Saturday, September 21, 2013

Embracing the teenage me

"And I never dreamed I would have to lay down my torch for you like this."

My father was fond of saying, better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and leave no doubt about it.

I was a quiet kid. Self-conscious and short on self-esteem.

As a baby (I'm told) I was secure and happy. I had big smiles for friendly strangers. When I toddled, my mom would have to chase me all about the park, while envying the moms of contented babes sifting sand in the sandbox.

I liked looking at things. When we went shopping I was always meandering, exploring, investigating. My mom said she was going to write a book called Waiting for Elizabeth.

Something happened somewhere along the line to squelch my bubbles. Whatever it was, I've either blocked a traumatic memory or it happened insidiously over a long period of time. My money's on the latter, but who knows.

I had girlfriends in elementary school, but they were never the girls my mom approved of. Sarah was the first to wear go-go boots and her mom was kooky. Evelyn was untidy and her mom was an indifferent housekeeper.

Mom wanted me to be best friends with the daughters of her good friends. Marsha and Jackie. Marsha already had a best friend and I was always the third wheel. Jackie and I just didn't have much in common.


That's P.S. 144 in Forest Hills, NY. I could see the top left corner of the four-story building from my bedroom window.

Then, in seventh grade, I went to Hunter College High School in Manhattan. Hunter was a school for gifted girls. You had to be in the top 10th percentile on the Iowa tests to be eligible to take the entrance test for Hunter. And then only the top 10 percent of the top 10th percentile were accepted.

The summer before I started at Hunter I began to suffer from anxiety. We had toured the building on 68th and Lexington and I found it all quite intimidating, especially the dingy basement locker room. If my memory serves, some classes, such as the stupidly required home economics, were taught down there too.

There was no question of my not going to Hunter, not that anyone asked me. It was like private school but it was public school, i.e., it was free to attend. My mom said it was an opportunity handed to us on a silver platter.


That is HCHS, at least the building it was housed in in 1966-1970. It was part of the Hunter College campus, which occupied a full city block, from Lexington to Park Avenue. We had to walk through a dark tunnel from the creepy high school basement to go into the college cafeteria at lunchtime.

That summer before 7th grade I went to summer camp, which we called sleep-away camp. The camp season was eight weeks long, but I didn't adjust well to life in a bunkhouse with a bunch of 12-year-old girls. Girls who were boy crazy and who set the alarm clock for 2 a.m. so they could get up and raid the boys bunkhouse.

I was a late bloomer. The girls all talked trash about their moms while I missed mine. I hated the showers with the crawly spiders and bugs. I wanted my room at home, with our clean bathroom and my bed and my books and my little color Zenith and my cat.

At the end of the first week of camp I called my parents and asked to come home.

I was dumbfounded when my mom said no.

I can see it from my mom's point of view now, sort of. She enjoyed her life during the summer, going to the beach club with her friends. Going out to lunch and the theater. She didn't want a pre-teen around, cramping her style. She looked forward to some freedom from responsibility, from the extra cooking, laundry, housework. It's understandable.

And it's damnable. I never thought I wouldn't be welcome at home. That it really wasn't my home, just a place I stayed. It rocked the terrain of my existence. Solid ground fell away.

For the next two weeks I wrote daily letters begging to come home. I hated the regimentation of camp, being made to swim or play basketball when what I wanted to do was to finish the painting of the squirrel I had started in arts and crafts. I moped and I felt sorry for myself, and none of that made me popular with the other girls.

The fourth weekend of camp was visitors weekend. The week before, I made my regular weekly call asking to come home. My mom said, if I would write happy letters for a week, then, if I still wanted to come home, my parents would take me home with them after visitors weekend.

So I wrote happy letters for a week and I packed up my stuff. And my parents came, and I told them I still wanted to come home. My mom's response was, but you sounded so happy in your letters.

They did take me home though. My mom sulked and pouted, but I was just ecstatic about sleeping in my own bed.

I was never bored. I had neighborhood friends, who weren't lucky or rich enough to go to sleep-away camp. I had books and magazines and TV shows and I sometimes went to the beach club with my mom and her friends, but mostly I stayed home. I would have been perfectly happy if my mom hadn't branded me with the stigma of the girl who was different. The girl who didn't fit in. The girl who had something wrong with her. The girl who dropped out of summer camp.

It was a burden that I carried for many years.

I went to Hunter for six years, from seventh grade through my senior year of high school. If I'd gone to Russell Sage Junior High and Forest Hills High, I would have been one of the smarter kids. At Hunter, I was just average. Middle-of-the-pack.

I was surrounded by girls who were brilliant. A few were neurotic and odd, but many were outgoing and confident and comfortable and talented. They wrote, they drew, they acted, they sang, they played guitar and they were so many things that I wasn't.

I was ill-at-ease. I felt like I didn't quite belong, like I was there by mistake. I did OK in my classes but, except for English, my grades were unexceptional. I stayed on the sidelines. I looked on. I wasn't about to speak and leave no doubt that I was a fool.

I was thin as a marsh bird, probably even anorexic, although anorexia was largely unheard of then. I was pale. We spent a Christmas holiday in Acapulco and I not only got sunburned, I had an allergic reaction to the sunburn that caused a rash, nausea, fever and chills. After that I avoided the sun.

I remember having a lot of anxiety, a lot of stomach aches. I missed a week of 10th grade chemistry early in the term, and never quite caught up, which put the kibosh on my future career as a rocket scientist. Although I'd loved 9th grade biology, I ducked physics, an 11th grade elective, after my chemistry washout.

I don't look back at those Hunter years as a happy time. I had friends but socializing was hard because we lived all over the five boroughs and came from wildly diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. There was no dropping in at one another's houses. Weekend dates had to be planned and required bus rides and subway rides. There were sleep-overs, but I still wasn't sleeping over.

I didn't have a best friend. No one picked me first to sit with on the proverbial bus trip.

Facebook has been a belated saving grace. I've reconnected with some of the girls I knew at Hunter and it has given me new insight into the teenage me. I wasn't even sure anyone would remember me. I've learned that they not only do, they remember small details. And the greatest surprise has been the warmth with which they remember me.

We've had common experiences in the years that passed since we knew each other when. We've come out about our clandestine vulnerabilities and self-doubts, shared our prouder accomplishments, and acknowledged the stones in the roads that we traversed along the way to here and now.

And just a few days ago, I misted up when my friend April signed off a Facebook chat, saying, love you forever Liz!
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
August 2001 is a blur in my memory. Marty had turned on a dime and walked. I had to find a way to move forward without him.

I don't think I had accepted that it was over, really over.

I wrote to my mom.
I can't pretend I have no hopes that he will call me again one day. I just know I can no longer do one single thing about it. Maybe he will make some progress in self-understanding, maybe he will learn something about forgiveness. Anything is possible.

It is even possible that some of the painful things I said about him and sent to him, which have a grain of truth in almost every one, will in some subtle way free him to face them and move past them - even if it has nothing to do with him returning to me. Maybe that is the reason I was in his life to begin with.

And now maybe I can figure out why he was in my life to begin with. What lessons can I take away from this?
On the support forum I posted.
How does one forget something that was so great, that felt filled with potential? And why I am so unconvinced that he hasn't already forgotten, buried it all under a mountain of anger?

It's just going to take time to retrain my brain not to keep wondering what is in his head and heart. (Does he ever think about me? Does he miss the closeness we shared? What is he doing right now?) Because of how good the good parts were, I keep coming back to the hope that one day he will stop thinking about Marty and Mary and will think about Marty and Liz.
As bad as I felt, I was only beginning my slide. I was still a long way from bottoming out.

In my writing, I negotiated. Negotiation is one of the stages of grief.
For him and me there could be no going back. We've lost the beautiful innocence and trust. Perhaps if he eventually puts her behind him, he will free his heart to love again. And I think I have enough compassion and forgiveness within me to believe that with time and patience and commitment it would be theoretically possible to get past this.

I look at it this way. At some level he was ready to move forward at the time we met. I gave him everything he had so craved from her - the attention, the affection, the understanding, the passion. He loved it - but because of the ways he has been hurt by life - love that is gentle and kind is alien to him. He is drawn to a woman who is distant and detached and invulnerable - which may be all he thinks he is deserving of.

So he began to see it as my neediness, not as my love for him and my desire to give, that I wanted him and was available for him. He sees his own neediness reflected in my vulnerability - and it scares him shitless. So he pushes away the love that is kind and gentle and looks for the familiar anxiety he experiences with her ambivalence and rejection.

My heart still goes out to this man, who chooses pain and loneliness and grief. I know he has a huge amount of work ahead if he is ever going to save himself. And I still have a vestige of faith that the love he once expressed for me exists yet. Only time will obliterate (or prove) that faith.

My job now, though, is to let him do the work. The only way anything could ever work would be if he wanted it to enough to come to me. And the fringe benefit is that, by steeling myself to do nothing ever again, I am positioning and empowering myself to heal whether or not he ever reestablishes contact.
I had put my personal ad back online. I went on a couple of dates, then realized I wasn't ready to think about other men and hid it again.

And then, three weeks after Marty told me he was still in love with Mary, I saw that his personal ad was back online.

In a weird way, after the initial shock, I saw it as a sign of hope. It told me that his re-commitment to Mary was not rock solid. Could that mean I still had a chance? But what did that say about his character?

On the message board I spoke of my struggle.
I feel so ashamed. People have real sorrow in their lives. I had a two-month relationship with a man who is so needy and unhealthy that he professes profound love and promises me forever - with another woman in his heart. And then, after he pushes me away for her, I find out he's surfing the net again for dates.

So, why do I even give a shit about this man? When am I going to stop aching 24/7? Even my dreams are my enemies. He comes back in dreams. My therapist said we can re-script our dreams. She said, ask him why he keeps coming back. So I did, and he said, it's because I can't get you out of my heart. Well, that obviously is a crock.

I want so much to let this go, put it behind me and move on with my life. More than anything, I'd just like to restore peace between us. But it would take two, and I am clueless where his head and heart have wandered.
And to my mom I wrote this.
I know I should despise him and mistrust him and want him to stay as far away from my life as possible - but I don't. I just don't know how to erase him from my thoughts. I want to, but he comes back - every night - in my dreams. (Maybe that's why all I want to do is sleep.)

I tell myself, Liz, it is over, it is SO over. When will I begin to believe it? Why is it that I think even the obsessive thoughts have meaning, that the universe would not keep Marty so present in my heart if Marty had truly removed me from his? Where is the line between intuition and delusion?

And why the hell do I think that talking to him would make any difference?

It isn't as though we could ever go back.
The question that now began to dominate my nights and my days was whether or not to contact him.
I talked to my therapist yesterday, and she said, if calling him is something I need to do, then I need to do it and put it behind me. She is concerned that it will open up the old wound, but the way I feel, the wound is still wide open. I don't think I could feel any worse than I do.

I have no peace now. Being quiet has not gained me any peace. Maybe talking would. I know nothing.

I miss your smell and your style and your pure abiding way
Miss your approach to life and your body in my bed
Miss your take on anything and the music you would play
Miss cracking up and wrestling our debriefs at end of day

These are things that I miss
These are not times for the weak of heart
These are the days of raw despondence
And I never dreamed I would have
To lay down my torch for you like this

One step, one prayer, I soldier on
Simulating moving on

I miss your warmth and the thought of us bringing up our kids
And the part of you that walks with your stick-tied handkerchief

These are things that I miss
These are not times for the weak of heart
These are the days of raw despondence
And I never dreamed I would have
To lay down my torch for you like this."

(Alanis Morissette, Torch)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz