Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Word of the Day

Today is my birthday.

I turn 46 officially at 11:04 p.m., which is uncharacteristic because that's way past my bedtime.

Last year I made a Facebook goof and threw a lavish party.

This year I'm spending a little less. My present to myself is this.

Right here.

A chance to sit down in a cafe on President Clinton Avenue and write for myself.

My mom will probably call any minute now to tell me the story of her martyr...I mean...of my birth. She will tell me how, when told it was time to go to the hospital, my dad jumped in the know...that was important. She will recount how, unlike most men of his generation, he waited in the hospital during the three hours of my delivery. That he hoped for a daughter and cried when the nurse brought out a baby girl. She'll remind me that she weighed 93 pounds that day in '67 and that she was supposed to have a C-section if I weighed over four. And she'll wonder what the hell I was thinking by clocking in at 8 lbs., 10 ozs. and 19 inches tall. Because it was clearly my fault. She'll talk about the number of stitches (over 100...and not across her abdomen, either...sorry if that's TMI). The three weeks of not bonding. The doctor who told her to stop waking me up for feeding because it's fairly senseless to feed a baby who clearly isn't hungry.

I'll say, "Mom, I think I was born on a full stomach."

And she'll laugh and say, "Yeah, I guess you were. And I don't regret any of it. You are so special to me."

And I'll cry a little bit as she tells me she loves me and hangs up the phone.

So many miles.

Several years ago I had a curious experience. I had a student who made it his mission in life to make mine miserable. It was a shortlived relief when he disappeared for 18 straight days.

Then out of nowhere, he showed up in my office wanting to know what assignments he needed to make up in order to pass the class. I wanted to ask him if he had completely lost his mind, but, instead, I explained that I had dropped him from the course to save him from getting an F and told him to meet with his advisor, which I had to look up for him because he had no idea who that was.

On the first day of classes the next semester, a different student walked into class 20 minutes late. He was the spitting image of that other student. They were twins! And he was clearly on the same mission as his "brother."

I was hopping mad, so, after the next class period, I made him sign a contract stating he understood being so much as five minutes late counted as 1/3 of an absence and that he would fail the course if he kept up this "pattern" of behavior. He explained to me later that he had gotten lost and apologized that he did not tour the campus to establish where his classes were (which was not something I had suggested he should have done). Over the course of that fall, I watched this young man write six pages when I asked for two, find self expression through the written word, pun (!), and blossom as a campus leader.

On the day of the final exam (my birthday, by the never failed that I had to give an exam on my birthday) I could no longer see a resemblance between him and that other student. Nothing. No similarities at all. And I looked pretty hard for them as he wrote his final essay.

A year later, I spent the day I turned 30 in bed crying with my cat, Bart, and a box of tissues. Bart was actually a beautiful, loving, kind human being who happened to exist in a cat's body. He knew when I was down even when I wasn't in tears, and he comforted me all day long.

I miss him.

During my 30's I watched myself in the mirror as the first wrinkle limned my face. The first grey hair sprouted. And how dare the hair on my head become thinner and sparser and turn grey as I started sprouting hair on my chin? Why wouldn't it all just stay where it as supposed to? I was shocked and horrified and angry.

Really angry.

Really, really angry.

My face wasn't perfect. My body wasn't perfect. My life wasn't perfect. I didn't know who I wanted to be, how I wanted to be, what I wanted, or how to get it. I had a work self, a student self, and a personal self, and I didn't like any of them. I just wasn't me. And those damn lines kept creeping across my face to remind me that time was wasting.

Then I turned 40 in 2007. I celebrated it somehow because the Hubs gave me a pair of Tiffany blue turquoise earrings from the famed store. But it was, otherwise, unremarkable.

And now it's 2013. In six short years I've seen a lot of change...some good, some bad. I became the assistant director of my university's writing center, a job I loved. My dad, my cheerleader, my best friend, died in 2010. My mom underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor in 2011. Factions in the department I taught in declared civil war, or so it seemed to me, in 2012, so I Ieft the job I loved for a new job I also love. Then, someone I trusted and believed in...actually cared about...betrayed me (and many others) this year.

More wrinkles. More grey hairs. Rosacea. Near-sightedness.

But I'm not spending the day in bed.

I looked in the mirror a few days ago, and I liked what I saw.

I'm getting jowls, and I can kind of see where's that's going in a few more years. I've got a turkey neck.

But I think I'm kind of lovely.

I learned from the experience with the two students that what you see in people's faces is a reflection of your feelings about them. And, therefore, a person is made attractive or unattractive by their words and actions.

People's faces can become terrifyingly ugly in a single moment.

It is the same for your reflection in the mirror.

When I turned 30, I thought I was over the hill, getting old, past it, no longer cool. I know many of those feelings were handed to me by a Photoshop-happy U.S. media, which I have mostly abandoned. But I think, too, that I was not the moral and intellectual self I was striving for.

All of the loss and change I experienced in my 40's has revised my perspective. It has made me a better person. It has made me a happier person.

My face is full of flaws, but I like it...especially my smile because it comes so easily. In the mirror I see the reflection of someone I like, and so she is lovely to me.

You can love and be loved all of your life.

You can be lovely at any age. 

Just lovely.

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