Boxes on the Hillside. Lines in the Sand

Boxes on the Hillside. Lines in the Sand

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky.
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same. -Malvina Reynolds, Little Boxes

“Pretty open” has apparently expressed an interest in meeting me but there is a snag. The person who approached me wanted to introduce us at “game night”.  Game night, as I understand it, is when you get a bunch of friends together to play board or card games. I can think of nothing more trying than playing board games. Except, perhaps, playing board games with people I barely know under the pretense that we are all geeks here so we must love board games. What’s more, I am being set up with one of the attendees. I’ve been going back and forth on which level of hell this is. When I told her I hated game night, she countered with Cards Against Humanity. Her husband is obsessed; her words not mine. I play Cards Against Humanity on occasion-with friends. I don’t play that game with strangers. I went back to my acquaintance and told her that I would rather meet him for lunch or coffee. Boring though this may be, meeting in public is infinitely safer for me on a number of levels. And while I am not one of those women who obsesses over her safety, I’m not an idiot.

I’m losing interest. When she introduced him she thought we’d hit it off because he’s in IT, he likes sci-fi, he likes Dr. Who, he likes good food and wine, and he’s generous and kind. Well, I like science fiction but it isn’t the only thing I read. I like Doctor Who but I haven’t watched the new incarnation much because, frankly, I don’t care for it very much. I’m very competitive and don’t like to lose. Most board games are dull. My preferred card games are poker and bridge, although I have to learn to play bridge over again. He likes good food and wine, to which I say who doesn’t. Of course he’s generous and kind. You wouldn’t be friends if he weren’t. I have people in my life whom I have known for years who wouldn’t dream of setting me up and yet a person I met eight months ago wants to set me up with someone? I should be flattered but it makes me very uncomfortable. It feels presumptuous. It feels weird.

I can only guess that in her mind I fulfilled the requirements for nerd and I must like nerds. I understand the need to find your own tribe. I mentioned once before how feminism and punk saved my life. When you’re young finding your people is essential to survival. Now that I am older I have family, not people. At my age, my tribe should be middle-aged women with grown children who might be out of the house. It’s like when a friend of mine told me we needed to mend fences and attend activities sponsored by my synagogue’s womens’ group.

-What do women talk about when they get together, I asked?
-Their kids, their grandkids, and their husbands, she said. She was very matter-of-fact.
-How can I participate in that conversation, I asked? I have none of those things.

She went on to say that if we all went, there would be women of all ages and backgrounds. No, I told her. We go where we will fit in, where we feel welcome. I have sat in silence many times as women around me discussed their children, grandchildren, schools, married life, toilet training, finding childcare. I learned early on to take a book to outings so I have something to read as I will have little or nothing to say. I can’t even discuss what’s on TV as I don’t have a television. I read, I watch movies, I draw, I exercise, I go to museums and galleries, I’m a street photographer, I visit friends, I listen to the radio, I cook and bake for fun. I know there are things on this list that I share with most other women but when women get together they talk about their children, their grandchildren, and their husbands. Some would argue that the impetus to find common conversation is on me to which I ask if you’ve ever killed a conversation? I have. Once conversation strays from what most people find familiar, it dies.

In order to be desirable we must comparmentalise ourselves, fit ourselves into ever-smaller, increasingly tidy packages fit for categorisation and consumption. To be a well-rounded person with varied interests, conflicting emotions, and viewpoints is messy. We value simplicity over complexity, purity over sulliedness, the explicit over the implicit or the subtle. Mystery has no place. We spend so much time and effort isolating ourselves we don’t want to do the hard work of actually connecting. If I declare myself to be femandrogynous, heterosexual, Sephardi Jewish, punk, over-educated, artist, elite athlete, then who is like me? I have drawn my lines in the sand but who is willing to cross? Who is willing to stay?

I am not saying we should not be who we are, that we should not declare who we are. But we should be the ones to define ourselves and declare our findings as we see fit, and we should be prepared to face the consequences of our declarations, or non-declarations. I know a bisexual woman who lives as a married, heterosexual woman because she does not want to be defined by her sexual preference, she says. She has told no one but me. That is her choice, but her reasons are more complex than her statement belies.  She belongs to a very conservative, heteronormative faith.  She does not want to be defined by her sexual preferences because to do so would make her a social outcast. I know many for whom the struggle to be who they truly are has been arduous and ongoing. Many times it is either because the language finally exists to describe who I am or the language has always existed but now has been codified.

As for myself, I have always been and always considered myself to be highly androgynous. When asked in a college class if I had ever thought about what I would be like were we the opposite sex (be nice, this was over 20 years ago and gender was binary, there was no intersectionality, and privilege applied to the affluent), I said that I couldn’t imagine myself being a different person because I am that person. It’s not that I couldn’t see myself outside of my female self, it’s that I still saw myself as being a rational, intelligent, passionate, compassionate man just like I saw myself as a rational, intelligent, passionate, compassionate woman. The only differences I saw were purely physical. I’d probably be taller. I’d have a penis and testicles instead of a vagina, uterus, and ovaries. The trappings would be different but the person would be the same. It is only now that androgyny is spoken of, but legally recognised, as a non-binary gender identity. There are femandrogynes-androgynes who feel more feminine than masculine. There are mascandrogynes-androgynes who feel more masculine than feminine. Versandrogynes/Neutrandrogynes who feel a mixture of both or none at all. That there is language beyond an aesthetic is all new to me.

If I have the outward trappings associated with androgyny and believe that I would be the same person regardless of whether I was born with one x chromosome or two, does that make me androgynous?  If I declare it, is it true? Is that enough? Does being cisgendered mean that you necessarily buy into everything that comes with what is ascribed to femininity and masculinity? Including gender roles? Are we still basing notions of gender on outdated norms? Are they outdated if they still exist and persist? When women are labeled as androgynous it is usually for aesthetic reasons. We tend to be thin, white, some would call us butch or soft butch. The default aesthetic is masculine. Dominant culture makes all sorts of assumptions about our sexual preferences, because what heterosexual man wants anything other than what is typically feminine. That it could be anything other than aesthetic is absurd. Unless, of course, these are all women who secretly wish to be men. I don’t.

Once in bed, the man I was seeing pulled me on top so I could “feel what it was like to be a man.” I stopped and said I don’t need to know. It was as though power was gendered, that a man’s place was on top, and perhaps it was to him. I am powerful whether I am on top or whether I am enveloping the man I want. I feel gorgeous in a dress or a skirt and heels and I feel sexy in a shirt and tie; they are different but not unrelated feelings. The dovetail nicely with my introverted/domme-huntress nature. (I use feminine pronouns.) Not that the introvert wears dresses and the huntress wears ties. It speaks more to the duality of my nature. It’s a duality that I find hard to reconcile sometimes. The introvert is not terribly interested in meeting IT professor. The domme-huntress is very interested in pursuing the neurobiologist whose late father was a rabbi. The introvert keeps the domme-huntress from texting the neurobiologist and asking him out to a movie. The domme-huntress gets the introvert out of her shell. To me there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about any of this. I just is.

 

Passing Over

Passing Over

Oh, doctor please, oh, doctor please
I think you’ve made a mistake
I’m fine and I don’t need people
You don’t understand all my choices – Marianne Faithfull, “Vagabond Ways

After two months of constant nausea, dizziness, sleepiness, vivid dreams, and almost every other gastrointestinal and neurological side-effect there is, my doctor has taken me off Cabergoline. I took my last dose on April 1st. I am no longer dizzy nor am I having vivid dreams involving my ex-husband. I’m no longer continually nauseous, but I am still nauseous after eating certain foods: yeast breads, fruits that are high in sugar, red meat, most desserts, Chime’s Ginger Chews. Through it all, I still managed to drag my sorry ass to work every day, pay my bills, go to the gym, help a dear friend begin the decluttering process, and prepare the Passover meal for 13 people. My friend’s husband, also a dear friend, told me I was a gem and that my ex doesn’t know what he’s lost. I told him that what he may or may not have lost hasn’t occurred to him. He has what he wants now, or will soon enough.

My ex emailed me a little over a week ago asking what I wanted to do with my safe deposit box.  We haven’t spoken to each other in nearly a year. The email exchange was short, almost terse. I had forgotten about it as, while I still had the key, I had long ago removed the contents. I told him it was fine to close it and I would be more than happy to get the key to him in whatever way he liked. He asked me to mail the key to an address in Holland, PA. I did so, along with a stamp he bought that I found in my jewelry box, certified mail with a return receipt. I thought about including a note wishing them well but realised that I had nothing to say. Nothing. I thought about burning the return receipt but decided I will hold on to it for a little bit, in case he tries to say it never arrived. And with that, we no longer have anything to discuss. The last dandelion seed has been carried aloft. At some point, maybe my next free weekend day, I will take the divorce decree from the refrigerator and put it in my safe deposit box. Maybe I’ll replace those blinds with the balloon shades I have. Maybe I’ll finish painting the bathroom.

In the meantime, another Pesach has come and gone. This is the first one without my ex. While we have been apart for nearly two years, he attended my friends’ first-night Seder last year. Last year, as a single man on the prowl, he took it upon himself to spank me as he skunked around me to get to the garbage can, like I was a girlfriend. This year, I dished out the Fesenjan unmolested. Not that this Pesach was uneventful. While setting up, my friend told me about how his cousin’s widow had looked up an old college friend. It turns out he had never forgotten her and they were seeing each other. How nice for her, I said. Then he asked if I had any old college flames. No, I told him, I had no college flames, no high school sweethearts, no childhood loves. He’s asked me variants on this question before and the answer is always the same, no. I think he genuinely forgets this, but sometimes I wonder if he asks because he thinks the answer will be different. Then his spouse came down the stairs and told me the same story and asked the same questions. He was more persistent and finally I went down into the kitchen and cried.

I pulled myself together just in time for my sister to arrive. Who proceeded to tell me that, once again, I was fixating on the one thing I didn’t have and to stop.  She cradled my face in her hands and told me I was a pretty girl and I would be so much prettier if I grew out my hair, even a little bit. With my sister, I am the one who needs to change. I am the one who needs to make the sacrifice. It was my mother all over again, only younger and more stable mentally. Then she made the mistake of saying that she had “been there and done that.” Yes, I said, that is true. But you were also 30. It’s very different when you’re over 45.

She assumes that because she is older, she is automatically wiser. She married at 20 and divorced at 30, yes, but being young and single (regardless of circumstances) and without children makes you a hot commodity. Add to the mix that she is Mormon, She put herself on an LDS dating site and she had to fight them off with a stick; she fought off a lot of patriarchal cretins and philistines, it’s true, but she went to visit one in Utah. She also met the man who is now her husband. Married men fell for my sister. She told me how one such man was “besotted with her”. What’s that like, I asked. No man has ever been besotted with me and I doubt any man ever will. That’s just how it is for some of us and no matter how many times we have to explain (which we do as we live in a world where coupled is the goal and the norm), typical people just don’t understand. It’s not that we’re oblivious to the attentions of other people, we are acutely aware. What bothers me more is the puritanical attitude she has towards love and sex and affection. That I am supposed to deny the flesh and move on with life. That the needs of the body are nothing to the needs of the soul. These are primal needs to be overcome. A friend of mine put it into perspective when he said, No, these are basic human needs not things to be conquered or overcome.

At the Seder I was on the end so I could get up and check on food as needed and serve when ready. My friend was to my left and his first cousin once removed was on my right. First cousin and I sat quietly for minute or two when I said, you may not remember but we’ve met before. He looked up from his plate.

-We have. When?
-Their 30th anniversary party.
-That’s right, he said. I remember.

I also told him that I was sorry to hear about his father, who had passed away unexpectedly. He said he had been trying to process it rationally but was finding it hard. I said, my marriage feel apart two years ago. Some things cannot be processed rationally. Sometimes there is no why. Much like the anniversary party, we talked the rest of the evening. Occasionally during the Seder he would say things that were just loud enough for me to hear. His nervousness at reading Hebrew. Things like when my sister jumped up to help me serve he said very softly, you are on the other side of the table. Sit down. Everything is under control. I told her to sit down. That she was a guest. Then I told him she tends to need to be the big sister. At one point I while everyone was eating he said, Eat. You’ve done enough. It’s time for you to eat. During the Seder he ran his fingers along the embossed edge of his plate. When presented with a bowl of leeks he ran his fingers over my hands before taking the bowl. It felt like comfort but it was probably nothing.

-Do you want to exchange contact information, he asked?
-Are you averse?
-No.

And with that he is in my phone and I am in his. As he left with his friend he turned to me and said, I really enjoyed talking to you. And I you, I said. And off into the wee hours of the morning they went. I do not expect to hear from him. I just don’t. I will not get my hopes up. It’s best if I don’t. You see, in three years he’s gone from being cute, geeky, and prone to occasional outbursts along the lines of, why do people say where you at? What’s wrong with where are you? to handsome, thoughtful, and intelligent. After the initial meeting he told my friends how much he enjoyed talking to me, how he liked mature women. Of course, there are mature women and there’s getting involved with a 47 year old woman. But there isn’t going to be any involvement because I don’t expect to hear from him. All this raises some interesting questions. If I have your contact information because you asked me for mine, can I contact you first? Why ask for my contact information, if you’re not going to contact me? Why am I bothering, since I’m not going to hear from him? Not getting my hopes up.

And so another year goes by. A year ago I started writing. Two years ago I filed for divorce.