Thursday, December 14, 2017

Biological Imperative, Sex Education, and Social Mores

My grandfather had a habit of stretching his blanket; that is to say, he often concealed things, prevaricated, or confabulated. Truth was not always his thing. As a result of this, my father is brutally invested in truth, often to the exclusion of sparing one's feelings. That's one thing that was ground into us from an early age: tell the truth, because the consequences of being caught in a lie will be serious.

So here we are at the one thing to which Dad ever applied his familial tendency to con-artistry: sex education and contraception. As a general practitioner in rural Appalachia, Dad is a pragmatist about teen sexual habits...his original academic background is as an animal biologist, so he has a pretty good understanding of what makes mammals tick, and guess what, folks? We're mammals. Sorry if that bursts your bubble; however, we're the only mammals who know how to prevent conception of a new life as a result of sexual congress. So why aren't we doing a better job with that?

Denial: it's not just a river in Egypt!

This whole theory that if we tell young people to abstain from sex, keep an aspirin between their knees, pray for temptation to go away, or that they will be social pariahs if they become sexually active has little to no impact on actual abstinence. It really doesn't figure until the back-end: pregnancy and/or STDs, and then the Blame and Shame is trotted out. (That also does exactly ZERO good, so just drop it, okay?) Then the Big Bad Abortion Debate crops up.

LOOK, if we're honest about it and acknowledge that a) we're mammals, b) mammals have sex, c) sex can result in pregnancy, and d) that pregnancy CAN BE PREVENTED, abortion does not have to come up at all. What ever happened to the aphorism that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"? 

Back to Daddy. His tactics were simple.

The Old 'Her Period is Medically Problematic' Tactic: "Mrs. Doe, little Janie is having these brutal, heavy menstrual periods that are keeping her out of school and preventing her from participating in band/sports/etc. . I can write a prescription for something that will make that a little easier on her every month."

The 'Focus on School, Not a Heavy Period': "Mrs. Smith, since we're doing Susie's physical for college, might I recommend a prescription that will reduce her stress and pain at That Time of the Month while she's away at school? Oh, good, it's actually the Pill, but she won't be taking it for contraception, of course."

There was also a rather memorable evening when he came home and announced at the dinner table that if we were even thinking about being sexually active, to see him or some other doctor to get birth control- because a very promising girl from our school had concealed a pregnancy from her parents for so long that she was already nearing the end of the second trimester. There was nothing for it but to have a shotgun wedding, because, after all, it is the South.

Slut-shaming girls for being sexually active, or girls who have been raped/molested, is a problem, so a lot of young women conceal it from their families until it's too late. Calling a girl a whore doesn't help. Getting her appropriate medical care and intervention in a timely manner does.

We need to step back and take a frank, unvarnished look at the consequences of not teaching kids about the consequences of sex and how to prevent pregnancy and disease...and I am totally here to tell you that you can't pray away AIDS. For fifteen years, I have worked with children who got HIV from gestational transmission- which CAN be prevented if the mother knows her HIV status and receives consistent treatment throughout the pregnancy. With heroin use going off the charts again, HELLO, new AIDS epidemic from needle-sharing and infected sex.

Pretending that something isn't a problem won't make it go away.















Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Coffee Meets Disappointment

If it weren't for the other single librarians out there, I'd probably be a total basket case. We all seem to be having a few hiccups getting back into the dating realm. It's not just us ladies, either; the guybrarians are not doing a lot better overall. Maybe we're just so weird and compartmentalized that nobody else gets us...and in my case, I'm fat, so that's a big old negative right up front...just not sure what to do.

Here we are at "cuffing season", the time of year when every woman who wants to get engaged hopes that the person in her life has taken the hint, and I'm the most single-est single person alive, or at least it feels that way.

Two other things: my Airedale girl, Sister, passed away suddenly two weeks ago and I miss her so much; and my childhood friend lost her partner to cancer yesterday. That pretty much sucks, and for the record, I don't think we're really old enough to be widowed. (Hell, I haven't even managed to get married yet.)

One of the stranger aspects of my personality is that I look for intelligence as a marker for compatibility (even my celebrity crush is a cute sort of dude, but he has a double first in Classics from Cambridge- which flies my kite a lot more than the 'cute factor'). My nerdiness/brainyness is a huge turnoff to men, so even if they can get past my size (which is damned infrequent), my 'strong personality' and intellectual bent (though not snobby) are pretty much Kryptonite.

I burrow into my fluffy duvets at night and try to be positive about being single. It eludes me.

What's a nerd girl to do? Read Anno Dracula and endeavor to not panic. I went to the movies by myself recently, which is progress considering that I haven't gone pretty much since my ex walked out.

Last year, I had a meltdown on New Year's Eve because I was overwhelmed by being the third wheel and also because my dining companion was a Korean War vet of approximately my dad's age. I had this blinding flash of 'oh, this is the best it's ever going to get' and 'I'm going to die alone and be eaten by wild dogs'. I went still, closed-off, and motionless. I wouldn't eat. I just wanted to lie down and cry.

I hope this year is better, but I make no promises. There's no light at the end of the tunnel right now unless it's mounted on a train that's about to run me over.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

*cricket, cricket*

My therapist asked me the other day if I'd heard from Hopkins. The short answer is 'no'.

Still laughing at the bitter irony that this is the man over whom my ex ostensibly broke up with me. It was a convenient excuse, anyway.

We were blessed to have Doug Jones, the great creature/SFX actor, on our campus yesterday. His maternal family is originally from Harlan, so this was sort of Old Home Week after a limited fashion. I've been an enormous fan of his since he played Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus, but the role in which I absolutely adored his performance was as Abe Sapien in the two Hellboy movies. We were so fortunate that he agreed to come here, and there is already Oscar chatter about his new venture with Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water. I was fangirling all over the place; I rolled out a combo look of Liz-Sherman-meets-Gaiman's-Death-from-Sandman in honor of the day. I was just too worried that I'd have a total meltdown to actually speak to the man myself; as I told the bookstore manager, I was just glad to get to share oxygen in the same room with someone of such talent.

Today I'm back to reality, wearing a British sweater with a striped kitten on it; so from Goth to Twee Librarian, in a single felled swoop.

My brother-in-law rolled in last weekend and basically told my sister to pack her things and get out. She refused, so the standoff continues. He isn't happy, he says; he wants to move out west. I have some editorial comments related to that from which I will refrain, but since he has never had my sister on his insurance policy (which has forced our father to continue working to obtain her $1100/month cash price insulin as samples) and expected any income that she made to be the disposable income of their household, I'm here to tell you that his "Aw, Shucks Good-guy Persona" is bullshit. He recently spent all but about $10 in their bank account on two expensive coffee shop visits and a restaurant meal, came home and offered my sister his leftovers, and then revoked that offer when he realized that there was no food in the house or money to buy any. Did I mention that my sister is a Type I diabetic? This is a form of abuse, by the way, if you haven't clocked it yet.

She's no saint, but how would you feel if your significant other blew $60 you really didn't have, offered you their table scraps, and then decided you (who have an illness that requires you to eat at regular intervals) aren't even worthy of that?

There are worse things than being single, people, and that's one of them, right there. If you spend all the money out of spite and try to starve someone to get what you want, you are an asshole. Period.





Monday, September 11, 2017

On Becoming Invisible

I finally talked with my sister at some length about the Departure of Hopkins from my life, current revised edition.

My ex used my friendship (and his blatant refusal to understand, because it was so inconvenient for him) with Hopkins as one of the many justifications for his cheating on, and subsequently, leaving me.

The biggest irony, or the most brutal joke in all of it, is that at the end of the day, Hopkins assigned me a value of less-than. It's something that large women get used to early in the game; we're less-than human, less-than acceptable, less-than valid, less-than girlfriends, less-than actual friends...because our size is more-than average. Because society judges on appearance, it matters not what other qualities we may have, they cannot redeem us from the egregious sin of size.

I had always considered myself his friend, but he'd decided at some point that I was basically a slightly animated piece of background scenery. As he informed my aunt, under his breath one fateful day this summer, "She's just someone I hang out with occasionally."

Oh, I get it. I'm not worthy of being his friend. That might qualify me somehow as fully human. Instead, I'm not even good enough to rate friendship. I should have known. When his other (or possibly only, if I'm feeling especially revisionist) close friend from high school died a year and a half ago, he didn't go to the viewing or the funeral. He didn't go sign the book. If that's what he'd do to someone he considers a friend, what the hell could I reasonably expect?

I'm almost fifty years old, and this feeling of abandonment grates. It tears at my soul, but in the end, what can I do? Accept it, reject it; it makes no difference. It hurts. Losing people whom you believed to be friends when they chose others, or in this case, being alone, over your company just sucks. I guess that's why I have so many pets...although I wonder sometimes if it's unfair to inflict myself on them, too.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Wading Back Into the Past

Our thirtieth (!) reunion is on the horizon, and there's been a spate of photographs going up on the social media group that the class president put together to organize it. Two things: they're mostly of one clique, and I'm not in very many of them, regardless of whose photos they are.

I'm not in the prom pictures. I wasn't a superlative. The only photo of the senior float construction crew is one in which I don't appear, although I worked for hours on the damn thing every single day the week of homecoming, just as I had in the three preceding years.  (I won the English award and shared the History award. I won two separate academic scholarships. I had also had a scholarship to attend college the summer before my senior year...but because of my school schedule, I had to give up my spots in Girls' State and Junior Miss. I didn't rate much in the way of yearbook coverage- I was in the previous class' yearbook photos more than I was in my own senior year.)

The thing is, I hated being photographed. I still do. For someone who began her early life as a photographer's studio model (I was the ad for two different portrait studios, including a statewide print campaign for one of them), I can tell you when I began hating it: it was when I started picking up weight. When I became an overweight child, having previously been underweight and slightly ethereal-looking, I was no longer considered pretty.

Pictures now involved "suck in your gut", or "stand in the back so your fat doesn't show"; then there's the famous series of vacation pictures as I was just hitting puberty where my father looked at me with disgust and announced, "If you keep getting fatter, we're going to have to go to Omar the Tentmaker for your clothes!" Yeah, my enthusiasm for being recorded on film died a brutal death.

A couple of years later, my dance school staged "Sleeping Beauty", and I took the part of Carabosse, the evil fairy (mostly because it gave me more solos than anyone else). When my class went to have its group portrait made at the dress rehearsal, the mother of one of the other girls said, "Oh, don't let her in the picture with the pretty girls! She's the fat, ugly witch!" The teacher turned to her and snapped, "Then we won't have a class picture for this group. It's all of them or none of them!" There was a brief standoff. I was in the group picture, and I ended up consoling her daughter, who was crying with shame after that little scene.

I have a few regrets about not allowing my picture to be taken, mostly that I didn't have more with my mother before she passed away. Seeing all these photos from high school in which I'm just simply not there also bring back that cold, hollow feeling that I had back then. In a way, I'm to blame...I came back from my summer school experience at WKU with a big old IDGAF attitude, and in point of fact, told a couple of people to their faces that they were no longer part of my reality, full stop. I'd lost Chris/Hopkins and my friends in the Class of 1986 to graduation. I was lonely, and I was bitter.

I'm going to the reunion. It's three hours long, but I am optimistic that I have enough anxiety meds to get through it. I may just hide in the back of the picture again.























Monday, July 17, 2017

Is That All There Is?

For the last several years, I'd toss off a hasty e-mail or so to Hopkins while I was at camp; I pulled myself up short of doing so this year. Part of my route back to my sister's house in the city passes a now-empty call center facility at which he once worked, many years ago. Twice a day, I reminded myself that I'm only someone with whom he occasionally hangs out. I sent no e-mails this year. 

It's forced me to realize that although I thought that we were friends in high school, I was more of a thing he couldn't readily shed. I didn't matter, I was just there. I was part of the furniture; not worth really knowing, not worth remembering. 

We all lose our innocence about certain things as time passes. You never know what will kill it, or when it will die. When it happens, though, there's this hollow feeling that is physically painful. 

Since the conversation with my aunt, clarifying my insignificance to Hopkins, I have sent the lone e-mail explaining that I had done so. 

He won't miss me. He never has. I knew it would go down this way, but I was determined to try one more time. 

It will never make a difference.

I woke up this morning with all four cats in the bed. Tomorrow there will be cats, and the dogs are coming home this afternoon.

That's as good as it gets. I just need to accept it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Existing versus Living, Summer Vacation Edition

It just occurred to me that I haven't been on a vacation in eighteen years, not a real one where there wasn't some other event in conjunction with it. Sometimes it's because I stay with my best friend and her husband- which is more of a visit. Sometimes it's because I'm actually traveling for my job...in fact, the most traveling I ever did in a single year was seventeen years ago, when I was interviewing for new jobs around the Southeast and Midwest. There was a visit/vacation many years ago when a friend and I decided to go to Biltmore during our spring break (we were faculty, and believe me, we need spring break as much as students do) and that culminated in our visiting, you guessed it, my best friend and her husband, a little further out in North Carolina.

People who take annual vacations seem to have so much fun, but usually they're folks who have partners and/or families. One of my library buddies has started going on trips by herself; this year's iteration was a road trip of the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical sites. Maybe I should take a similar trip, but I figure I can be just as lonely in one place, where I don't have to pay to board my dogs or sleep in strange hotel rooms. 

We're kind of back to the concept that I don't like being a burden to others, and I always feel that I'm underfoot. I also have this weird thing about 'I should be doing something productive' when I travel; there's supposed to be some sort of 'mission goal' involved. I guess that staves off some of the emptiness.

What it boils down to in the end is that I don't live, I exist. In many ways, that stems from a lifetime of being dismissed as burdensome or boring or unattractive or...(insert depressing adjective here). I wouldn't know joy if it jumped up and bit me on the butt, because I've been estranged from it so completely my entire life. 

Seeing all the photos and cheerful social media posts this time of year just drives the point home. I don't begrudge anyone their happiness or their vacations, mind you. I just wish I deserved a little slice of that, or had a clue to finding it.