Today is my 32nd birthday!
And I only got about three hours of sleep because lately my (fucking) insomnia has been goddamned awful and so I slept from 10pm to 1am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so instead I just watched a documentary about ACT-UP and their fight to get AIDS drugs on the market in the 1980s-1990s. I have a huge admiration-crush on Peter Staley in particular. Toward the end of the film, they show some of the main activists who are still alive, and that’s when I started crying. “Oh thank goodness, he’s still alive.” These beautiful, brave men who fought so hard when they and their friends were dying– and many of them didn’t make it until 1996 when effective drugs finally hit the market. It’s really humbling and inspiring.
I volunteered a few times for the Monterey County Aids Project when I was in my teens, but I don’t think I was really aware of how horrific an effect the AIDS crisis was having on the world. We were taught growing up that sex could kill us, along with the lessons about how not to get raped and how to put a condom on a banana. I was almost always vigilant about protecting myself from STDs and pregnancy, and other than a brief chlamydia-scare when I was 18, I made it out of the 1990s unscathed by disease and unwanted pregnancy.
But AIDS never seemed real. I started high school in 1995, one of the worst years of the AIDS crisis, just a year before the protease-inhibitors became available and started saving lives. In my lifetime, HIV and AIDS went from being an automatic death sentence to something we’re now taught is a difficult but manageable chronic illness. Perhaps my early vigilance about protection came from the societal fear that had seeped into the youth of my generation, the knowledge that desire could kill. Also, one of the few things my rather lenient parents stressed to me in no uncertain terms was that I was not to get pregnant. They were pretty good about keeping me informed and letting me know that I could get on birth control when and if I wanted to. My mom drove me to Planned Parenthood 16 years ago so that I could get on the pill, and as soon as I had my license, I started taking my friends to do the same. I bought people condoms. I gave people the morning after pill from my own stockpile. I loudly enthused about the various forms of birth control that had helped me avoid getting knocked up, which, coming as I do from a very fertile family, I still consider an achievement.
But I have to say that, in my later years, I’ve gotten lazier about taking precautions (which, oddly enough, mostly came about after I got herpes.) Getting sterilized last year only helped me relax about the need for safer sex. After all, I can’t get pregnant. I already have herpes. Maybe I felt like the horse had already escaped the barn. And it’s not like AIDS can kill us anymore.
So I haven’t insisted on condoms. I’ve used them, I have them around, but I can’t remember the last time I bought any. I am obsessed with the idea of informed consent, and so I’ve told every potential partner about my STD status before we’ve had sex. Some of them opted out. And that sucks, but I still get laid, and I still tell everyone. And if they still wanted to go ahead, if they were willing to take the risk or just didn’t care, I didn’t insist on condoms. And I should have, and I will. Not just because I’m afraid of getting HIV or another STI, but because it’s disrespectful to myself and to the people who came before me and fought so hard to educate, reform, and change the world into something better. Just because HIV isn’t an automatic death sentence doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant. And it hardly does anything for my superiority complex if I don’t walk the talk I’ve been talking for half my life.
So, as a birthday present, other than/in lieu of the massive amounts of money I’d like everyone to wire to me as soon as possible, I’d like to ask all of you to do two things. The first is to watch this amazing documentary How To Survive A Plague. The other thing is to please go get tested. HIV tests used to involve vials of blood and two weeks of waiting, but these days it’s a finger prick and ten minutes to get results. Get tested for herpes and HPV and chlamydia and gonorrhea and syphilis while you’re at it. Take a friend, take a lover, or just go by yourself.
I’m gonna spend part of today (in between finally passing out from exhaustion, partying, and passing out from exhaustion again) researching ways I can get involved in public health education and action. Sadly, Planned Parenthood doesn’t seem to need volunteers in my area right now, but I’m sure someone does.
Some of the more recent ones:
When you gonna love you as much as I do? is from Winter by Tori Amos
Some of them want to abuse you is from Sweet Dreams are Made of This by the Eurythmics
It’s almost everything I need Sullivan Street, Counting Crows
I’d rather leave than suffer this Monkeywrench, Foo Fighters
love is a hell you can not bear/give me mine back and then go there Sleep to Dream, Fiona Apple
only something new Least Complicated, Indigo Girls
Did you know that most of my blog entry titles are song lyrics? I should really link to the songs in my entries. Like this!
It’s pretty damned relevant.
This month, yo. THIS FUCKING MONTH. Here’s what this month has been like: I had two teeth pulled, got hired and then fired from a job that I actually really liked, was abruptly dumped, and seem to be losing one of my best friends. I haven’t been sleeping super well. But I am strong like YAK*. I will persevere.
And I am taking my pills and going to therapy and relying on my awesome friends, and it’s keeping me sane.
I can be blustery and blunt and I crack jokes at the wrong times, and sometimes this makes people think that I don’t take things seriously, or that I am not introspective, or that I don’t hold myself accountable for things. But I do, I am, I do.
When someone tells me I’ve been an asshole, one of the first thoughts I have is OH MY GOD AM I AN ASSHOLE? When the answer is yes, I apologize and try to make things right. Sometimes it takes me a few days to realize it, but then I do my best to make amends. When someone in my life feels wronged by me, I take it extremely seriously.
I am not perfect. I fuck up. Sometimes I hurt people. But I try super hard not to. And when I do, I say I’m sorry.
I just haven’t held the rest of the people in my life to that standard.
I have held on to the incorrect idea that if I am good enough, people will love me. I have seen where compromises needed to be made and done all the compromising myself because, oh my Google, I have things to be sorry about and to make up for. And maybe if I’m good enough or kind enough or sorry enough, I’ll be forgiven for being human. So I don’t hold people accountable for their actions, because they are in pain. I don’t ask people to make things right, I don’t demand fairness or kindness or consideration. Because I’m bad. Because I owe so much. Because I believe that I deserve the shitty things that happen to me, the careless things that people do to me.
And I drive myself absolutely crazy trying to be good enough, and I vibrate with the tension of holding things in, and I still can’t win anyone’s love.
Love isn’t something you can win like a prize. It isn’t something you have to earn. It is something that is freely given, or it isn’t given at all. You can’t convince anyone to love you. It has nothing, nothing, NOTHING to do with being good enough if what good enough means is that you have to twist yourself into knots, prostrate yourself, or make all the compromises in your relationships.
*Inside joke. You don’t really have to know anything other than that yaks are strong, and it’s meant to be said in a bad Russian accent. That’s the whole damned joke.
In romantic relationships, I have a hard time holding anything back.
Sure, with age and experience, I’ve learned not to express every emotion immediately as it occurs, but there isn’t a lot about myself that I conceal from people. What you see is what you get, right from the beginning.
So I’m always puzzled when I get to know someone and all of a sudden they let their guard down and… whoa. This isn’t really what I signed on for.
My neediness manifests so differently than the neediness of others. I am quite obviously a sucking chest wound of need. And if I meet someone and I get the sense that they just want someone and I seem to fit well enough, I tend to run away, not always gracefully.
But when I really get to know and like someone who seems, at first, to be fairly self-confident and independent, and then they get super depressed and down on themselves, it baffles me.
Because, like, how can you hate yourself? I love you. You made me love you. And doesn’t the fact that you are loved by me and several other cool people make you believe that you’re lovable? It’s always worked for me. Perhaps it’s because I seek my validation outwardly, but when I’m getting that ego stroke of “someone loooooooves me,” I tend to feel like I’m doing something right.
So when that someone turns into a depressed ball of insecure, I get very frustrated.
And so I watch, helpless, as my lover drowns in a sea of doubt, with life rafts all around, and there’s the shore. Because, while I am a strong and capable swimmer, I can not keep us both at sea and afloat, and you won’t let me carry you to someplace where your feet can touch the bottom.
You say you have no anchor. I say, Who the fuck wants an anchor? Why not sails? Why not wings?
I got engaged when I was 22, but I never married. There’s a wedding dress in my closet that’s been tried on at least a dozen times but has never been worn. I had an engagement ring with a diamond on it, but I sold it five years ago for grocery money.
I spent much of my twenties with someone who said I was he love of his life and everything he’d ever wanted in a woman, but it seemed that he was determined to destroy me. Every bit of trust I had, all the love and patience and understanding I had in me, were used and wasted on him. He would reel me in gently and spit me out violently, over and over. And I stayed, and I followed him, and I put up with because I thought that’s what love was.
Until one morning I just couldn’t anymore. I woke up and I was done. There wasn’t a question, I had absolutely no doubt, and I have never missed him. The fact that we remained “friends” for three and a half years after I ended our romantic relationship speaks to the fact that I am a loyal and giving person, but our friendship died the same way our relationship did– suddenly and absolutely. We haven’t communicated since Christmas 2011, and since I’ve been back in Portland I’ve run into a couple of his friends but never him, thank god. I think I saw him at a bus stop one day; it would be hard to mistake that sour expression for anyone else.
I went to therapy today, and it stirred things up. So I’m here now in my bedroom remembering the time he got drunk and tried to push me down the stairs. The day he spat in my face as I drove us home from couples therapy. Or the time he broke the bookshelf he’d bought me the week before and some of the things that were sitting on it. The day he mocked me while I was crying. The New Years Eve when he screamed at me that I was a whore, had always been a whore, would always be a whore, and no one would ever love me if they knew who I really was.
Here’s an email exchange from a few months after we broke up:
I received full funding for this term – over six thousand dollars. Next term they are offering me over nine thousand, some if it being grant money that I won’t have to pay back. Next year I’ll start receiving money from the most recent GI Bill – I’m eligible for seventy percent, as it turns out.
I move into my new studio apartment downtown tomorrow evening. [My band] will be releasing its first album next month, and we’ll begin playing shows. My [job] is still solid.
My fucking troubles are over, dude.
[I immediately respond]
Hoo Fucking Ray, dood. Congratulations. I’m so glad to hear you’re doing well! Continue to be well.
[MINUTES after receiving my email]
Since you’re obviously around, I want to take this time to provide myself with a sense of closure.
Reading your blog over the last few months, I’ve been both horrified by what I’ve read, and also relieved – my every suspicion about your character has been confirmed, and my every reason for leaving you has been justified. It’s sad that you can’t amount to much more than that for which you’ve settled, and I hope you can gain some sense of identity and self-esteem one day through less destructive means.
I still do not want you to approach me if we happen to come across each other in public – it’s not acceptable in the least. Consider me gone forever, because I don’t think that we’ll ever be so much as friends.
I wish you the best.
So then I said:
Yes. Everything has been confirmed. Don’t you feel ever-so-fucking-proud of yourself?
Except, darling, here’s the thing. I’m not cheating on anyone, just like I never cheated on you—but you did cheat on me. I’m not lying to anyone, not like you lied to me, on numerous occasions. I’m remembering what it feels like to actually LIKE myself, something I’d managed to forget while I was with you.
Am I having sex? Yes I am. Am I committed to one person? No, I am not. Maybe I’m not living by the rules you’d like, but I’m doing okay. And no one has called me a whore since the last time you did.
In other words, honey, fuck you. And by the way, I BROKE UP WITH YOU. You didn’t leave me… you moved out and still tried to control every aspect of my life. You harassed me for months, which only stopped when I got a phone number that I made damned sure you didn’t have. You need to get over yourself. You need to get over me. Believe whatever you want about me.
You don’t deserve to be a part of my life. Here’s your goddamned closure.
Twenty-three days after sending that message saying “Consider me gone forever, because I don’t think that we’ll ever be so much as friends,” he wrote back
I’ve been seeing somebody for a little while now, and it’s going very well. As a result, my bitterness toward you has subsided significantly. I don’t know if I’m comfortable with us talking in person yet, but I hope that we can do that some day. I also hope that everything is going well for you, and that you’re getting what you need and want from life – you deserve at least that much.
Because he’s motherfucking insane.
And he did this over and over during the eight and a half years I knew him, while we were together and after we broke up. And I put up with it. I kept putting up with it. For years.
Abuse changes you. It makes you not trust other people, but it does something much more insidious– it makes you distrust yourself. And that’s fucking brutal.
The emotional and psychological scars of having been in a relationship with an abuser for much of my twenties, well, they’re hard to shrug off. The abuse fed into my long-held suspicion that I’m damaged, that I’ll never be good enough, that my love isn’t worth shit to anyone. Every relationship I’ve had since has been informed by that abuse. Every time I meet someone I care about, I start to panic about how and when they’ll let me down and how bad the damage will be this time.
The first three or four months I spent with Michael were like a fairy tale. The next four years were hell. I stayed with him in California when I could have left him easily, I stayed at my mom’s house when he locked me out of the apartment, and then I moved to Portland with him, I stood by him when he cheated on me, I took him back each of the literally hundreds of times he told me I sickened him and he didn’t ever want to see me again. I never betrayed him, I never snuck around or called him ugly or told him he should be ashamed of who he was. I tried to give him all the love he hadn’t had as a child. I tried to heal him with my own shattered heart. It didn’t work, of course.
And then I realized that the reason he didn’t really have anyone else is because he is a destructive, cruel, shitty, terrible, unkind, abusive, self-indulgent person with no sense of personal responsibility. He shut out his whole family and changed his phone number so they couldn’t find him. He alienated his friends and mine. He took a starry-eyed 22-year-old who was crazy about him and would have done anything for him, and he turned me into a shell.
I learned, I grew, I changed. I am better off now than I was then. But the scars from that relationship have never healed, may never fully heal. I spent four years of my life in love with someone who tried to kill the best parts of me, and almost succeeded. I spent eight and a half years trying to be the mother, sister, and counselor that he never had or was too proud to seek out. I am astonished that I didn’t run away from him sooner. And if I see him on the street, I can’t promise I won’t scream, or hit, or cry. I hope I’ll have the strength to just turn and walk away. He doesn’t deserve anything more from me. Not even my rage.
I have a friend whom I’ll call Six. Six is tall and her kisses quench me like a drink of iced tea on a hot day. She has an elegant, gawky, geeky grace, and she sings along to the songs she knows at the karaoke bar without any embarrassment, moving her lithe body to the beat, un-self-conscious and beautiful. I never have to worry about seeming cool with Six, because she’s the coolest, and she’s not worried about seeming cool in front of me.
Six has skin like silk. She has the perfect rose-pink mouth, eyes like the deepest part of my favorite swimming hole, and a heartbeat that sounds like low, soft music. I have been smitten since the night we met.
The way I feel about Six scares me sometimes. It reminds me about how I felt about a certain someone five years ago, and that is a path I never want to walk again. There’s a certain magical quality to our interactions sometimes, like we’ve stumbled upon something hidden and rare, like Six is the sort of drug or meditation that can set my head right and give me some peace. But I can’t afford to be addicted to anyone the way I was five years ago, the way I felt like I was being knocked over and washed away by a tide of LOVE LOVE LOVE, that I was helpless, that I would do anything not to have to give up my new favorite thing.
But I’ve grown up since then. I am more myself. And though I have to be deliberate and careful and take extra measures not to lose myself in love with someone else, I now know that Ken wasn’t the only person I’ll ever feel this way about. I had been frightened that I’d already had my one great big love and that everything else for the rest of my life would pale in comparison.
Last night, after I’d had a bit of a freakout the night before, Six said “I still love you,” and then a pause. And then “you know that I love you, right?”
No, I didn’t know that. And while I’m aware that you don’t mean that you’re in love with me, knowing that you love me, being able to take that and hold it in my heart, made me feel like my chest would burst with happiness.
I love you too, my dear and darling one. And I feel blessed and very grateful that I get to know you.
I WOULD NOW LIKE TO OUTLINE FOR YOU THE WAYS THAT MEN ARE OPPRESSED IN AMERICAN SOCIETY:
1. They often lose in child custody cases.
2. Sometimes they’re accused of rape, and they didn’t do it. I mean, sure, this hardly ever goddamned happens, but it HAS happened. And it’s totally as bad as rape, even though it’s less prevalent. Even though people who make false accusations are often fined and/or jailed. It’s oppression. Obvs.
3. Jock itch.
4. Not being able to cry at movies without being thought of as a sissy.
5. Sometimes, like, some bitch sabotages the birth control, right? And then the guy has to make these fucking payments for, like, 18 goddamned years. Oppression.
6. Women and children first off of sinking ships or whatever.
7. The Friend Zone. You know what I’m talking about.