Photo credit: @natgeotravel on Instagram
I did not write an end of year reflection post. I was just lazy. Twenty-seven and 2014 were truly a marker of growth for me. I still don’t have it all figured out, and I never will, but the personal progress and growth I made in 2014 was a real incredible experience.
Romance is never kind to me, but I am beginning to realize that some of it has to do with the places and men I hope to find it in. I had messy encounters with men who were really young. I was 27 and the oldest one, the one I ended up sleeping with, was 23. It doesn’t seem like a big age gap, but 23 is such an awful age to be at. I say this out of anecdotal evidence. A lot of my friends generally agree, 23 is awful. It’s a transitional age. I was really stupid at 23, and I think I’m a fairly smart lady. What was I expecting out of a 23-year-old male? Especially one who told me, “I don’t read books, I’d rather watch the movie.” I obviously don’t learn from John Waters greatest quote, “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have any books, don’t fuck ‘em” What I did learn from my messy encounters is that I can be in control of my satisfaction and sensuality. I learned to be vocal about what I want, what I don’t want and what I want to do or not to do. That was a very important lesson in my journey towards self-love and acceptance.
Of course, my biggest adventure in 2014 was South Africa and Paris. Traveling usually, hopefully, changes the way you perceive the world. I still felt very much sheltered from the realities of South Africa. I felt generally pampered. I went on a study abroad trip. I was fed breakfast everyday. I was shuttled everywhere. I had a bed everyday. I stayed at a nice hotel our last week. It wasn’t the typical travel experience, and all those things weren’t negative things either. In retrospect, I wish I had made connections with strangers. To a certain degree I did. I met a shit ton of women. Some were beyond frustrating; people I would never talk to again. Others, like my roommate Gloria, and another student, Hayley, are still people I talk to and love catching up with. I also met Kimberley, another student from our trip. I met her before our trip because we decided to go to Paris together. I met Dr. Jones, from my history department, and Dr. Campbell from the psychology department at my school. I met Ngiri, a Kenyan student who showed us around campus and encouraged me to go for my PhD. I met Arleen, whom we all became close to. She was our guide to every excursion we made in Cape Town. She was a beautiful, warm and lovely woman. She was the first person I met in Cape Town. She greeted me after I walked up to her, as she was holding a sign with my school’s name on it, “Come my sweet child.” To hear those words after a two-day flight, where I ended up crying uncontrollably on the first flight, was exactly what I needed. She was sort of a mother figure to us, certainly the perfect representative of Cape Town.
This network of women was a beautiful experience. Dr. Jones reinforced my passion in history. During my trip, I had a drunken breakdown after another history student from our program flat out told me, “Who the fuck cares what you think! History isn’t about passion. It’s about facts. It’s objective. It’s research” She was drunk. I was drunk. Not a good time to make such bold statements. I questioned myself. Am I in the right business here? Am I too sensitive? Am I too personal? Am I too dependent on passion, not enough on academic objectivity? Am I a moron?! To hear Dr. Jones say that passion was necessary to become a historian certainly put my mind at ease. What’s more, she wrote me a lovely email after our trip telling me she admired my spirit during the trip. That meant a lot to me.
The connections I made with all these strong women reinforced my feminist spirit. To be mentored by strong women, to work with strong women, and to be friends with strong women has become so instrumental to my growth. Since my trip, I’ve made other connections with professors. Dr. Lyon has had such an impact on me. I admire her teaching and guidance. She has opened so many new ways of thinking and learning, and her guidance is invaluable. She intimidates me sometimes, but that’s good because it keeps me from being lazy or fucking up. It only drives me to do positive and productive things. Of course, it cannot be understated, the connection I made with my former creative writing professor, Angela, has been amazing as well. It’s the reason why I write my silly thoughts on this blog. Although I don’t personally know any of the other bloggers and professors, I always admire their posts and feel privileged to be in such great company. I know they’re all English professors, so I’m always stressing out about my grammar.
Twenty-seven and turning 28 was easier than I expected. I’m actually looking forward to my 30’s, you know, dirty thirties. I despise that phrase, actually. It conjures up images of women who wear too short, too tight dresses and drink too much in Vegas. When I turn 30, you’ll find me embracing it with a subtle 30’s party; an only in private good healthy dirty 30. I’m looking forward to all the possible connections I’ll be making with more strong women. I’m looking forward to growing, learning and loving. It’s difficult to be positive, and I’m terrified of something or someone messing everything up. I have to expect failures, disappointments, and sadness. It’s part of life. I just hope that when those things happen, I can keep my head up. I hope I’ll be able to deal with them in a healthy manner, in a controlled manner. I am prone to ugly bouts of deep depression, but I’ve learned to accept the things I can’t control. I’ve learned to have faith in myself, in my passion. I’ve learned to give myself a day to cry in frustration, sadness or anger, only to promise myself that the next day I have to move on.
I hope 2015 brings professional growth. I plan to cultivate my positive female network. I vow not to let any man determine my worth. I promise to make out or have sex with someone who owns and reads good books. I plan to be more socially aware, to be more conscious about food, animals, injustices, and politics. I basically plan to TREAT MYSELF. I hope to get in touch with my creative side a little more. I feel like I’ve lost my “poetic license.” I mean, history is objective, right?! I can’t employ artistic license when writing history papers. But then again, to quote my Nelson Mandela shirt that I bought in Johannesburg: History, depends who wrote it.
The same year Ben found out about Santa not being real was the same year he found out that his parents would be separating. It will be one of those years of his life, I imagine, that he will run through the sieve of therapists and romantic partners and his own mind again and again to see what kind of insight catches. I was 10 when my mom died. It’s a year I return to often. A month after Benjamin turned 10, our divorce was finalized.
Ben did not take the Santa thing well. Here was a boy who did not believe in God but clung fiercely to all things magical, like Muppets and the Easter Bunny. I promised myself when he asked me if Santa was real, I would tell him the truth. One night, he asked. “Do you want the truth?” I responded. Yes, he told me. He looked sure. I looked straight into those sweet blue eyes and told him. And he shot betrayal back at me, howled from somewhere deep inside, ran down the hall and into his room, and slammed the door shut. He cried in ugly heaves, his face smeared with tears and snot, and Ryan and I sat next to him and tried to calm him. He reminded us about this dream he had in which Santa broke into his room and “rifled” (he said rifled) through his things and determined that he was good. In his dream, he had seen Santa’s boots at the end of his bed and looked up to see Santa staring down at him. This sounded pretty terrifying to me, but he was certain it was real and good. We had to assure him it had all been just a dream. We petted his hair and gently scratched his back and gave him all of the best lines about Christmas being in your heart etc. etc. but nothing made it better. The magic was gone. The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny fell in quick succession. He gradually came to accept it, but I felt horrible for lying to him in the first place.
Then, later that year, we had to sit Ben down and tell him we were separating. It went much the same way. He made a terrible noise from somewhere deep within. It cracked my heart. He ran away from us and slammed his bedroom door again, but this time he locked it against us. You promised me, he said. You promised. He was right. I had promised. Years before, he had asked my why my dad and stepmom lived in separate houses, and I told him about divorce. I told him not to worry because it would never happen to us. I believed that then. That was back during the time when I believed that I could simply bend everything to my will and make it the way I wanted it, that I could give the kids a childhood completely free of some of the struggles I faced as a kid. But we were not doing well, and hadn’t been doing well for a long time. We sat together, all three of us on the bed, and Ryan and I petted and tried to soothe him again. We listened to all of his worries. We told him we would always be friends, would always love each other, just in a different way, and, most importantly, would always love him and his brother. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how much of it Ben believed. I can’t blame him.
Ben is growing up. In the past few months, he started asking about puberty. So I got out my trusty It’s Perfectly Normal. He knows all about male and female bodies, sex, the changes he will go through. Given his age, he still seems to see sex as primarily a way to make babies. He’s into science. That aspect isn’t yet upsetting. But the body thing, he isn’t happy about. He does not want acne and sweat or hair sprouting out everywhere. He told me he is going to make an invention to stop all of it. I try to make it sillier. I make up a song about puberty. I ask him to imagine what his dad would sound like with a young boy’s voice. He laughs and then his little forehead wrinkles again with worry. He thinks so much, all of the time, in all directions. I’m sure he tells me just a fraction of it. He does not want to grow up.
I remember when I was a little older than Ben, and I looked around, and everything seemed less magical. I had seen divorce and my mother had died and my family was weird and I didn’t have any friends at school. I went to Disneyland for a school field trip and found myself calculating ride line times and performing price comparisons with increased efficiency and reduced joy. I could see, plainly, how crowded and expensive it was. It seemed small and hot and not worth it. I didn’t enjoy it again until I got to take my own children there and see it again through them.
Ben is growing up and seeing that life can be difficult. Magical things are tarnished, or gone altogether. I hope he will forgive me for my role in helping him to realize that. I want to smooth everything in his life that is rough, but I can’t. I am just trying to love him through it, even the wounds that I inflict. I want him to avoid growing as cynical as I can be, but I don’t know how to stop it.
I, too, have grown up and seen that life can be difficult. I had a bunch of illusions about myself that have just imploded. But it’s not necessarily bad. Being more uncertain has opened me up, too. There is so much to still learn about and see in a new way. There are so many small things to marvel at, like that spot of moonlight I notice on the floor of my bedroom at 3 a.m. when I am awake, worrying.
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"To hold a pen is to be at war." -Voltaire