japan right before my Freshman year of High School. In it I spoke of boys I made out with, wanting to have sex for the first time, and smoking weed (a couple stems and some shake) once. He told my mom I was some kind of nymphomaniac and druggie. I wasn’t really that mad that he read it, I acted like I was because I was always mad at him then. I was actually happy he wondered about me or had any interest at all. I told him all he had to do was ask, but my dad never asked me questions, ever.
I went to a Junior High School, which was seventh through ninth grade. Again, it was in Washington State so it was predominantly white and pretty well-to-do, mostly middle and upper-middle class. When I got to eighth grade I had blossomed a little and was getting noticed by some of the Freshman boys. Right away at the beginning of the year a popular Freshman took notice of me and asked me out. I was so surprised and so flattered. I thought he saw something in me for a moment, something that no one else could see. My family was so broken, I felt broken too, but this kid liked me. He met me at my locker, walked me to my classes, wrote me love letters and called me every night on the phone. I made him a beaded necklace and I tried to enjoy this. But, I’d make excuses as to why he couldn’t come over or why I couldn’t go places with him. I wouldn’t tell him that my house was the most depressing place in the world and that I had no money to go to the movies, or eat somewhere, or do anything. He was 15 and had a truck waiting for him to be old enough to drive, and I couldn’t relate to that. He told me he loved me and I broke up with him. I couldn’t fake who I was anymore. Later, another popular Freshman wooed me into girlfriend status and I dumped him pretty much the same way. He invited me to his house to hang out and then go to a movie. His parents were doctors and his house was like a museum, there was literally an antique wheelchair in the living room which had an entire wall made of glass that allowed for a breathtaking view of the Puget Sound. He had his permit so, he drove me home in his soon-to-be car while his mom sat in the back seat. I called him up that night and broke up with him, I couldn’t handle it. When you get the attention of popular boys in school, a large portion of girls in the school will hate you for it. And when you break up with the popular boys in school, those same girls openly hate you but now with the support of the guy you broke up with. There never felt like a win with that, you just simply turn into a loser. There was one guy that I would just make out with on the weekends because our best friends were dating and we just figured we may as well. There was never any drama with it and we had tons of fun. It was probably one of my healthiest relationships to date and it’s probably because he didn’t love me and he didn’t expect me to love him back. It’s like if I didn’t want or expect someone to love me, I could be more myself.
This trend of being wooed and dumping boys continued throughout High School and into my 20’s. I never had a type. What I had were guys that had families that I wanted to be in. And the families that I could most relate to were the relationships that ended with the most heartache. I had boyfriends that were tortured souls and our relationship thrived on extreme highs and lows, tests of sexual limits, doomed and drawn-out endings. And there were a couple boyfriends who just realized that we were having fun and had a strong attraction, but not really each other’s beat and now we are casual Facebook friends.
I am a loyal person. I love people. I don’t like to stay mad, I truly want everyone to be happy. I always want to be drama-free, even though I’m too restless and impatient for it to be. I love when people tell me the truth, even if it’s hard to hear. I am a forgiving person. I try to accept reality, whatever I determine that to be. And I try not to judge people, though I don’t claim to like everyone. And I don’t know if any of this is enough to allow me to feel loved. Theoretically it should be, I’m not dumb, I get the logical part of it all. But I’m not sure I know if or when I’ve truly felt it. How do you learn something like that?