I remember when I first learned about sex. I was in third grade and my best friend, Cheryl, and I decided to each confront our mothers with evidence that something peculiar was going on in our respective bathrooms. We had both seen the tightly toilet-paper wrapped parcels in the trash containers in the bathroom every few weeks and I had even gone so far as to unwrap one to see what it contained. The sheer amount of blood had shocked and repelled me. Something had to be done, something was dreadfully wrong!
As far as most mothers go, mine was pretty approachable. Like most women who grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, she was very conservative and careful. Her version of cursing was an emphatic “Oh, SUGAR!” if something broke or irritated her. Yeah, well, Sugar was about to get a surprise.
I came home from school and determinedly told my mother that I needed to talk to her. Worried, my mother led me to the living room, where all important conversations took place. I remember her sitting in my father’s green arm chair, almost as if it lent her added composure and strength.
I don’t recall the exact words I used but I still remember the look of disbelief that came over my mother’s face as I presented my inquiry in my third grade trill. God love her, she maintained her composure and honestly and calmly told me all about menstruation and what to expect. There, the end.
Finally, recess! My words tumbled out of me as I told Cheryl my news. But Cheryl’s mother was younger and a bit more progressive. She had punctuated Cheryl’s lesson on menstruation with an Intro to Sex Ed and told her about intercourse! My third grade brain stalled then melted. The man does WHAT to the woman??? NO!!
I marched home, marched up our front steps, slammed open the front door and faced my mother. “YOU DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT YOU KNOW WHAT!!!” I said. My mother about wet herself laughing. Literally. She had to hold onto the kitchen door she was laughing so hard. I think my mother could have killed Cheryl’s mother that day.
After my initial shock wore off, my inquisitive little brain cells went into overtime. This was interesting stuff, indeed, and I wanted to know more about it. Much of this was fueled by restless hormones; mine stirred early and powerfully and it was clear, even at a young age that sex and sensuality would play an important role in my life.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to distinguish the other qualities that I want in my lover: sensitivity, kindness to others, the ambition to succeed, generosity, the ability to make me laugh, a magnetic personality, an agile mind. Add that to the, oh, so delicious heat that sexual compatibility brings to the relationship and you have the delightful chemistry for a relationship. Not too much to ask, is it?
Although I am no longer a practicing Catholic, sex in my adult life has been an interesting dichotomy between balancing my early, ingrained values and my surging hormones. I’m not saying I want to sleep with every man I see, not at all, I’ve always been a one-man woman, deeply devoted to the man I love. And love has happened rarely. Commitment, love, chemistry, monogamy, all of that needs to be a part of the picture before the hormones can take over. With the right person, I’m pretty much an Angel in public and bawdy Devil between the sheets. Yes, indeedy, that shock from third grade has definitely worn off.
I was almost eleven the day Aunt Flo came to visit. I knew all about menstruation, that’s another blog post, but being prepared to have it actually happen to me personally, well, that was another matter all together. But I was precocious, both mentally and physically, and Puberty had its speculative eye on me. I was already experiencing actual, excruciating growing pains, in my chest, where my breasts had begun to sprout into tight little mounds, and in my hips and legs, as they began to lengthen and grow more shapely.
One day, at school, I was seized by severe cramping that made me double over at my desk. The bell had rung and students were rushing to their next class. I couldn’t move or speak and I broke out in a cold sweat. As the pain subsided, I pulled myself out of my desk and stumbled to my next class. I was terrified at what was happening and too scared to go to the nurse or say anything to a teacher. A somewhat neurotic child, I had an overwhelming fear of doctors and anything health-related and my overactive imagination began to consider all kinds of horrible things that could be wrong with me. I suffered in self-induced misery.
I began to panic, and cry. My father came to the door, asking what was wrong. In halting tones, I blurted out that I had started my period. Silence on the other side of the door.
When my mother came home and opened up the basement door from the garage, she found my father and me standing there, waiting for her. Years later, she said we looked like two deer in the headlights. My dad just looked at her and repeated her name, Amy, Amy, and shook his head. My usually articulate father was bereft of words. My mother looked at me and said, Amalie, you certainly do everything with a bang! I began to feel quite grown up and proud of myself then. It wasn’t until years later that I realized with a pang that it was a turning point in my relationship with my father. No longer was I his little girl, his first born that he cradled so carefully in his capable hands. It also wasn’t until much later that I learned to be grateful for the sensitivity and relative stoicism with which he handled the situation, “grace under fire” if you will. But he began to treat me with an almost Old World politeness at times, excusing himself awkwardly if we should run into each other exiting the family bathroom or brush up against each other in the hall. I was a young woman now and we both tried to regain our footing in the new terrain of our relationship.
Interesting, the perspective the years lend the past. I would do any of it over again, really, because the past made me strong, resourceful and helped me identify exactly what it was I wanted to do and become. But I wish I had been happier and less alone. I have to work at being less guarded as an adult. I am lucky to have a wonderful circle of family and friends now. I’ve even let a special person into my heart, but sometimes I have to be cognizant of letting them get closer, to be less independent, because the rich reward of connecting with people and making them a part of your life enhances every aspect of what you do. Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.” Never forget that someone out there is pulling for you, is thinking about you, loves you, cares about, worries about you. More importantly, it matters that you are in charge of your destiny. The mind and soul are resilient, they can triumph over a great deal.
Sometimes where you are at a given moment in time can be a lonely, barren place and you feel like if you scream, there is no one around to hear you or care. But I’m telling you, scream, and you scream loudly. Do something, write and journal, listen to music, reach out to a teacher or a counselor, grab on to a friend or family member. But do something. Don’t give up, I’m telling you that life is too sweet, there is too much out there to experience, oh, god, the enormity of it all can make me weep, there is so much to see, taste and take in. And you deserve it.
When I was very small and wanted to disappear, to break free of it all, I would go to our backyard and climb onto my swing. I’d pump my legs furiously, climbing higher and higher into the sky, leaning back, eyes gazing into the clouds, feet feeling as if they were grazing the tree tops. My girlish voice would peal at the top of my lungs, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morrrrning!” I could spend hours on that swing, feeling the exhilarating wind in my face, the sun on my skin, and everything else would just fall away.
I’ll call myself Amalie. It is my mother’s name. Not that she is French, she’s actually mostly White Russian. When I told my lover that, he murmured, “White Russian, eh, that explains a lot!” Her name is the result of a typo on her birth certificate. Her mother was called Molly so we think that was supposed to be her true name.
At the core of it, I ached to get away from my typical middle-class, suburban upbringing, where athleticism and cheerleading seemed to rein supreme and reading books and a large vocabulary were suspicious and strange. I often walked home alone, trailing behind the other students, struggling with an unwieldy stack of library books. I was taller than most of the other girls, as tall as most of the boys and I remember cringing in 5th grade when my Catholic school girl uniform was yanked up by some mischievous boy, “would he notice that I already have hair on my vagina??”, hidden though it was by my white cotton panties. My breasts had already betrayed me, signaling my all too rapid entry into woman-hood at an all too early age. I simply wasn’t ready. Not for the gawking boys who gazed openly at my breasts, even the men who glanced sheepishly, looked away, then looked again.
My parents didn’t know what to make of me. Who was this changeling child that they had brought into this world? Both my parents were stolid, unimaginative, realistic, and somewhat critical. They loved us dearly, though, and believed that participation in organized sports promised entry into Heaven, or at least turned you into a promising human being. It was unfathomable to them that I shied away from anything athletic. They couldn’t understand that the last thing I wanted to do was run in public with my errant, bouncing breasts or try not to stumble with my too quickly growing and awkward limbs. My parents and I fought over sports ad nauseum and I soon began to hate them, never mind what I thought about gym class. Oh, the horror!
One day, the most popular boy in grade school, the one I had an unbearable crush on, circulated a survey around the school. “Do you hate Amalie Garvoille, Yes or No”. When it was passed to me by a smirking classmate during Social Studies, I covered my face in shame and despair and collapsed in silent, shaking sobs on my desk. What was wrong with me? Why was I so maligned? Was I really so terrible?
As a result, school became a place to be dreaded, and I carefully and fearfully navigated the social potholes that I seemed so ill-prepared to avoid.
As I write this, I stop and my fingers hesitate on the keys. Why relive all of this? I have moved on from this and succeeded in so many ways. But every journey has its first step, every story has its genesis. Thus I was formed.
So it begins. This blog won’t have any true starting point. I don’t have any particular measure of my life that I wish to dissect and share. It will be more a series of snapshots, of moments dealing with the difficulties of illness, body image and weight gain, self-esteem, sexual fulfillment and exploration, relationships and at times, abject loneliness. And the joy of breaking free of it all. In short, a life, my life.