Today is my son’s fourteenth birthday. It’s a bit surreal, I must admit. He’s gotten so tall in the past couple of years. He is showing signs of real maturity (interlaced with signs of immaturity – he’s only fourteen, after all!) I’m getting glimpses of the adult he is becoming and it’s a wonderful thing to see.
I remember myself at fourteen. I call that my “awful year.” That’s the year that spiraled out of control for me and caused so much damage to my psyche and soul. When I was fourteen, I was molested twice, once by a family member and once by a neighbor. My one parent on the scene was emotionally unavailable, going through her own version of a nervous breakdown in the aftermath of her divorce. Her response to my attempts to tell her what happened was to move us to another city and never speak of it again. My father was far away, inventing a new life for himself, and refused my requests for sanctuary. I drank, I smoked, I wandered the streets and got involved with the wrong people. Luckily enough (looking back on it I can use that phrase – it could have been so much worse) I wasn’t raped, either during the molestations or my wanderings with “friends” while drinking. I wasn’t beaten or given an STD. I didn’t get hooked on drugs. But god, the reverberations of those horrible experiences are still with me today.
I withdrew from society and became a loner, even more so than before. I always knew I was ugly, but now I was sure of it – and I think I went out of my way to be unattractive so I wouldn’t be noticed. Do you remember the girl in high school who always avoided eye contact, wore long pants and baggy shirts, never wore make-up, and always had her nose stuck in a book? That was me. It didn’t help that we moved 4 times between seventh and twelfth grades, to 3 different cities no less. By the time I ended up in the last school for my eleventh and twelfth grades of high school, I was a master at avoiding people. No one noticed me. I talked to no one. I rarely even talked to teachers. I lived through my books.
I got as far away as I could for college, going to a small college on the edge of the mountains. I did try to open up – I made one close friend, made a couple of contact friends, joined a couple of clubs. I loved college for the freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted. But I remained closed emotionally. And my social skills were nonexistent. I avoided large groups like the plague, hating to draw attention to myself.
I first started experimenting with larger social groups in my third year of college. I moved closer to home, transferring to much larger college, and got a job as hostess at a local restaurant. My stepfather got the me the job – I wasn’t exactly “hostess” material, shrinking into the background as I was wont to do! It was a failing restaurant and we had few customers, but I met a friend there, Alex. He was gay, about as flamboyant as you can imagine, and was a wonderful introduction to a society I could join and be safe in. I could go out with Alex to gay clubs and not worry about being looked at. I loved it. I was craving social contacts, but terrified of it as well and had no idea how to be a “girl.” I had avoided make-up, girly clothes, heels, you name it. My goal in life up until then was to be invisible, and I had done a great job of it. So now, how to go about joining life again? Alex had definite ideas on what a girl should look like and dress like, and while I didn’t agree with him much of the time, it was freeing to try to wear dresses, make-up, etc. Thanks to Alex, I got a better job waiting tables at a local country club.
At the country club, there was this tall, lanky, gorgeous guy who was the bartender. He was quiet but oh, so funny. I made my first straight guy friend and loved the chance to talk with him on slow nights. We became friends, and I eventually realized that he liked me. Oh god. I was terrified. I had almost no experience with guys. I didn’t date in high school, didn’t go to my prom or senior events. I didn’t date in college, either. Hell, I barely talked to girls – I had NO experience talking to guys! Alex and his buddies weren’t much help, either. They were convinced I was gay. They even set me up on a couple of dates with lesbians, sure that would trigger my inner gayness. These didn’t work – I was attracted to the girls, I agree – to this day I consider myself “heteroflexible”, not straight – but there wasn’t a spark there.
So here was this smart, funny, gorgeous guy who seemed to like me. He wrote me poetry. He sang songs. We would talk for hours. And I liked him, too. But I was so scared, and so shut off. The first time we necked and I let him get his hands inside my pants, I had a major panic attack. In fact, the first times we ever tried new things, I would have long, jagged crying spells afterwards. And still, he liked me.
At social events I would freeze up. We’d go out with his buddies and I would hide in the corner, never able to talk and usually being incredibly anti-social. And still he liked me. I tried to tell him that it wouldn’t work, that we couldn’t be together. And still he liked me.
It’s been almost 20 years now that we’ve been together. K saved my life. He saw inside the hard frozen shell that I kept erected around myself to the soft, creamy center. He broke through my walls and drew me out. Because of him, I have discovered myself. I even like myself (most days!) I have discovered that I am sexual, that I am sexy, that I am beautiful, that I am social, that I AM.
I guess my son turning fourteen triggered this reflection on my life, where it started going badly and where I’ve ended up. My wish for my son is to have a joyful life, one filled with hope and inspiration and love. I hope and pray he never has an event that sends him hiding inside his shell for years, scared to come out. He’s growing and changing and becoming a wonderful man. My wish is for him to one day meet a girl (or guy) that he will love forever, one he is willing to wait for, work for, hope for, wish for. I want him to grow up to be a man like his father, like K. A good, kind-hearted man who can make his partner’s dreams come alive.