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I am...a New Yorker
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Tuesday, September 17, 2002
Celibate
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The sidebar doesn't know what to say, thus it quotes:

"And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

-closing sentence of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It always makes me think of the double-length term paper I wrote on Fitzgerald in 11th grade, earning Mrs. Schiller's impossible A and how, from that day forward, Sara called me "E. Scott Fitzjackson" or "Erica Steinbeck."

Oddly enough, I didn't memorize the line while writing the paper, but only later, that summer at journalism camp (god, I'm a nerd), because Rita recited it off the top of her head as we sat at terminals in the editorial department of the newspaper of the small town we were in at the time.

I am...surprised at how quickly things can change. I'd decided shortly before my birthday that I would be celibate for at least one year.

I was supposed to focus on getting published this year and instead I got all depressed over a man, no a mere boy (and the events of the past year, unemployment, constant rumors of pending terrorism, not to mention feeling terribly alone in the big, bad city which I loved, but which seemed to be rejecting me like a bad heart).

It dawned on me over the summer that, since I met Eric 10 years ago and started to think that lifestyle (marriage, kids and the whole fairy tale) was possible for me, I have wasted countless hours just wishing someone would see how special I am and love me for me, the way my friends do, but with more sex.

Instead, I've been the fat girl they fuck (or at least try to, even when I was a virgin I was treated as if I was available to all), while they commit to stupid, mean, selfish women who treat them badly. I'm sick of watching that phenomenon, which was no better when I tried so pathetically to be a lesbian. Most people aren't honest, don't take risks, and still fall for peer pressure.

Before I met Eric, I had so much going for me. Sure, I had gone to a community college, because I thought that was the only affordable option at the time. But my grades and activities were good and I could have picked a better school to transfer to, but again, had no clue of the options. I had no idea how prevalent the racism would be at the 4-year school I applied to (because the tuition was only $1000, itself a more astronomical sum than I could imagine being able to afford), I just wasn't prepared for it.

Even in that environment, I wrote things that I should have pursued. I could have had a pre-bacc scholarly publication, but I just didn't know what I was doing and didn't know where to start.

I have always had a million ideas and projects. The last thing I can afford is a distraction. I've known since I was a little girl that I was meant to be alone...I always saw myself in a room by my self, typing and getting carried away in the rythym and flow of my own words and ideas with that calm, faraway, centered look musicians get when they're really riffing.

I wasn't given my brains, writing talent, sensitivity and all these incredible experiences so that I could become Mrs. HisLastName. However far we've come, that's what most women I meet chose to be. No matter how they try to justify it, they start out their partnership by giving up what has been their oldest possession, their name of 25, 30 years or more. I just can't underestimate the significance of that.

I'm not judging, I too often subverted my own needs and goals -- all without the ring, let alone all the other accoutrement.

During certain periods, I tried just fucking men and walking away. Those are the ones who chased, in this perverted idea so many people have of relationships. The more I'd say "no...go away.." and finally, "fuck off!" the more they pursued.

I've had men I didn't care for throw money at me, while the sensitive, brainy ones I adored complained no one wants them because they are poor. All I ever wanted was someone who treated me right and saw me. I've never been after a "daddy." I had one of those and we all know how well that worked out.

Sometimes now I think I might as well have let that mayoral buddy from the prominent family keep me for a while. Sometimes I think my ethics are yet another bankrupt ideology to which I've needlessly cleaved.

. . .

Of course, no sooner than I made this decision, I met a bright, sweet, thoughtful journalist. Even in hindsight, I can see those qualities in him. There could be no greater temptation, no better match. So I tried, really I did, to keep both my mind and eyes open.

I tried to be a caring, kind, supportive person in the life of someone who didn't seem to have enough of that. I also tried to just let myself enjoy it, quite simply. The only other friend he'd mentioned to me by name (who lived in NYC) flaked out on him at least twice in less than a week that I knew of. Another piece of the puzzle.

For a while, however, we got on well and I was empathetic, thinking of all the times I had been new in town and had to start all over without any family and few friends nearby. Even now, I speak with my California friends and they can't imagine why I've had so much trouble making friends here.

Of course, not many people have to worry about hearing the voice of someone who lied and treated them shabbily on the radio. That's when this doubt about potential friends and lovers took hold of me, when I began to second guess everything and everyone, especially my own ability to see the truth. Perhaps my judgement is lost in some box of forgotten possessions stored god knows where in the Golden State.

. . .

The bottom line for me this last year has been to reevaluate what's working and what isn't. I've been eliminating people and habits that are more detrimental than constructive from my life. It's been a slow process and, at times, I didn't think I'd made any progress whatsoever.

Now, however, I have begun to reap the fruit of my labor and struggles. I've added new forms of expression to spark my creativity. I found a job that not only allows me to have a life outside its doors, but at which I am appreciated and valued, as are my coworkers. No one's looking at me as a spy for The Man. There will be hectic times, but it is not a constant stream of meetings and last-minute deadlines.

I am not getting overwhelmed with work, nor given a bad review because I can't do the work of two people while being interrupted constantly. It's realistic, calm. I can't say that enough; the difference in my life is amazing. No matter how I love it, New York's an expensive town and often I had to just take whatever job was available immediately in order to survive. Finally, I found a winner. Third time's a charm!

. . .

Over the weekend, I spoke several times with my old friend A., who I met during registration for 11th grade. She came from a similarly abusive background, so we often compare notes on how we are developing.

She marvels at how she, too has avoided the sort of wife-beating, drug-addled, hopeless, trailer park and gubment cheese existence for which we were both so thoroughly programmed and yet we aren't functioning to the best of our abilities. We're doing better than we ever expected, but not as well as we could and so we try to do a little bit better with every effort.

She understands me in a way that no one else can because we have the most horrible things in common. Only she understands why I cry at sad movies, but can recount my father pointing a gun at me like I'm reading the weather.

I'm glad she's back in my life, because it's not a matter of whining together, but of being able to get to the now (not to mention the future) without having to explain the background and watch the other person flinch because they can't even handle thinking about what we've been through.

. . .

Several people have suggested that I date older men, as if a fat, biracial woman with no religion has but one bias -- ageism -- and that's the explanation. I've dated men from age 19 to 58 (that I'd dated men over 40 kinda wigged Nerd Boy out, the young whippersnapper, who is precisely 93 on the inside). Age doesn't make a difference.

There's been this feeling growing in me that I need to accept that I cannot intellectualize my way out of everything. I can think and think, but smart though I am, there are some things my brain simply isn't designed for. Math is one of them, men happen to be another. I can sail through standardized tests, but suck at all games -- I've learned to accept these things.

Hell, since I moved to New York, making new friends hasn't been my strong suit, either. Thank goodness for the handful I have here and for the old friends in California. Without them, I would not have made it through this year. I don't have a family, home, or religion to fall back on during difficult times. I've always retreated into words and revelled in my strength and toughness, which was at a nadir I'd never before seen.

I've realized recently that I looked forward all my life to the day I could have a social life, be like everyone else, because I wasn't allowed outside of the house for most of the first two decades of my life. I thought things would be different once I had some freedom.

Instead, I learned I will never be like anyone else. What other person do I know who was regularly beaten until they wet themselves (even well into their 20s, as the price of seeing their beloved brother)? Who else knows that sort of terror and prayed for years for the sweet relief of death? How many people do I know who've stared into the barrel of a gun, held by someone they loved?

I understand now that I never developed a decent sense of judgement, because I wasn't allowed for so long to make any of my own decisions. I couldn't even decide the most basic thing of all, because I knew my father had amassed an arsenal and could snuff out my life at his whim. He had a lot of whims.

Some of the worst beatings were because I didn't wear a belt or because he thought I frowned. How could I have possibly not registered the fear on my face when this huge man with dead, yet somehow flaming eyes, screamed hideous threats that I knew from experience he was prepared to back up with severe action.

Really, the fact that I'm not in prison, on drugs or the mother of 6 children by 5 different men surprises me. All in all, it's amazing that the worst mistakes I've made were screwing up my credit early and often and not finishing college.

I wrote all of this more eloquently in an entry I never got around to posting a few weeks ago. Some will take it as whining, but the truth is that all the terror and fear of this year reminded me of how I felt everyday for decades. Only now do I understand the consequences of that sort of stress, the way it affects my outlook, perception and actions everyday in ways I could not fathom. It's not even the stereotypical, pop psychology diagnosis of low self-esteem -- it's more a matter of just not expecting much good to come from the world.

Let me just say that I'm not, at the age of 31, still whining because daddy didn't buy me a pony. An article I read recently made a point that really brought things home to me. We recognize Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in veterans, traumatized over a short period of time during adulthood by an enemy army, but not in abuse survivors who experienced years of violent physical, psychological and verbal abuse during their formative years at the hands of the very people responsible for their well-being. I for one don't wonder why the prisons are overflowing.

The attitude I adopted 5 or 6 years ago, when I lived in the Tenderloin -- to be tough and just go on -- got me through a lot and perhaps even kept me alive. Now it isn't enough simply to be alive -- I want to thrive. I'm like Will Hunting, sitting on that winning lottery ticket and finally realizing it's time.

[Next entry: "Extricated"]
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Replies: 2 comments

Erica -
Just had to take a quick moment to say how amazing this entry is!!! While at 31 you might have visualized some sort of list, all with little "done" check marks next to them (we all do it!) - this entry is proof positive that you are on your way! Your behavior then vs now, your recognition of the journey it took to get you here, your recognition of what works now - you are on your way and the thriving will begin!! Congratulations! AND KEEP WRITING!!!

Posted by Heather @ 09/17/2002 02:40 PM EST

James just IMed me thusly:
"When you tell people you're celibate, they just want you more"

He has seen through my nefarious plot!

Posted by Erica @ 09/19/2002 11:16 PM EST

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