The Perfect Dish

Gaby’s love of food extends beyond the act of preparing it. Until her, I never really thought about how food is presented to someone to eat. I grew up in a household of corn mixed into mashed potatoes and gravy drenching everything. And though I do appreciate how food is plated now, I still don’t care. I just want to eat. But I do see the psychology  in making food look good in order to taste good.

Another thing I never really thought about until her is the art of food photography. It’s not just snapping a photo, straight on, of your dinner and posting to Instagram. Like any good photography, it’s about angles, light, and composition. A shitty photo of your dinner can make it look like garbage. Gaby’s really good at making amazing food look even more amazing. Just recently she bought a real camera and spends all of her free time practicing. If you don’t follow her already, I suggest you do in order to watch her already baller skills develop.

One of the benefits, I guess, of having her learn photography is her taking pictures of more than food. She’s snapped some great candids of friends. And, since I have a new essay coming out, I thought it was time to update my author photo. The last one was taken nearly 6 years ago. Six years ago I was in my early 30s; now I’m in my late 30s. That’s like a life time. Well, in preparation, and in an attempt to figure out lighting and the best time of day, she asked me one evening to sit just for fun. Since I was wearing a Christmas shirt and it was February, I took it off. And since I had just made myself a martini, I brought it with me. It was fun, or at least not horrible, and I actually liked one of the shots: Capture

This is an honest shot of me. This is my typical, non-smiling look. This is my sarcastic look. This is me, not really wearing clothes after I get home from work. My hair hadn’t been cut in over a year, and I figured out how to twist up my man bun. This, I thought, could be social media-worthy. I am not unattractive. There are things about me that people can appreciate. But then. I kept staring at myself. Like, one of those moments when you look in the mirror and you’re overcome with the thought, “I’m a human person. I am a mind inside a body. This is that body. This is what my shell looks like. Look at that face. I can make my face move like this…”  I used to go down that rabbit hole when I was teenager. I guess I had a lot of time on my hands. Or, I was a teenager. So, my 39 year old self looked deep into my own eyes for the first time in a while, and then this happened:

now this

I’d like to say at my age and with my life experience, this doesn’t happen to me. But it does. As much as I try to keep it from coming. I think we all do this. Or, if you don’t, please tell me how.

I see Erika, who is nearly 15, staring at herself in the bathroom mirror for way too long. I see her walk by her reflection in a window and pause to look at her hair, only to move one strand of curls back and forth for several minutes. I see her in the living room mirror adjusting her shirt around her waist and then turning around to pop her booty out and give it a hard look. I see her self-consciously moving through this world. I see her have the same anxiety we all have. Or the same anxiety I have which I assume everyone else has. We’ve talked about it. I try to tell her that I understand and that is gets better. Or we learn to turn down the volume of our inner critic. I think of this scene from Bojack Horseman.

I understand food seems to taste better when it’s expertly presented. When it’s an array of colors stacked to trick the eye into believing there is more there than in reality. Arranged to show only the best parts of each component. I suppose there are people like that, too. They know how to put themselves together.

I am not always this hard on myself. There are times I’m able to forgive myself for all the things I’ve done and move on. There are times when I’m positive that my friends like me and even care about me. There are times when I’m proud of all that I’ve lived through, when I know that I’m a good person, despite the bad things I’ve done to you all. To myself. There are times when I feel like I’ve really found myself and my truth and my wholeness and all of those things we are striving for. I can see those things in the martini photo. I can see a woman comfortable with all that she is. Sometimes I am her.

But, despite all the angles and light, I can also see that I’m not an elaborate, colorful, carefully constructed dish.

I am something like biscuits and gravy. I am either gross or delicious, depending on your tastes. Sometimes, I am way too much. I am best warm and terrible cold. Or I am something like a sloppy Joe: full of savory filling but just barely held together. If you put me down, I’ll fall apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride and Prejudice

It’s pride month. So, let me remind you that I’m a homosexual. I’ve been aware of myself and out for 21 years. In that time, society has changed drastically, but not enough.

Maybe it’s because of my age or the people I hang out with, but it’s very rare that someone asks me “when did you know you were gay?” or “who’s the man?”  It’s such a relief.

This is the time I dreamed of when I was 17 and sitting in that therapist’s office and he was trying to tell me that being gay was going to be so hard and weird and maybe I should reconsider. As he would go on about all of the challenges of being gay, I would try to imagine the day when I just lived without anyone caring if I was. Today is that day.

I’m so grateful to feel so much safer than I did 21 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is safe, though, or that things are just fine.

My fitbit app updated the other day to include “female health.” It’s a nifty period/ovulation tracker. I pushed the button to allow it to ask me a series of questions. They included what type of birth control I use. I clicked none. And felt judged. Now that that portion of the app is set up, I can go in and track things in my life like: sex, unprotected sex, and the morning after pill. Obviously, these things don’t apply to me.

And I really hate that my fitbit thinks I have sex with men. My fitbit has made an assumption about me based on the fact that I clicked “female” at some point in time. At least I’m a cisgender female. Think of those others who have clicked the same and then been faced with a menstruation app that doesn’t apply to them. I’m sure all of this seems like the stuff that makes your conservative uncle want to say something like, “all of these gotdamn people wanting everything to be sooooo POLITICALLY CORRECT.” But, if the people making the fitbit app update were a little more diverse, I bet this wouldn’t happen. Someone in that room would’ve said, like, wait not all women have sex with men or have a period. And they would’ve designed a separate button that says, like, “click here if you have sex with women.” I would’ve felt so included. I would’ve happily clicked the shit out of that button. I wouldn’t known that someone out there was looking out for me. Instead, I feel a little sad. Instead, I have to stare at those options of clicking protected or unprotected sex.

Speaking of sex.

I’ve had this skin problem on my right hand for years. In the past, it went away and came back. I would have a few months with no outbreak. But now, it’s been here since October. It’s eczema, I think. These tiny bubbles form under my skin that leak fluid. My hand itches like a sonuvabich. More specifically, my thumb, middle, and pinky finger and no where else. It never goes away. Something as simple as water can make it flare up. It’s the fucking worst.

But here is what is worse than the worst: this is, essentially, my penis.

I’ve been to the dermatologist and allergist. I’ve had patches stuck to my back. I’ve been prescribed some insanely expensive steroid cream (which only makes my skin crack and bleed). I’m not telling you all of this for a diagnosis. I’m telling you this because, as I mentioned before, things are better for queers, but not the best.

I had to suck up my feelings and tell the dermatologist that my partner is a woman. That my right hand is vital to my sex life. She smiled, but didn’t seem to care.

The allergist, when I told her, at least showed sympathy and said, “oh, my, this must really be affecting your quality of life.” I said it was. And I felt heard. Or nearly understood.

But yet. Here I am, still suffering with this stuff. Now, before you all start messaging me with other ways to be sexually active without my right hand, believe me, I know them. I’ve been having sex with women for 20 years.

Consider this: maybe a male friend you know has confided in his doctor (and you) that his penis has tiny, itchy bubbles, that it is constantly burning and flaring, that the skin cracks and bleeds. Would you offer him other ways to have sex or would you want to help him find a solution? Don’t you think the doctor would do everything in their power to help this poor guy?

So, why am I sharing with you these intimate details of my life? Easy. I want you to know that homophobia, or even lack of awareness of homosexuals, affects my life in a lot of strange ways. Several times a week, maybe even every day, I’m reminded by others that I’m not the status quo, that I’m not still fully included. And I’m white and cisgender. Just imagine how trans people feel. How people of color feel. How immigrants feel. How differently-abled people feel. How someone who is all of those must feel.

This is why inclusion and diversity are so important.

Your conservative uncle might also get annoyed with all the pride talk this month and all the rainbow flags. He might ask, “who cares if they’re gay? Why do they have to run around waving flags?”

Because. Every other day of the year is straight, white man day. And though there is no specific flag for that (though some might argue stars and bars), I see it everywhere, all the time. And I’m reminded, even when I look at my phone or visit my doctor, that I am still an outsider.

flag

 

Going Dark: Day 13. Ben Dover

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Thursday was pretty awesome, and I meant to tell you then, but time got away from me. Due to a quick change in the weather-55 and raining to 30 degrees in just a few hours-the university sent people home at noon. So. Awesome.

Gaby and I cheated. Just a little. I sped to Hy-Vee when it was just around 34 degrees to buy us some frozen egg rolls. It’s only fair on a snow day to splurge a little, right? We discussed making our own eggrolls, since that’s the goal of this month, but when we realized we’d be alone, with no children (they were at the other parents’ houses), we decided to really take advantage of our time together. Or, as it turned out, the several hours we spent apart. I spent my time in the basement and Gaby was upstairs. Then we spent some time together. I made some martinis. We watched the rain become ice on our deck. We went to bed early.

Friday, well, I worked and so did Gaby. After work on Fridays, we like to go to happy hour, so we did that. We got home around 8. Erika talked to us for a while about teenage things, and then, exhausted, we went to bed.

The thing is, not having the internet and tv just seems kinda normal now. I feel like there isn’t much to write about. We’re almost half way now. It’s easy. I feel like we did it already.

But I still need to tell you this:

We’re communicating with more people now than we did before. We get several phone calls a day and usually a couple of letters. Gaby is meticulously producing cards every night. We’ve nearly used up the stamps we had. We love it.

Something too hilarious happened tonight when I was tucking Cyrus into bed. The phone rings. Gaby answers, “Who, I’m sorry?”  Then she says, “Ben…Dover?”  I tried my best not to crack up as I kissed Cyrus good night. I wondered who could be pranking us, and a had a good idea. Gaby laughed sooooo hard.  It was Natalie, Alison, and Helen. They were trying to reach Erika and said they spent a long time googling pranks that were PG. We told them when she’d be home, so they’re planning something even better.

 

In other news, not really related to us not having the internet, and maybe in violation of our goals, I submit this:

Yes. It’s adorable Cyrus. But it’s also the first time he’s allowed Amy to use the clippers and not just scissors. Because of the preemie stuff, and subsequently the helmet he had to wear a long time ago, he’s had some sensory issues with his head.  I’ve tried to bribe and beg him for years to let us use the clippers to give him a cool haircut, but he never could. Today, for some reason, Amy asked what he wanted and he said, “a mohawk.”  Amy looked at me for permission. Of course I said go for it. When she brought out the clippers he said, “Phew, Finally!!!”

I’m so proud of him that I cheated and uploaded this picture from my phone, which is not supposed to be turned on. Oh, well.

Anita Braik.

Going Dark: Day 10. One Third

A1xQKspxS0L._SL1500_It’s January 10th, so day 10 of our challenge.

We’ve gone 10 days without tv, tablets, video games, and cell phones at home. We’re 1/3 of the way through.  That might not seem like too much, but hey, it’s almost half. I guess.

Tonight Erika, Gaby, and I finally whipped out our new board game: Karuba.  Gaby was very wary at first, as she really doesn’t like board games and always says no. Erika groaned, even though she really does like them (and begs for us to play with her)…usually. I guess when an adult suggests it, it’s not as fun.

Erika called her dad. And this was a lovely moment. She grabbed two barstools and lay back, hanging her head off one end, her curly hair nearly touching the kitchen floor. She giggled. She complained. She twirled the phone cord around her finger. Gaby and I were like c’mon, let’s play already. And she totally said to her Dad, “sorry, my mom is begging me to play this game, so I have to go.”

Classic, vintage, teenage girl on the phone. She might as well have had a facemask on and nail polish at the ready.

Anyway, we started the game, and it didn’t take long before everyone was into it. But minutes later, we got a phone call from Alison and Natalie (old rugby friends of mine who visited the other night and told Erika what the yellow pages are and how to use them). They called to talk to Erika and only Erika. hahaha. We also got a post card in the mail from them today, from Hawaii! And we got another postcard from Audra! And she didn’t realize how small postcards were and apparently wrote another card immediately following.  So, that’s two pieces of mail from her.

Anyway. We played the game. Three times. And there were only three of us here tonight. And we’re 1/3 of the way through the challenge. There’s meaning here somewhere. I don’t know what it means.

*just now Gaby says, “I kinda wanna play that game again.”*

I’ve just asked Gaby what she has to say after 1/3 of our journey. She admits that she still wants the t.v. right before bed. She wants her show. Just a little bit. Just a little. She can quit any time.

I miss being able to see your posts immediately on facebook. When I post this, it publishes automatically to facebook and twitter. I have to wait until the next morning, when I’m waiting for my work computer to turn on, to see what people might’ve said.

Erika misses watching t.v., too. What she means by that is lying in her bed and watching Netflix on her laptop. Just now we asked if she liked playing the board game. She says she does, but says we can do that any time. When I suggested Gaby might be playing on her phone during the game without our challenge Erika said, “now the cards are her phone.”

Sometimes the thirteen year old yells about not having internet. Sometimes the thirteen year old is wise beyond her years.

See, there’s that number 3 again. I knew it meant something.

Going Dark: Days 4 & 5

I didn’t write yesterday because there wasn’t much to say. We were busy with work and home stuff. Then we went to bed.

Tonight was about the same. Erika had volleyball practice, so Gaby took her and Cyrus while I went to the gym for an hour. Then we came home, made dinner while listening to Ziggy Stardust (Cyrus’s request: Mom, are you sad David Bowie died?). And then it was already 8:30. Cyrus and I read some Captain Underpants while Gaby finished up some loaves of bread.

He’s in bed. We’re in bed. The cats are settling down. It’s pretty much our bed time.

This is the time we might want to cheat. The tv is looking at us. We could turn on some netflix and no one would know; Cyrus is asleep. Erika is at her dad’s this weekend. It would be so easy. Except all of the discussion of what to watch. And, as you know, by the time it’s decided, it’s time for bed.

I’m not sure what the weekend holds, as it will be our first without the screens.

So fat this doesn’t seem like much of a challenge. But. It’s only day 5.

I’m curious if any of you have considered your own screen habits.

Today’s difficulty: very easy until maybe right now.

Going Dark

The idea started when I had a hankerin’ to google that show, “1900 House.”  It aired on PBS some time around the turn of the century. I mean, the 21st century. It’s a reality show where a family in London is selected and put into a period house where they must live for 3 months without modern technology; the house is completely set-up with antiques, including the wall paper and gas lights; they send and receive mail 3 times a day; the women wear corsets, even to do house work; they have a budget and must buy only locally produced food from the butcher (who makes house calls), and they have to use a cook stove to make their food. I think I saw the show originally when I was living in a basement apartment in Houston, making grilled cheese in a toaster and eating angel hair pasta with butter. What I liked about the show is the challenge. And. How much it reminds me of the stories I hear from both sides of my family. Mom grew up without running water on a farm far away from town. Dad didn’t have running water until, well, I can’t remember, maybe they got it when he was in his early teens. They both grew up with an outhouse. They both grew up killing their own animals and helping out around the farm or house.

I suppose I’ve lived back in time already, in ways some people my age have not. I have helped hunt and process the carcasses of animals my family would come to eat. I grew up with just one television station (until Dad bought a satellite dish). I used a rotary phone and had to make sure our neighbors weren’t on the party line before I dialed out. And, in a move which horrified my parents, I lived in small cabin in Fairbanks with no running water and an outhouse for several years.

I don’t have some romanticized idea about “country living” or “living off the land.”  I know it’s hard. I know it sucks. I’ve seen the look in my mom’s eyes when she is asked about her childhood. I moved to Fairbanks to get away from what I knew, that’s true, but it wasn’t with the same stars in my eyes that some others had there. One woman, someone with money from a large city, thought this was how she was going to commune with nature or have some more authentic human experience than what she’d had growing up.  When I lived in Houston and worked at an upscale camping store, my coworkers were shocked I didn’t hike or camp much, seeing as how I was from the country. All I could say was, you know, when you’re from the middle of nowhere, you don’t really feel a need to get more into the middle of nowhere. I walked through the woods all the time.  It wasn’t until I lived in such a huge city for a few years that I understood the urge to run screaming from the concrete and into the woods where no one could see me.

Did I mention there are other shows? Like, Frontier House, Colonial House, Plymouth House, Texas Ranch House, and there’s a newer one on PBS, called, like, Victorian Slum House. I have no idea who would sign up to be a part of that experiment.

I’m telling you all of this because, while I was watching, I was wondering if I could live without modern advances. I mean. Of course I could. I have. I’m capable of doing a lot. But the more important question is, can I live without some of them in a world where everyone uses them? Gaby and I discussed all of this (she was stoked about the idea), shared a google doc, and made a plan. Will eliminating the internet from our house help with Cyrus’s video game addiction or Erika’s need to have Netflix playing at all times? Will I read more or play the guitar? What will Gaby do without the video calls with her family? Will our family become closer or just ignore each other while reading books? We’re going to test it. I should mention, though, that Gaby and I are the only ones excited about it. Erika, who is 13, is certainly opposed.

In preparation for our 30 days of darkness, I’ve purchased an 8 dollar phone and added a landline. I wanted to get a rotary phone, but Mom didn’t have one lying around, and they cost about 60 dollars now. So far, Erika has screamed from upstairs, “How do you even dial a number?” and “How do you hang up?” HAHAHAHAHAHA. (Still taking donations for a rotary phone if you have one). How am I supposed to text my friends about sleepovers!? she shouts. Pick up the phone, we say, and make a call.

I bought jacks, marbles, pick up sticks, and a new family board game called Karuba.

The rules are this:

-no cell phones used in the house (Gaby needs hers for clients. I need mine for Chef Gaby)

-no internet (except when I get to blog to you about our experiences and Erika for homework which will be monitored at the kitchen table.)

-no tv. (I’m changing the netflix password, too. eeeeevvvvviiillll)

-no video games (basically, no screens)

-We can listen to the radio, but no streaming music. We have a record player and cd player.

-We will write letters. (This is how I corresponded with my first girlfriend; there was no internet. This is how Gaby grew up in the Andes. There was only one phone in her neighborhood that everyone had to share)

-We will talk on the phone.

-Our diet will focus on eating locally raised meats and veggies as much as possible and whole grains. Any breads, pastas, or snacks will be made from scratch. (like cheez-its, fig bars, cereal)

-Make an effort to minimize the stuff we have. We already kind of hate stuff, but we’ll keep donating.

 

All of this begins tomorrow. It’s no 1900 House, but maybe more like…1949 house.

What am I hoping to experience, you might ask. I want Cyrus to learn to play independently; he has wonderful toys and books that he won’t touch unless someone is engaged with him. For myself, I need to learn how to be quiet and still. I don’t do that very well. Maybe I’ll listen to music I forgot I had. Maybe I’ll read a book because all of the children will be reading, too.

Maybe we’ll all lose our minds. Maybe we’ll all find ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

Death by a Thousand Cuts

I’ve been trying to count the number of times Cyrus has been in the hospital, or the ER in the past year. The number starts at 4 and goes as high as, I don’t know, 12. This doesn’t include the major surgery he had last August and the three procedures leading up to a perforated esophagus. So, in the past two years, that’s, what…nearly 20 hospital visits. And that doesn’t include regular appointments he has with therapists.

Last week he broke his arm, again, the fourth break since last October. Today he had a follow-up appointment to make sure everything was in place. Hey. Guess what. It wasn’t. So, Cyrus has to get a pin inserted into his radius, the length of it. That means general anesthesia. A new cast for four weeks. And he’ll have to go through it again in a year when the pin is removed.

Alone, this is not a huge deal. Two broken bones is not a huge deal. Three really isn’t either, I guess. Four seems like a bit. But for me, and for Cyrus, of course, these four broken bones are added onto 7 years of procedures and white coats. Of a beginning so traumatic, I’m still recovering.  So is he, though I don’t know if he understands.

And, as always, just when things start to seem okay, when maybe I feel like he’s going to catch up with his peers and not break anything else or finally start eating, something happens. He falls. He gets something stuck in his esophagus. He’s put into more special ed classes because he can’t write really well because he broke his dominant hand twice because no one knows why.

Gaby said tonight that living with Cyrus was like constantly building a house of straw, piece by piece, only to have it blown over with the smallest breath.

I describe his situation as death by a thousand cuts.

I describe my own mental health the same way.

This is where I’ll mention that this is the third time he’s broken his arm at school. And this is the time where I’m finally suspicious. I’ve been fighting with the school and the district for a week to see a copy of his accident reports; I’ll spare you the narrative,  but I’ll say this: no one knows the protocol for getting copies, the person in charge is out because he daughter got married, this woman is a CFO?, I’ll have to file a written request, It won’t be ready in time for the meeting scheduled at school, but hey, I can read over the shoulder of the principal when I get to the meeting, the adult who is supposed to always be by his side was not, somehow some adults wrote the report but I can’t know who they are, his bully might’ve been there when it happened. The school is willing to do anything to help poor, poor Cyrus and why does his bones break so easily (there’s obviously something wrong with him)? You should wrap him in bubble wrap. ha.ha.ha.

All of this has taken a toll on Cyrus. He is either shaking in fear when he sees a white coat, or he is explaining all the steps that will happen, naming all the equipment and acting like it’s no big deal. The last time in the ER when the doctor asked if he knew why he was there he sighed and said, “I broke my arm again,” while continuing to play on the iPad.

My amazing and supportive partner, Gaby, who has lived with him for a little over a year has gone from optimistic and unaffected to crying right along with me when something else happens.

All I want is for Cyrus to be okay, for a whole year. Just a year without anything major would be an improvement.

Last week as I drove Cyrus to school, we were listening to his playlist. O Fortuna was playing and I’m not even lying. He was looking out the window, into the fog and rain, his bright yellow casted arm held with his other hand. Just the night before he’d mentioned that he didn’t have any friends at school, that his teacher is mean, that his bully bothered him again. And here was this kid, his blonde hair a mess, just sitting calmly while I drove him to a place where no one likes him, where he breaks his bones, where he is forced to navigate the world as we all had to. He wasn’t crying or screaming. He just seemed to accept his fate.

 

There are days when all of Cyrus’s past just rushes over me and I have an anxiety attack. There are days when I’m capable of forgetting everything. Here, let me mix some metaphors: Some of the days you’ve known me, the straw house has just been blown over. Most days you see me, we’re rebuilding, piece by fragile piece. I guess I’m telling you because I need you to understand that if you see me not really functioning, if I can’t show up to the planned event, if I just put on my headphones,  I have reasons. A thousand of them. Or. One. Just one reason.

That should be enough.

 

 

Responding to the Friend Request from a Middle School Boyfriend

I see your face there, requesting my friendship. You have the same look in your eyes as when you requested other, more intimate things from me. You look much older now, though, a lot like your dad.

Your profile pic has one of those  waving American flag filters and the words, “I stand” written across it. This is one clue that already makes me wary to hit the “confirm” button. It seems on this important issue, we don’t agree at all: Why I Sit, Part I. and Why I Sit, Part II.  If you read those, it might be enough to change your mind about wanting to be my friend. Hell, even if you don’t read those, the title should give you a very important hint.

I’m sure you know that I’m a lesbian; it was a small town, and I came out just a year after you graduated high school. That must’ve been around the last time I saw you: 1997.  I don’t think I’m wrong when I say you’ve voted against me for probably the past two decades. What you might not know is that my partner is a Spanish-speaking immigrant. Let that sink in, buddy. Okay. Maybe I’m incorrectly assuming a whole lot about you from that one profile picture.

So,  enough about why you don’t want to really be my friend,  I want to tell you why I can’t be yours.

There’s a very good reason I will not be accepting your friend request. You see, I did some thinking a while back: Getting Trumped. If you look closely, you might find yourself in there somewhere. Of course, that’s assuming you recognize the situation. Let me repeat it. You’re #1. As in, the first time I remember a man sexually assaulting me.  Here it is in case you don’t have time to read the full piece about the Cheeto-faced leader of the free world grabbing women’s pussies and bragging about it and how it affected women:

#1

Though I honestly can’t remember if this is the first time [someone sexually assaulted me], I do remember it vividly. I remember it because I was old enough to almost understand. I was 13. And he was my boyfriend. It was on the bus on our way to a track meet. He was a track star in our tiny school. He could climb the rope in gym, upside down. We sat in those green plasticy leather seats. He put his hand on my leg, my knee. That I enjoyed. Or, at least, didn’t mind. But his buddies were in the seat in front of us. They turned around and peered over. And there were only guys behind us, too. I was trapped against the window. His hand kept moving down and closer. I asked him to stop. I told him to stop. But those guys in the seat ahead were watching and he had something to prove. And they kept saying, “C’mon, he’s your boyfriend!” And I kept saying no, download (1)politely. I didn’t want to be uncool. I also didn’t want his hands anywhere near me. But he did. I mean, my pants were on and everything, so I wasn’t sure if it counted for something I should tell someone. He just kept his hand there for a moment and wiggled a finger. I felt like puking. I broke up with him not long after that.

***

Maybe I mis-remembered breaking up with you. Now that I think about it, I think you broke up with me, and you sent someone to tell me (as middle schoolers do) right before I got on the bus, and I think the reason was because I didn’t put-out. Whatever the fuck that means when you’re in 8th grade. I think the reason I remember it as me breaking up with you is because I felt so relieved. Maybe I just wanted to come out the hero in this story.

Besides that incident, there were many times in the hallways of slamming lockers, where you’d try to kiss me and I’d tell you that I didn’t want to because I didn’t want people looking at me and it made me uncomfortable and you’d try to convince me and you’d do it anyway and stick your tongue in my mouth. I remember how you smelled and the jeans you wore. I remember that some of your guy friends saw and would say shit like, “Way to go, dude.”

I figure by now in this explanation of why I won’t accept your friend request you’re pretty pissed. That’s fine. Maybe you are saying, like, she’s a fucking dyke, anyway, that’s why she wasn’t into it. Or maybe give me a break, I was a kid and didn’t know any better.  Well, believe it or not, I “dated” quite a few guys in my teenage years. Almost all of them treated me with respect. There were teenage boys who were kind and listened when I said no. And here’s a weird thing, I feel like I have to thank them for being good and respectful. I feel like it’s unusual that they would behave appropriately.

How fucking horrible.

That I should applaud young men for being decent.

Maybe, too, you’re thinking, like why didn’t you say anything or break up with me? Good question. You see, society taught me that guys will be the aggressor and if I don’t accept sometimes, I lose them. And it’s bad to lose a man. And, wait, I think you broke up with me because, what was the reason again? Oh, right. Because I didn’t “put-out.”  But maybe it was more like, I didn’t accept your aggression.

Now it’s 24 years later and I’d like to go back to help young Christina in her time of need.

When I relive that moment, I imagine I punch you square in the face. All of my friends are watching this time. You don’t really cry until you get home later in the evening.

It didn’t hurt as much as it scared you, but you feel so humiliated, so powerless.

 

 

 

End of (School) Days

There is something beautiful about being in an empty classroom; on the first day of school it’s the symbol of all the possibilities. It’s the beginning of new discoveries for both a teacher and her students. It’s the anticipation of what characters and ideas will be shared in the weeks to come.

I became a teacher accidentally. When I applied to graduate school, I learned that teaching is what grad students typically do. Of course, for students of creative writing, it’s very rare that we’re afforded the opportunity to teach what we’re interested in. Usually, we, like any other grad student of English, teach composition. If you don’t know, composition is what most people would consider the opposite of creative writing: there is specific structure, grading rubrics, assignments which ask students to illustrate, research, and persuade an audience (not that this doesn’t and can’t happen in creative writing). It is not poetry. It is prose which can sometimes take the shape of narrative, but generally requires students to learn about reputable sources, ways of researching, proper formatting of essays, and incorporating others’ ideas into their own writing. It’s not naturally fun. It’s a required course. It’s a classroom of 18 year olds learning how to college correctly. For the student, it feels like busy work and too much writing. For the teacher, it feels like being suffocated under a stack of papers while trying to explain that there are rules for comma usage and no, you can’t just write it the night before it’s due.

A lot of times, it feels like parenting.

Somehow the academy thinks it’s my job to teach them life and college skills. Professors in other departments think it’s my job to teach them how to be amazing writers in just one semester. In fact, we are blamed by universities if the students don’t write well when they get out of our courses.

Here’s what I teach:

1. Don’t email your professor and say, “Hey…”

2. Things have to be turned in on time

3. It’s rude to come to class late

4. Yes, it has to be turned in on time

5. Put the phone away.

6. Classical argument structure

7. MLA formatting (which they can google, but still fail to do correctly)

8. Close reading of texts

9. How to play rugby

10. How to have a meaningful discussion about literature

11. Where the library is

12. How to use a library

13. Yes, you have to go to the library and touch and read an actual book

And though you’ve probably heard me complain before about the awful papers, the hilarious sentences, begging for grades, the way they try to email things to me days after they’re due–I do love teaching. I love meeting new people. I love helping students understand new concepts. I’m touched when I see an evaluation that says, “I always hated English until I took this class.”  Or “Christina really cared if I was learning.” That’s what it’s all about.

I love teaching. But teaching hasn’t loved me, exactly.

As a full time professor, there is more to teaching than just teaching. There is committee work, advising, curriculum redesign, hiring committees, class planning, GRADING, and, for some, their own research and grant writing. The teaching part of teaching is about 5% of how professors spend their time. Maybe less. I have been in that position. I taught as a real, full time professor for three years. Quickly, I realized the school didn’t quite care as much about the students as I thought. It was more about the numbers and money. I no longer wanted to be a part of that culture. So I left.

I’ve been teaching as an adjunct since then (and have held 8 other jobs in those two years). There is a lot less commitment to the university and more to the students. But there is still the planning and grading. When someone adjuncts in this part of the country, the pay is about 9 dollars an hour.

Yes. Some adjuncts earn less than minimum wage.

There are a lot of stories like mine. I have worked my ass off teaching for 9 years here in mid-Missouri. And somehow, I ended up where I started.

I tell you all of this because I think it’s important you are aware of what happens to most teachers you know. We burn out quickly and brightly.

Besides being a symbol of new possibility, an empty classroom can also mean relief. Finally, a break from grading, from poorly written emails, from excuses about late work.

Today was my last class for the semester.

Or.

Today was my last class.

Due to budget cuts and low enrollment, I don’t have a job at Mizzou after this semester. I was offered a job to teach two classes at William Woods (8$ an hour to what is basically 20 hours a week). Starting again in August. I don’t think it takes a degree in math to understand why that simply cannot happen.

I didn’t quite realize today was my last day until right before I walked into the classroom. I’ve been so busy with applying to jobs and trying to catch up on grading and laundry that I hadn’t taken the time to think. I brought my students candy and we talked about their final projects and due dates. I’d told them all my struggles of job searching and job finding. I’m open with my students. I show them that teachers are humans, too. One student realized what today was and said, “This is your last day teaching…forever.”

I’ve been teaching now for 11 years. If I’ve done the math correctly, I’ve had 900 students in my classroom. Which means I’ve read 4,500 essays. Which means I’ve commented on 13,500 pages.

 

I start my new job as a Research Specialist on May 9th. My new job has nothing to do with creative writing, teaching, or English. It does have everything to do with anthropology, skeletons, data, relearning what I once knew, and having two bosses to monitor my work. It is only 40 hours a week. With vacation, sick time, a salary, and insurance. It does not require that I grade papers while I’m waiting at Jiffy Lube, while I’m eating breakfast, while Cyrus is occupied with his Bat Cave, while I’m visiting my parents, while I’m on vacation, or when I’m in the bathroom. I am looking forward to coming home and not having a stack of work with me.

Today was my last class, though there is still a lot of grading to be done.

After the last student left, I paused and looked out into rows of empty chairs still warm from bodies. For four months, they sat there while I talked. They sat in my class for 11 years. Where I was in charge and finally knew what I was doing. Where I could make my own rules. 

Today the empty chairs did not feel like relief; they did not feel like a fresh start.

When I walked out today, I turned one last time to look at those chairs, my classroom. It did not just feel empty, but completely abandoned.

 

last day mu

My Gay Timeline: Seventeen Years of Tolerance, Part I.

July 1997: I fall in love for the first time. She’s a girl. I cry because I think God hates me. I pray that he’ll change me.

August 1997: Mom and Dad find out. They tell me I’m going to hell. They call me a dyke. They threaten to kick me out of the house, “No lesbian will live under this roof,” they scream. They scream sexual obscenities at me while I curl into a ball and cry. I am a virgin and I’ve never even kissed a girl.

September 1997: I come out at school. The word “dyke” is keyed into my gym locker. The principal won’t look me in the eye and seems as he might throw up every time he sees me. So, nothing is done about this tiny hate crime. Other kids at school are called fags constantly. Nothing is done.

October 1997: I’m sent to a therapist so he can convince me not to be gay.

November- December 1997: My family just stares at me during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My entire senior year of high school: I change in the bathroom stalls in the locker room because there were some rumors I was looking. I wasn’t looking.

Spring 1998: Friends remind me that I’m going to hell. For the Bible tells me so.

Fall 1998: Holding my girlfriend’s hand and some men in a truck yell, “Dykes!” out of the window.

Spring 1998: Holding my girlfriend’s hand and walking when a woman stops what she’s doing to turn around and curl her lip at us.

Summer 1999: I kiss my girlfriend on the cheek. Some people in a truck see it and yell, “FAGGOTS!” out of the window.

Spring 2000: I quit wearing rainbow things because I’m afraid of someone hurting me. I learn to be more quiet.

Summer 2001: Someone I love very much breaks my heart. My family refers to her as, “my friend.”

2003: Walking alone, a Jeep full of 20 year old guys speeds by me and they yell, in unison, “Fag!”

This one time: I meet my cousin’s new boyfriend. I say hello. He says, “I like to eat pussy, too.”

2004-2007: In graduate school I meet open minded people. But somehow, guys still say, “It would be hot if you kissed that girl over there.”  or “C’mon, Christina, just one fuck. I promise you’ll love it.” or “My wife and I are looking for…”

By this time, I’ve quit holding hands in public. And kissing, that stopped years before this.

2008: Mindy and I get married. I insist the wedding look and feel like a “regular” wedding so everyone realizes that our love is real. We have a huge turn out. I assume everything is wonderful.

Spring 2009: I let myself feel comfortable around family again. I think they love me. I think they don’t even think about sexuality anymore.

2009: Someone says to Mindy and me, “Jesus, you two bicker like you’re married.”  We say, “We are married. You were at the wedding.”

2009: Mindy gets pregnant. No one knows what to think.

March 2010: Cyrus is born. Our lives turn upside down. We isolate ourselves from everyone. We are now lesbian AND preemie parents.

January 2012: We get a divorce. Someone calls Mindy “my friend.” I weep.

Often: People ask, “Who’s the man?”

More often: Men beg me, “Just give me a chance. I can do so may things to you.”

Not long ago: I am told how tolerant the family has been of my choices and friends. (Code for “gay” and “wife/girlfriends”)

Just now: I guess I am naive to think all that is in the past. To think that I am (finally) just another person. That I can just be and be left alone. Or that I can be judged based on asshole things I do and say, like everyone else. But. I’m still gay. I still need to be reminded I don’t fit.

Today: I drive by a billboard that says, “Marriage is 1 man + 1 woman.”  I cry. I remember that this has now been half of my life.

Tomorrow: I add another brick to that wall around me.