Wednesday, 10 September 2008.
40 Years in 40 Days [ view the entire set ]
An examination and remembrance of a life at 40.
For the 40 days leading up to my 40th birthday, I intend to use my 365 Days project to document and remember my life and lay bare what defines me. 40 years, 40 qualities, 40 days.
Year 21: 1988-1989
In the fall of my junior year, I started dating the lead trumpet player. I was a little starstruck. I couldn't believe that I, this lowly unknown who toiled away in the tenor section, was dating That Guy (had it been 15 years later, I probably would have been thinking "ZOMG! ZOMG! ZOMG!") It seems hilariously absurd to me now -- Jared, the super celebrity. He was just this smart, lanky, awkward, kind, sweet, unassuming, dorky kind of guy. But on the field, he'd stand in front of the band and wail away on the trumpet like a monster, hitting high notes others just dreamed of, and filling the stadium with clear, piercing sound. He'd hit the final note, snap his trumpet down, and the crowd would push to its feet and roar. When he played, it was pure magic.
In early November, after we'd been dating for just about a month, I discovered that I was pregnant. I agonized over what to do. Jared was supportive, telling me that he would be there for me whatever I chose to do. I knew I could not support or raise a child and still finish my degree, and I knew that I was not mature enough to handle the molding and shaping of another small person's psyche. And yet, I felt oddly connected already to the thing inside me. I would put my hand on my belly and close my eyes, listening, waiting for it to tell me what to do. I cried, and raged, and took long, thought-filled walks along the length of of the campus lakeshore. I was scared and lost. After a couple of weeks of searching my conscience, my mind, and the silent mystery in my body, I told Jared that I wanted to have the child and give it up for adoption. It was the best of all possible worlds at that moment. I could honor the connectedness I already felt, give some other couple the gift of a child they couldn't otherwise have, and continue building a life of my own at a pace that made sense for me. As Jared and I walked into town for dinner that night, I felt buoyant, as if I were floating weightless through the crisp fall air. A sense of peace ran through my body and into my fingers and toes. I laughed for the first time in weeks.
The next morning, I started bleeding heavily. Jared was in class, unreachable, so I called Sherman at work. He told me not to move, and that he would be over immediately to take me to the hospital. In the ER, a flurry of activity ensued. They drew vials of blood, and I was wheeled into an examination room and propped into stirrups. The doctor performing the exam enigmatically exclaimed, "You have a beautiful cervix! Just textbook!" As I was pondering how one is supposed to respond to such a compliment, I was also imagining a small ball of cells hurtling through a sewer pipe to a filtration plant somewhere, its matter pummeled and pulverized, and its molecules finding their way someday into the cold, expansive waters of Lake Michigan. They wheeled me back into my curtained cubicle, and I stared off into space while Sherman held my hand. It was just not meant to be, he whispered as he gently brushed the hair away from my wet and swollen eyes. I could not deny that my life had suddenly gotten much easier, but it had also taken on a kind of pain, the depth of which I feared to plumb.
Sherman stayed with me throughout the day in the ER, then took me back to his apartment to rest. The doctors wanted someone with me, and I did not yet have the energy to recount the day's events for Jared. I called my mom from Sherman's apartment and told her what had happened. I had no choice. The insurance claim was going to show up at their house, and the jig would be up. I cried, and she said she would pray for the lost child. I did not particularly believe in prayer, but I felt comforted by the thought. The next day, I returned to campus to find Jared, and we cried together. He held my hand and said he was not going anywhere without me.
Jared and I became fiercely attached to each other. I spent every night with him in his room at his fraternity house, wedged between the bed and the wall, suspended over the narrow gap, because the long, thin dorm beds weren't big enough for two people. In the mornings, I would leave for my job, opening and monitoring the Macintosh lab for the early risers. Later in the morning, Jared and I shared a class, and he would bring me buttered bagels so that I could get something to eat. On Sundays, we would sit in bed and do the crossword puzzle together until it was finished, or until we were stumped, and when evening came, we would walk hand-in-hand to Subway for sandwiches. We were an old, married couple at 20.
In the spring, Jared auditioned for the Disney All-American College Band, an elite group of the best collegiate musicians in the country, and a plum summer gig. He was accepted, and was assigned to the Anaheim band. At the same time, I began to toy with the idea of accompanying my best friend, Mark, on his summer trip down to Florida. Mark had worked at Disney World in Orlando the previous summer, and was going to do so again. I had not yet lined up a job for the summer, and it sounded like fun, so I decided to go, despite having no guarantee of a job once I got there.
Mark and I rented a cheap apartment in Orlando for the summer, and I applied at Disney's casting office. I was told I might be too big for their Attractions (i.e., rides) costumes, and so I might have to work in Food Service or Sanitation. I was crushed and then angry. I had self-esteem issues, but even I knew that this was ridiculous. I was only a size 11, though I was extraordinarily busty, and might have given the impression of being larger than I really was. As it turns out, there were a few rides with costumes that "big," and so I was assigned to the Grand Prix Raceway.
For the first week, I was herded around the property with a bunch of other new hires for orientation. We learned the history of the company, and the layout and functioning of the park, but more importantly, we were drilled on the company's customer service philosophy. We were told that we were part of a perfect, immersive fantasy for our guests, and that we were to do nothing that interrupted that fantasy. That meant we were absolutely not allowed to walk through the park in costume, lest you be seen in Frontier Land wearing a costume from Tomorrow Land, thus destroying the frontier fantasy. We were to use the system of underground tunnels to get anywhere we needed to go. There were unmarked doors hidden all over the park, into and out of which, Disney cast members would quietly slip, like elfin phantoms. This orientation process was colloquially known as "pixie dusting," and it was very effective.
Once I was thoroughly "pixie dusted," I picked up my costume, my steel-toed boots, and my name tag, and went to work for the Mouse. It was an interesting, creepy, and wonderful place. Giant costumed characters roamed headless in the dark, underground tunnels, carrying their plastic faces under their arms. Crusty, old, cranks swore and smoked behind the scenery, then returned to the public areas, only to kneel down and gently comfort a lost and crying child. There have always been jokes about the rigid sweetness of Disney and its almost totalitarian insistence on the veneer of innocence, and there is truth in those jokes. But there is also a kind of truth in the fantasy. People come there because they want to be immersed in innocence. If they just wanted to ride rides, they would go to an amusement park with roller coasters and wild, spinning things. At Disney, they can pretend for a few hours that the world is actually a simple and good place, where adults kneel to speak to children, and fairies slip in and out of view through doors and portals you never quite see.
Who am I?
I am a strong advocate of choice.
Many people will read my story and think that I must have emerged from that time committed to the idea that life begins, and the connection between mother and child is sealed, at conception. This is not the truth I carried out with me, when I stumbled, wounded, out of those experiences. What I remember is the agony of the decision process, and the care and totality of physical and emotional energy with which it was carried out. I recognize that there will be people reading this who disagree with my conclusions, and I respect their right to their opinion, but I can not possibly fathom taking that choice out of someone else's hands. The devastation would be too complete.
Fairy dust texture is "Snow Falling at Night" by Crystal Writer.