Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Boys and Friends

This week has hosted a lovely string of meetings with friends - over coffee, and omelets, and delicious, sinful, organic pie. There has been chitchat and banter, and glee over each other’s respective successes at life. There has been admiring of each other’s coats and purses, before I inquire after their men, and they inquire after my dogs. And we part ways with a hug and a smile and a lovely to see you…because you see, we are girls, and this is what girls do.

Boys, I guess, are harder. But…they’re not, really. When I think of why the majority of my close friends are female, and the ratio of guys to girl is 1:10 at best, I inevitably wonder how it ended up that way. Because I do like hanging out with guys, and getting to know guys, and generally being around friends of the male persuasion. And sure, I have boy angst in my background, and my male-relative-childhood angst is palpable, but I don’t think that’s the issue here. I think the issue may come down to something much, much simpler.

I am, mentally and socially, the age of seven.

Seven was a good year - don’t get me wrong. I rocked the second grade. There was some solid story time, and hanging out on my bff Samantha’s farm (her family owned goats!). We were cute enough to get away with murder, but our short attention spans and boundless energy meant that life was a string of OMG! A Cloud that LOOKS like a Bunny! Did you SEE that? What? Let’s go ride bikes!

As every good seven year old knows, boys (or girls, respectively) are icky. It’s not that they’ve especially done anything wrong…but the boys aren’t like you, and thus are worthy of collective distain. You are a girl. You play with other girls, while the boys play with boys, and the two social groups seem to ignore each other, entirely, until you have a snow-wedding where you are married to an unfortunate looking boy with the last name Snell.

As this analysis is all very stereotyped, let us not forget the burgeoning gay and lesbian children, lost and wandering between the groups without a sense of belonging, and the lone smelly kid, who no one played with at all. But for the most part, I believe my seven-year-old self was typical - I clung to my small group of same-sex friends and didn’t think anything of it.

Later on, puberty happened, and guy friends happened, and first relationships happened. Sex happened. University happened. And then there was a lot of beer, which blurs things a little, but, along the way, almost all of the friendships I grew and maintained were with girls. When boys (now technically men) came into my life, the scenario always seemed the same: someone would inevitably end up liking someone else who didn’t like them back, and then someone always ended up heartbroken, or rejected, and it was awkward, and Ivy ended up without male friends, again.

There were, and are, exceptions - notably, guys in long term relationships, distant cousins, and gay men, circling the periphery of my life and being lovely in their non-girly ways. I like that. I like hanging out with guys, and mixed company, and kicking back with a beer and a terrible local hockey team (bandwagon supporters in tow). Just don’t ask me too many questions about sports, and we’ll be fine. Oh, and don’t ask me to play cards, I can’t do that. Or pool…oooh, especially not pool. Anything with hand-eye coordination, really. What am I into? Umm…well…knitting? I have a lemon tree named Cecil, and some puppies….no? …I don’t belong here?

Whatever, guys, I don’t need you anyways. I have my female friends, and I have my brain tumor, Steve, and my crippling loneliness, and we’re just fine without you, thanks. As long as my life doesn’t turn into a Sex and the City episode, I’m okay with hanging out with my girlfriends over coffee any day.

Also:

Dear Vengeful God, please don’t let me turn into anything resembling Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. Please, please, please…I hate her horse-faced show, her ugly hats, and her one-dimensional consumer friends so very, very much. Thank you, God. You rock. Amen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tying my Shoes

Looking back on my childhood inevitably involves seeing it through a kaleidoscope: there are images and memories and important people, but the facts are jumbled together in tiny, sharp fragments and categorized by smell and monomers I can’t quite remember; the net result is always interesting but never quite the same.

There are days where I feel sick and impoverished and neglected, and there are days I feel overwhelmed by the blessings I received and ashamed of my ingratitude - and most other days I arrive in the middle, seeing bits and pieces that don’t quite connect, sometimes angry and sometimes sad and sometimes only confused.

My mother was a single mother, the only grandmother I knew was a single mother, and the only great grandmother I knew was a single mother. Men occupied the periphery of my life - never constant or essential, flighty and forever dying tragically. It’s a philosophy I’ve carried with me - I know I want children, but a husband? We'll see.

My mother was not a fan of single parenting - she sorely missed her own father (he died when she was little, and her younger sisters hardly remember him). As a parent, she struggled to raise her own children and complete two university degrees - for her, the strains of not having a live-in husband meant that she was forever out of time, money, patience, and affection. It was lonely and difficult. More parents equal more everything, she quips, and I agree. But why not three parents, then, or four? Why not a whole extended family or two, and a community, and a (*sigh*, clich├ęd) village?

From that perspective, I had lots of parents. There was my youngest aunt, who collected me from nursery school and babysat me often. When my brother and I grew into surly teenagers, her house became a welcome refuge, for days or months at a time. There was my grandmother, who lived on a farm with her second husband. She showed us baby pigs and barn kittens, told us stories, and taught me to set her table according to strict archaic rules I vaguely remember, while her husband (my Poppa) stood gruffly in the background. He terrified me until I was fourteen and miserable, at which point our relationship grew into wry affection - I still miss him.

Of course, my own home had my mother (ruling matriarch), and during the summer months and holidays her influence was supplemented by two other parents - my other aunt, and uncle. Their sons were just younger than my brother and me (and later, their only daughter just younger than my sister), and the three parent, six child unit composes many of my chaotic childhood memories. There were Christmas mornings, and swimming lessons, story times, nature walks, snowball fights, tobogganing…

My uncle built my brother and I a raised, wooden fort in our backyard. He was the adult taking us on camping trips, and nature hikes, and teaching us about different plants and animals. He was the adult who was telling us stories, and probably the only adult who liked children at all - god knows why my aunt had kids. Her anger was volatile and her parenting method best described as authoritarian/abusive; my mother and she retreated into the background of communal parenting duties, making decisions, doling out hotdogs and mittens, clucking and yelling and bandaging knees. My uncle was at the forefront, entertaining us, talking to us, teaching us, thinking up new and exciting adventures. He took me to fire my first gun (a rifle, age eight); perhaps more relevantly, he taught me to tie my shoe laces.

The mantra was something about bunny rabbits and a hole - I don’t quite remember it, though I probably should.

After age eleven or twelve, there are fewer memories of him. The women rushed in and took over - there were fights with my mother and fights with my sister and fights with my grandmother (all to compliment the fun between preteen girls at a cliquey school). When my cousins and brother turned fourteen, my uncle presented them each with a pocket knife; there was a speech to go with it, involving survival and manhood or some such phallic imagery. For me, the pocket knife came a year late, unwrapped without a note, and delivered by my mother - she had argued for it on behalf of fairness, and possibly bought it herself.

The explanation arrived later - much, much later. When I was twenty-two, I came to learn what my female cousin had known for years - that my uncle was, is, has been a child molester and pedophile. I thought of the long hug I’d given him when I was ten (my aunt had called me clingy and quickly intervened), and I wanted to vomit. I thought of my little cousin and wanted to cry. I thought of my uncle and wanted to spit, to rip at flesh until it was all sticky pain and blood mixed with feces.

So I vomited and I cried. I try not to think of him. There’s a street downtown that has his last name, and that bus stop comes with a wave of nausea and rage. I live in a scenic city and, when I wander in its natural beauty, I think fondly of the nature walks, of the camping, of the tree fort - I wonder how to integrate those bits and pieces with the man that I cannot and will not look at again, except from a witness stand.

A man who spends five years of his free time molesting little girls - that man disgusts me completely. But I cannot sift out all the bits of memory he’s stained. And all the happy memories remain with him inside them, and I cannot put the pieces together - they do not fit. The bits of me I’ve cherished are aching with betrayal, and so many little things, years later, continue to hurt. I do not know how to talk to my cousins. I do not know how to tie my shoes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Me of the Day

Current condition: Slightly ill, slightly tired, overall well.

General thoughts on the universe: Meh.

Best news of the day: One of my favourite girls at work is currently on methadone and told me today that she is no longer working - she is trying to get her act together and is considering going into rehab. This thrills me to no end - I know that her odds of staying clean are slim, and that addiction is cyclical in nature, but having the willpower to consider ending that cycle...Huge.

This girl is nineteen - she is one of the youngest women to use our centre. People are quick to note how a traumatic street life can age people, but the reverse is also true. When you are living day-to-day and in the throws of addiction or violence, you don't meet your developmental milestones in the way that regular children and young adults do; you can remain stuck, a time capsule of your former self. To me, this girl is barely thirteen - she is negotiating life the way that your average middle schooler would, and trying to make the best of it. You don't become a heroin addicted sex trade worker overnight - the average age of entry into the sex trade is fourteen, and I think perhaps she was ahead of the curb. I am amazed by her optimism and strength - I hope things work out. She could have an amazing life.

Peace out world, I am going to eat some yogurt.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Friday

A Week's Worth of Monologues: Friday

Last night, I awoke to a distinct stabby pain, located just behind my left cheekbone. As it was approximately 4am and there was little else to do, I replenished my water bottle and went back to sleep.

Sleep is the answer to most conundrums...and that philosophy goes a long way to explaining why I'm no longer in university.

Unfortunately, there are some problems so big that even sleep cannot solve them. The next morning the headache was still there, and I was still saddened by its presence. I have been experiencing migraines and other tension-related headaches since the age of twelve - as such, I have developed a specialized two-stage approach in dealing with pain explosions located within one’s skull. This headache warranted a stage one intervention, called ‘Suck It Up, Buttercup.’ When stage one fails, I would resort to stage two: ‘Long for Death, Weep in Fetal Position.’

According to stage one philosophy, I went in to work.

A coworker was concerned. She stated, tactfully, that I looked like a giant bucket of cow shit. I responded that my head hurt, and she awwed sympathetically. I wondered aloud if it would turn into a migraine - many otherwise benign headaches will have me vomiting and begging for death’s sweet release by mid-afternoon. But it doesn’t feel like one of those headaches, it feels different…

…I wonder if it’s my brain-tumor?

(My optometrist sent me to a neurologist following a weird eye exam last month in which my pupils were different sizes, and since I have yet to have my neurology appointment, I remain convinced that I have a sizable brain tumor by the name of Steve…Hi, Steve!)

My coworker looked skeptical, but I remain convinced. By the end of the day, the pain was still present, and in general I was feeling like I’d been trodden upon by a herd of hefty goats. That evening, my headachiness turned into overall achiness, and I made an informed decision to skip my Saturday of (old) work and stay home and type instead.

…I hate life. I hate headaches, and brain tumors, and the achiness in my wrists and fingers and knees and back…I hate whininess, too, which does not help me not hate my self loathing self. And with that vortex of angst, I shall leave you, dear nonexistent readers…Good Night.