Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I've written about love and friendship, coming out, gay marriage, my relationship with my Dad. About risking every ounce of affection that surrounds you in the slim chance you'll be cast out. I've covered a lot of territory, but I hadn't necessarily realized how much has been steeped in one sort of notion. The idea that maybe today is the day they'll stop loving me. 

Even for a Canadian with all the rights he deserves, today's U.S. Presidential election feels like dead man walking. For 1000 noble reasons, the United States is the Holy Grail. It might be 300 years of clever PR or just folklore run amok, but if it sticks in America, it feels like the world is a better place. And so if equality, tolerance, simple love doesn't exist there, it might as well not exist anywhere.

Needless to say, this election is bringing up my deep-seated rejection issues. And the socio-political sort don't feel all that different than the tiny ones of childhood.

Anna was an inordinately-beautiful 9 year old girl from the former Yugoslavia. My best friend Ryan and I plucked her and the other new girl that first day of 4th grade. Our teachers called us the Four Musketeers and we were inseparable.

As is often the case in these mixed, pre-pubescent circles, puppy love bubbled up. I was infatuated with Anna. For months (then years) I adored her. She knew this, everyone did. On one of those first days of Spring, when, to avoid wearing it, you strap your winter coat between your back and your knapsack, we were all walking home together. Anna asked me if I wanted a kiss and led me from the group, a few meters away. When I leaned in to kiss her, she kicked me, very hard, in the balls.

Later that night I told Ryan that I was upset. I told him, inexplicably, that I had just cried in the bathtub. I see now that I was an easy target with my wide-eyed vulnerability, but I was who I was. The next day everyone knew I was kicked in the balls, sure, but they also knew I'd cried about it.

It was something like friendly fire, I guess. I'm not sure I've figured out (even 20 years later) why I let my friends be so cruel to me. But they were, more often than not. Ryan was mean to me in groups, but kind and sweet when we were alone. He was a bit of a ragamuffin; giant oversized t-shirts, pant legs that always dragged, the toes of his socks long and limp out in front of him. He was funny and wild and had a water bed. His room was a wreck and he swore like a sailor. I can still smell him if I try hard enough. He was intoxicating when he wasn't hanging me out to dry.

I met Aaron in seventh grade. He lived around the corner, but attended another elementary school, so none of us knew him. I don't remember how we met, exactly, but I remember how he made me feel. He was strong and muscled, a good-looking kid. He played competitive baseball. He was decidedly boyish, but also bookish and well-behaved. His family was Christian.

And for some reason he liked me, this scrawny, mincing, unathletic boy. He was always kind to me. I didn't have to fight for his affection. We became fast friends that year; I'd hurry home from school so I could hang out with him.

He replaced my friends completely that spring, 1994.

I went to Ryan's house to explain that I didn't want to be friends anymore. He had removed the screen on his bedroom window and sat six or seven feet above the ground on the sill, those pants and socks dangling.  I remember looking up at him from the front lawn; he was sad. He was being rejected, by me.

And I was smug. For the first time, I was bolstered by the affection of a thoughtful friend. I was Tina Turner at the end of What's Love Got to Do With It. And I hurt Ryan's feelings with that newfound confidence. We decided to go play in the forest nearby. It was spring and there was water everywhere, big, swampy pools of it. We played and jumped and balanced each other on fallen tree trunks. I remember all of this under a weird John Hughes haze. Breakup sex for 12 year old boys.

Soon we'd go to different high schools and lose touch altogether. Sometimes I'd encourage my Mom to drive through our subdivision another way, so we could pass his house. I'd casually crane my neck to peer into that bedroom window, or into the yard where he and his brother might be playing in the pool. I never stopped wishing he'd been nicer to me.

I'm not suggesting we vote based on the heartbreak of little boys, but if we spent a few minutes thinking on the feelings we felt when they were pure and unfettered, we might begin to see things differently. We might be able to clear away the chattels of adulthood and think feel clearly with our hearts.

A Republican would call me sentimental at best, and a namby-pamby, anti-American, bleeding heart-Socialist at worst. But, that's okay, I've been called more terrible things by my very best friends.


  1. I love everything about this post.

  2. I love everything about this post as well.

    I'm in Washington State. We've got a big initiative on the ballot right now and I hope it goes the right way. The way that tells our little girls and boys that they are perfect just the way they are.

  3. I connected to this post as well. You're an excellent storyteller, and I appreciate your words.

  4. I've been a Jason and I've been a Ryan....both anxieties keep me up at night every now and then. Comforting to know we all go through "stuff" which is part of kids figuring out reality. Beautifully written.

  5. That last line just broke my heart. I love your insight and appreciate how honest you are!

  6. I'm happy we made the strides we did with this last election but I have to say - there shouldn't have to be anything on any ballot for allowing people to live as they are! It should be nobody else's business whom you choose to love and marry. Slow progress here, but better.

    This was a lovely post.

  7. Found you through Jeremy & Kathleen and oh man I should stop reading blogs at work. I'm both proud and dismayed that I'm a Washingtonian - yeah...we gave people rights (!!) that no human being should ever be able to take from another.

    You are a glorious, realistic, honest, deep story teller. I don't know you but I so do.
    The state of politics and politicking in this country (the US) is dismal. I wonder "who ARE these crazy people?!?" when I go to sleep at night. I know plenty of Republicans (the deep red Texas type - where I'm from and the deeper red southern type - where my family is from) and though they do think I'm a hippie pot smoking girl-liking pacific northwest freak (which would be fun, but is MOSTLY just not me) they could still have an intelligent, caring conversation with me about issues. And issues never overtook people.

    It's just so ugly personal nowadays. Cycles. One day, we'll grow up.