Sunday, October 13, 2013

Defying Gravity

I left for Arizona in the depths of night on September 21, 2013 so that a beautiful woman could take this picture of me on the first day of October:

In just this one photograph, she's shown me that I'm beautiful.  I haven't seen the rest of the photos yet, but I love this one.  I love the peace in my face and the cellulite in my thighs.  I love my polka dot panties and the tattoo on my arm.  I love how confident I look--a confidence I didn't feel for years, and sometimes don't feel now.  

I was sexually abused as a child.  I can say that now, though for years I didn't dare.  

If you've never been abused--physically, sexually or psychologically--you can take the entire concept and drop it into a nice, neat little box and stare into it from the outside.  From the inside of that box, though, it isn't nice.  It isn't neat.  It's hard to breathe in there, and it's even harder to peel off the duct tape and crawl out.  And when it's finally over, when you're safe again, it doesn't matter if the nightmare lasted ten minutes or ten years.  What matters is that it's not actually over.  It takes years, decades, a freaking lifetime to haul the pieces of yourself out of that box.
My early childhood wasn't perfect.  My father had problems with alcohol and gambling, and a lifelong history of depression.  Communicating was hard for him, and he had a social anxiety that I understand better now than I did then.  We didn't have much money.  I remember a lot of Angel Tree Christmases and local food drives.  I remember my mother driving clear across state lines every weekend to sell ribbons and bows at the flea market.  It wasn't perfect, and I know why my parents got divorced, but I also know I spent the years after that wishing to get back into that house we'd lived in together.

It wasn't because I wanted my parents to get back together. 

It's because I was being hurt, and when my parents were still married, I wasn't.

I drove to Arizona because one of the two women who saved my life as a teenager--the woman who's now my wife--told me I could be brave enough to put my story on paper for people to read, and she told me I was brave enough, too, to put my body out there for people to see.  I think her words were something along the lines of, "Look at it this way, Samwise.  If we take our pictures naked, it saves us the trouble of trying to find the perfect outfits."

She was right, too.  Finding clothes that fit right and are stylish is a challenge when you wear a 16/18 (or a 20, like Phoenix) and have enormous breasts.  Apparently even plus size clothes are made for small-chested women.  I have to get shirts that are two sizes too big for me just so they'll fit my chest.  They fall off everywhere else, of course, but at least I can stuff my tits into them.   I didn't have that problem in Tucson.

Getting to Tucson came with plenty of other problems, though, let me tell you.  First was coming up with enough money to get there before Jade's deadline for publication because, you know, she has to stop taking pictures sometime so she can get the whole thing ready for print.  Then the car needed new tires, an oil change, brake pads, new insurance and a new tag.  Then I got pneumonia and had to pay a couple hundred dollars to treat it, not to mention take several days off work and sacrifice the overtime pay.  It's hard to answer a 9-1-1 line when you can't breathe well enough to speak.

Then we remembered how close Arizona was to California and realized...

Proposition 8 had been struck down.

We could get married.

It was a revelation.  A giddy, terrifying, powerful, giggle-inducing revelation.

One that required money to renew Phoenix's expired driver's license, more money for a marriage license and a marriage ceremony, gas money to get from Arizona to California, and possibly even a hotel room if the drive ended up being so long we couldn't make it back to Arizona in one day.  Not to  mention clothes because we were pretty sure you needed something stylish you could actually stuff your boobs into in order to get married.  Phoenix was sure, anyway.  I was like, why do we need clothes?  We don't need them for the pictures. But since she was also pretty sure that even California frowned on being naked in courthouses, we went to the store to shop for clothes.

Getting the extra money to go to California with only a couple weeks' notice was hard, but so many people helped us.  We received over $400 in donations from family (even family we'd never met in person), friends, and from strangers I'd never heard of.  It was amazing.  I cried.  We were going to get married.

And then our car died three days before we were supposed to leave.  Like, irreparably died.  Some nerve on that car, after all the money we'd spent on tires, repairs, tune ups, insurance and new tags.  Couldn't it have died before I put all that work into it?

We were screwed.  Really, seriously screwed because we had to leave in three days, and we didn't have any money for a rental car, and there weren't any completely dead people whose pockets we could go through for loose change.  (If you don't get it, you need to expand your education on epically amazing movies, okay?)

And then my brother's boyfriend lent us three hundred dollars.  It was going to leave him with $40 to his name for the following two weeks, but he didn't care.  A friend of mine from college wrote me a check for $300, too.  And one of Phoenix's little brothers lent us $100, and so did my mother.  I cried again.  They knew I couldn't pay it back all at once, and they just handed it over anyway, no second thoughts.   

So we went to Arizona, and to California.

We got married in a sleepy little town in southern California, stuffed into the corner where the desert meets the mountains.  It was an almost five hour drive from our honeymoon casita in Phoenix, Arizona (appropriate, right?), so we spent the entire day driving there and back.

We didn't care.

After we got married, our faces looked like this:

I cropped the picture.  I hope you don't mind, Jade.  I couldn't resist the closeup for this post.  If anyone wants to share this picture, please link it from the original page on Jade Beall's website, listed here:  The Whole Picture.

Does that picture make me look short?

Oh well, I totally am. 

We don't have wedding bands yet on account of we're kind of broke now; we owe a bunch of people money, and we still have to buy a car. 

So, not much has changed since early childhood.

My life is still imperfect.

I have no patience.  I'm awkward.  I hate telephone conversations, and I'm still introverted at heart.  I don't make enough money.  I'm not sure I can go back to school.  My apartment still smells like pee from when my crazy toddler went through her I-don't-understand-why-we-moved-to-a-different-house-so-I'm-just-going-to-pee-all-over-it stage.  Yeah, I really, really need to rent a steam cleaner and go over the living room rug and the couches...again.  I work too much.  My job is stressful.  I'm fat.  Sometimes it feels like there are too many people living in my house.  My wife is autistic, and I get ridiculously annoyed at her freakouts sometimes (you know, like when she loses her chap stick), no matter how well I understand autism now, and no matter how awesome I think she is (like when she cooked me gluten-free crepes in bed a few weeks back).  I had a miscarriage while trying to have Starren.  Phoenix has had two.  My book isn't finished, and I'm wasting my time with a blog instead.  I don't get to be a vampire and live forever, and Cloud Strife will always be a fictional CG character...and so will his jaw-droppingly sexy nemesis, Sephiroth. 

I created this blog because a photographer wanted my story for her book, and she wanted me to create a blog to expand on it for her website.  I agreed because I love life and I love writing, because a few hundred words in an essay is just a snapshot, and because Jade Beall might be the most persuasively enthusiastic person I've ever met.  She makes women feel like supermodels, or--better yet--superheroes.  To her, every stretch mark, fat roll, scar and jutting bone is beautiful.  It's what she kept saying the entire time Phoenix and I were stripped down, vulnerable, in front of her and her camera.  "You guys so are beautiful, so amazing.  Just epic."  When someone tells you that, it's easy to smile, easy to feel relaxed, to enjoy yourself.  It's easy to feel beautiful.  So I started this blog for her, to tell a story about life and motherhood and this body I spent so many years hating.

Yes, hating.  I hated being fat.  I hated my brown hair and my flimsy fingernails.  Last year, I hated my body's newly discovered inability to eat something as simple and addictively delicious as bread, even though I loved not being sick all the time anymore and (I hope) not miscarrying babies because of the damn bread. What I hated the most, however, was how this body had been used to hurt me, to punish me, and to make me feel so many things I had never asked to feel.

I spent years abusing it.

 Self-mutilation comes in so many forms, and my usual path--one of the most common ones--was to further abuse injuries that had occurred naturally.  Going without eating for hours knowing I had low blood sugar, because I liked feeling sick.  Staying out in the sun all day in the summertime without sunblock knowing I burned easily, sometimes going inside only when blisters welled up on my chest.  Walking on sprained ankles, putting weight and stress on fractured thumbs, or just banging the offending hand against the wall.  Scratching myself until I bled, scratching at the scabs until they bled again.  Anything to feel pain, or sickness.

Phoenix, a longtime cutter herself, was the one who brought me out of this.

When I feel strained now, I go for a walk.  I take Starren for a bike ride (or I did, until she popped her tires...gotta go replace those.), or I just dance with her in the living room, shake your hips and jump all over the place dancing.  I do that at work too, outside by the satellite tower where no one can see me and wonder what the hell I'm doing or why I'm dancing without any music.

I do things like tell my story to complete strangers and then drive across the country to meet them and strip my clothes off so they can take my picture.

That was a one time thing, though.  I think.  Until, you know, I do something crazy like get pregnant and ask her to photograph my huge baby-carrying belly, or my lumpy postpartum one.

When I feel stressed and in pain now, I drive across the country to get married, and then I get a lightning bolt/snowflake tattoo of my wedding date on my head, ensuring that I'll never forget my anniversary (and I'll also never forget that Harry and Draco would have ended up together.  Ginny who?).  It's amazing the things a tattoo can say, if you know the story behind it--sometimes silly, sometimes far from it, sometimes both at once.

It was a hard thing, being away from my daughter for almost two weeks.  When I talked to her on the phone at night, though, for the first few days she kept asking, "Are you married yet?"

And I knew we were doing the right thing, both with the wedding and the pictures.  I don't know what stories Starren's body will tell as she grows up, but I want her to know that all women are beautiful, that all people are beautiful, and that we should never be ashamed of our bodies.  We are what we are; we are beautiful, and so is our daughter.

She really took the gravity out of telling her we were married, though, when she said, "Okay good, but when you get home I want to marry Mommy too."

I hate to disappoint her, but I'm not sharing.

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