I remember when I first met my lover. I was an earnest 23, barely a year out of university, and Alex was a young man of 27. We both worked for a large Fortune 500 company.
I was flown to company headquarters to take part in a sales training course. There was a couple dozen fresh-faced twenty-something’s, eager to demonstrate our sales expertise and network with upper management at the hallowed halls of corporate.
Our instructors for the course were up and coming managers, expressly picked for the assignment for their sales acumen, charisma, and corporate vision.
Alex, with his broad shoulders, athletic grace, and easy smile, readily stood out from the other moderators. He was blond, with twinkling, inquisitive eyes, and he surveyed us with a friendly, open gaze. I liked him immediately and my sales radar registered, “sharp guy.”
The next few days were busy with sales and role-playing exercises, how to work with prospects and clients, how to close the deal. Rigorous, methodical sales training but the moderators kept it light and moving along.
On the last day, I woke up in agony. Several years earlier, I had been diagnosed with endometriosis and occasionally suffered bouts of debilitating cramping. Knowing that calling out sick was not an option, I pulled on my suit and stumbled in my heels into training. I knew I was pale but I maintained my composure and applied myself to the tasks at hand. I looked up to see Alex eyeing me curiously. Embarrassed, I looked away and started a conversation with a teammate. Suddenly I heard a quiet voice say, “Put your feet up on this, you might feel better.” It was Alex, and he had moved a chair toward my legs. I was speechless and completely moved by his sensitivity. I muttered, thanks, and dutifully swung my feet onto the chair. He was quietly kind to me throughout the day, without calling attention to me.
At the time, I simply thought he just being thoughtful, looking out for his “flock”, so to speak, and really didn’t think I’d run into him again. He lived in Boston, I lived in Pittsburgh, and worked in different districts so no reason to interact. So I thought.
A few months later, Jenny, one of the other reps in Pittsburgh, came back from the same training very excited and all atwitter. She had met this “fabulous” guy at training, he was one of the moderators, and he was coming to Pittsburgh as he had an account here that he had to call on every month. We would be taking him out for a night on the town. Since I lived near the airport, I was going to be picking him up and meeting up with everyone. I said, no problem, who is this wonderful person? With the exaggerated infatuation that only a 23 year old can have, Julie nearly swooned when she said his name, “Alex!”
“Amalie, you had him too, when you went through training. He remembers you!” I was taken aback. “Really?” I was surprised, I was one of so many young sales people at the training and he was an up and coming manager with the company. It seemed extraordinary that I would stand out. I was flattered.
As scheduled, I picked up Alex at the airport. Conversation was lively and friendly and he was exactly as I remembered. A bit taller and still as good looking. When we met up with the other girls, the games began. I have never seen such fawning and flirting in all of my life. Alex was the center of such attention! I almost felt sorry for him. My friends were jockeying to sit next to him, to buy him drinks, it was amazing. It was as if someone had cast a spell over them and I watched in amusement as they all tried to one-up each other for his charms. Alex handled it all with aplomb and didn’t become cocky or even seem to notice.
But I did, and my interest grew. So I stayed cool. I remembered some background on Alex that I had gleaned at training, that he was an English major in college. I had a strong English background, having been in AP English in high school, and almost majoring in English myself. So I casually dropped a few literary allusions in the conversation. Bingo! Attention successfully caught! Soon, Alex sidled up to my side and we were deeply ensconced in conversation. Woebegone faces soon surrounded us. But we were too entranced to notice.
The evening ended with me driving Alex back to his hotel. We sat in my luxury Aries company car with the vinyl bench seat and chatted for what seemed like hours. As he prepared to leave, we paused and looked at each other. The kiss was inevitable.
As our lips met, mighty Zeus looked down from Mount Olympus, carefully aimed his lightning bolt and struck home. My Aries car shook, we trembled, and everything shimmered with the impact of that lightning strike. Pause now for the operatic aria.
So, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but that is what it felt like. I’d been kissed before but never like this. It was gentle, passionate, searching, loving and possessive, all at the same time. Every inch of my body was on fire and tingling. The last thing I wanted to do was try to drive home. I had this sudden clarity of “this is the man I want to spend the rest of my life with”—I just felt it with such assuredness. This from a girl who was fiercely independent, wasn’t going to get married until she was at least 35, was defined by her career, blah, blah, blah, and more BLAH.
I don’t know how long the kiss lasted, (a moment? Forever?) but the repercussions were felt to this day. No one has loved me, devastated me, supported me, understood me, more than Alex. He is the love of my life. It has been an unconventional relationship, one I don’t think many people would understand. But it is not for others to judge or approve.
That kiss, ah, I can still taste it, feel it, even today. The hair on my arms stands up at the memory of it. It still has that power to thrill me. And so does the man.
Did you ever come across something you wrote years ago and wonder, where the hell did that come from? What was going through my mind at the time? The kind of stuff that is totally unrelated to the person you are today.
It was another bitterly cold day, the kind of cold that cuts to the bone. I was sifting through some folders of stuff I had dug out a few weeks earlier in my basement and happened upon my writings and notes from my community theatre days, at least 15 years ago. Found a character sketch that I put together for one of my Theatre Skills courses and couldn’t help but be drawn by it, even a little shocked. To give you some perspective, I was recuperating from a chronic illness at the time that had put me on disability and had transformed my typically fit, svelte figure to an unwieldy 297 pounds. I was miserable, depressed, and overwhelmed. I was trying desperately to gain some control over my health, my appearance, my life. It was a very grim time and theatre and writing were a welcome release. So although this sketch isn’t autobiographical, much of the emotion driving it is.
Here is the sketch in its entirety:
Constance always had her ups and downs. As a small child, her moodiness was remarked upon as often as her defiance. Pale and sullen, she was often at odds with her parents and peers.
At an early age, Constance found welcome refuge in music and books. By the time she entered her teens, Constance had retreated mostly to the basement where she fantasized to new wave, punk, and grunge music. She read voraciously by a single, low watt bulb as her father wouldn’t allow her to use the fluorescent lighting, saying it burned too much electricity, besides he thought she should be outside with the other kids, what the hell was wrong with her anyway?
So in the muted light, Constance soared with her mind, as talented and hip as any rock star, writing and singing the words she didn’t dare articulate out loud. Her father nicknamed her “The Bat.”
By her early 20’s, Constance was diagnosed with chronic, clinical depression and atypical bipolar disorder. She missed out on the keening heights of mania, instead experiencing alarmingly swift descents into depression and fearful anxiety. Grunge was the soundtrack of her despair and the only recognition she sensed in her abyss. Her mind was surrounded by impenetrable darkness and her forays into the public were behind a shield of seething sarcasm.
She began to cut herself. Not to die, just to lessen the tumult within. She couldn’t sing and found it hard to write about her pain. Her parents backed off in horror and her psychiatrist prescribed more medication and a red marker. Perhaps drawing the angry red lines on her arm would be an acceptable substitution to the cutting of flesh. Constance swallowed her pills and dutifully drew on her arms.
Constance hears on MTV that her “grunge-man”, her secret, tortured soul-mate, Kurt Cobain, has committed suicide. Constance’s world is rocked off of its crumbling fulcrum. How could he, when he had so much, with his legions of admirers, his tremendous talent, take his own life? How could HE give up? She questions her own tenuous hold on life. With the superstition of the mentally ill, she fears that this event signals her own demise, by her own hand.
Armed with her red marker, she writes, in her journal and on her arm. Last ditch efforts against a final farewell. It is at this moment we meet Constance in her psychiatrist’s office, holding onto her anger and journal for strength. She has told no one of her shock and grief over Cobain’s suicide or her own terror. She is desperate for a reason to live.
Wow. And what the hell? I cannot believe I came up with that. I have to say I wrote down some cool musical selections for it: “Privilege (Set Me Free)” by Patti Smith Group, and “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan.
There are pages of stage direction, prop descriptions in Part II that I won’t go into. All kinds of detail.
I did a performance piece based on that character for the class and did a lot of research into emotional cutting, depression and bipolar disorder. I remember being psychologically spent after the performance. Kurt Cobain’s death was still very fresh in everyone’s mind and in the media.
I remember thinking I should flesh out the character more, turn it into something. But the abject loneliness and desperation of the character scared me a bit. Once I wrote, then performed the piece, I shelved it. I didn’t even realize I still had the material until I chanced upon it the other day.
A lot of the dark stuff, journal entries, character sketches, written when I was really sick, somehow feels disconnected from who I am today. Now that I am healthy, productive and doing well, with my illness under control, it is interesting to look back and see my state of mind so many years ago. I feel empathy for the person I was back then and for what I was going through. And feel the relief that I am here today, thriving, and living joyfully. One of these days, I’ll explore my illness more fully in a post, but right now, today, I just want to feel good, think happy thoughts, and feel so fucking grateful to be alive.
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.