Sunday, April 01, 2007

Disconcerting Strength

Somewhere between the ages of two and three, my mother took me into a boutique for the ritual piercing of my ears. I was quite the tomboy even that early on, but I accepted the occasion as a female rite of passage, and in fact felt privileged to have it occuring so early in my youth.

And I know what you're thinking: how could anyone remember something so trivial when they're so young?

You'd be surprised what I remember from the early days of my girlhood. Though, to be fair, this particular occasion wasn't without "incident." And as we all know, "incidents" have a funny way of forever burning their elements deep into the recesses of our pia mater. And then, too, a funny way of periodically resurfacing... often times recollected by something as vague as a distant -- and yet still familiar -- smell.

What happened at that boutique is neither a terrifying memory nor a fond recollection. But it does help to explain a bit about who I am.

You see, the gun used to insert those studs into virginal ears somehow became lodged in one of my own. I was scarcely aware of this until I noticed the look of panic in my mother's eyes, and noted that -- though the area itself was numb -- I could feel the occasional tug as the lady tried to work it loose.

But when you're young, and you're experiencing something entirely new, you don't know what to expect.

So I sat there calmly at first, only vaguely aware that something might be afoul. I heard whispers of words like "blood" and "stuck" and "this has never happened."

And still I sat there, my little heart starting to race even as I remained calm in my seat.

"I can't believe she isn't crying," the lady said, handing the gun over to one of her co-workers.

"She won't cry," someone else said. "She's tough."

That simple statement was enough to keep me firmly in my seat, refusing to utter so much as a whimper.

That sentiment grew to become the raison d'etre of my youth. I preferred tackle football to touch, and I'd regularly seek out ways to prove my strength. When I was six, I even begged my parents to let me "jog" with my father to my uncles (he lived about two miles away -- I only made it halfway). My cousins and I had made a hobby out of play-fighting, and I generally took on the both of them, standing triumphantly over them and laughing (kindly) as I'd wait for them to catch their breath (both males -- one six months older than I, one six months younger).

Even my friends tended to view me as a body guard of sorts, having seen me wrestle with my brother (seven years my elder). I had a reputation for being "tough" -- for being "strong." For enduring nearly all injuries (I had many) with nary a shout (notwithstanding the incident where I broke my arms).

And during weight training for softball season -- my first official stint lifting weights -- it was generally understood that I'd be lifting more than my friends (though, to be fair, a couple were amazingly strong despite being smaller than me). I actually hated going to weights, though, as I was plagued by the fear that someone may prove to be stronger.
But throughout all of this, even as life otherwise seemed to be crumbling around me, I'd do my darnedest to maintain my deameanor (which always teetered between stoic, studious, and class clown). If things weren't going well, I generally internalized... well... just about everything.

And whereas many kids who "interalize" also generally "act out," I still did well in school, never caused trouble, and never once found myself in an actual fight. Even to this day, I've never hit or kicked anyone out of anger -- though certainly there have been times I've wanted to. I always seemed to work my way out of difficult situations, either using words to maintain the peace... or, again, swallowing whatever it was I felt, allowing it to join a cess pool of other emotions in the pit of my stomach.

That is to say, I belonged to a different sort of ilk. You know... the kids who take everything out on themselves.
For the past three years, I've been lifting weights again, off and on. I was lifting four days a week there for awhile, but then moved away from my gym only to again join one this past September. I've been lifting again, though not as intensely as I had been. I was hoping to work my way back to that, but lacked the energy to shock my muscles into peak condition.

That was, until this past week when I noticed a girl -- easily three dress sizes smaller than me, though with little to no muscle definition -- get onto a machine after I'd used it, and actually ADD weight to the routine.

I was baffled. I mean, I'm not as physically strong as I was two years ago. But I'm still generally lifting more than most of the other girls I see at the gym. So I made a mental note to start being more aggressive with my lifting.

That was Monday. And when I worked my legs again on Thursday, I started sets about 10-15 pounds more than before. But I ended anywhere from 30-60 pounds more than I'd ever done. I was amazed by how little it stressed my muscles. I wasn't even the least bit wobbly by the time it was over, though I'd expected, quite rightly, to be sore the next morning.

I wasn't. Not even a little. All I felt the next day, really, was the disappointment that comes with realizing I'd set limitations for myself that were far less significant than what I was capable of.
I spent this past weekend apartment hunting. By the end of Saturday -- 30 phone calls, 6 stops and 15 apartments later -- I'd determined only that my apartment is a thousand times nicer (aesthetically) than anything I'd seen. I was little short of crestfallen.

The only apartments I saw that even rivaled mine in terms of appearance presented new headaches in exchange for my current ones. One decent apartment was a ground unit -- not exactly the safest place to be in a large city. The other actually required more time and effort to park than does my current abode (which didn't seem possible). The rest were disgusting, for lack of a better word. Trash in the entryways. Decade-old dirt on the walls. Carpeted stairways that appeared to have never been swept. And some of the kitchens consisted of one burner, half-fridges and deplorable cabinetry.

One property owner showed up looking like Wilfred Brimley after a bad trip and weeks without showering. He kept digging his fingers into his ears, and then would inspect his "treasure" as he continued talking. He shouted about how "stupid" the previous tenant was because he didn't close the storm windows in the winter (or so the landlord said right before adding that "this is the coldest apartment in the building" so he "couldn't guarantee it'd be 68 in the winter").

He showed me three apartments, each more awful than the last. This was early enough in the day, though, so I kept hoping things would get better.

But they didn't. Not really.

In fact, as I went from one place to the next, I nearly resigned myself to begging with my current landlord to let me renew my lease after all. I mean, so what if it's cold in the winter, the guy upstairs plays music hideously loud, and the cops are regularly called because of disputes between two other neighbors? So what if those disputes often end up right outside of my front door? And so what if management doesn't tell me before they come in to do "work," and they leave broken glass on the floor and forget to lock the door?At least the place looks nice. At least it's clean. At least it's spacious and affordable.

Because the more I saw Saturday, the less willing I was to trade in my current headaches for the ones that awaited me.

Or to put it in other terms: I've scarcely been able to eat the past 24 hours. My stomach is in knots with the sort of anxiety I was taught -- so early on -- to never express.

Or, in those rare situations, to feel shame if I do.
And I can't say exactly what my future holds, but I do know this: tomorrow after work I'll be back in the gym for one of my longer workouts (stretch, high impact cardio, weights, stretch, light cardio).

You can rest assured I'll be piling on the weights. Adding, never subtracting.

Not at all, that is, until it hurts.


Winter said...

Amazing post. I'm serious, it inspired in more ways than you know.

hyacinths and biscuits said...

I have only been reading your blog for like a week. Or less. Or something. But for some reason I was always under the impression that you were a guy, which you are so apparently not. Seems you're better, actually - you can beat guys' asses!

While I feel corny saying it, the story about the small girl at the gym was pretty inspiring. And I'm sorry about your apartment hunting - it doesn't sound like you're making much progress there. Congratulations on not barfing at the earwax landlord.

When I was younger I tried to tell myself that I was a tomboy because, with two brothers, it was an identify I could more easily define and since I was somewhat of a social outcast in grade school, accepted by the "nerds" but not really their friends, or anyone else's, I needed an identity to cling to and creating something that was an abnormal identity seemed to fill my need to justify why no one else liked me. Then I hit high school and made a lot of friends and I realized I'm girly as they come. But I'm almost glad I went through my tomboy phase - even now, a decade later, putting on a skirt and makeup feels a little better knowing I once denied myself these things.

Okay, now I'll quit talking. I've almost written a blog post myself here. Sorry for the rambling - but your post really made me think!

Anonymous said...

See, now I feel like a wimp. I complain about EVERYTHING. I thought it was a younger sibling thing but I guess not.

We put a lot of limitations on ourselves. It is mainly a matter of figuring out what you really can't do.

Good luck with the apartment hunting. I am sure a solution exists.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Winter - And here I was worried I'd done nothing but add another boring post about my apartment woes (I find that whenever I write cathartically, I bore exponentially).

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

H & B - I don't know what it is about me, but I get that a lot. Having my shadow as a profile picture probably doesn't help.

But rest assured I not only wear make-up five days a week... but I also wear skirts (and dresses) from time to time.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

BPP - Rest assured, I still complain plenty. Or else I probably wouldn't have this post.

XOXO said...

It's funny to read your take on growing up even though we've talked about this reasoning before. It makes me so angry to see the way that you have "dealt" with issues, and to know that society accepts cutting and self-mutilation.
Follow me--- We would exercise, lift weights, find a quiet place, you, more than me, would write, or read etc... to deal with daily demands. It's almost as though we are telling youth today that the only way to deal with your issues are to medicate and self mutilate. I'd like to see some MTV show about positive outlets instead of hearing all about why cutting, anorexia, etc... is bad. UGH!! I could continue on this forever. --exit soapbox...

Stacy said...

Don't beat yourself up, the right place is where you'd least expect it to be when you stop looking. (I hope)

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

XOXO - I'm not sure what you mean. Perhaps I should've clarified when I said people of my ilk take it out on ourselves.

That doesn't necessarily denote self-mutilation for me. Though I know where you're going -- that is the way many kids deal with stress nowadays.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

PS - I saw some places on Sunday that weren't awful. One was actually quite nice, affordable, and is in an area where parking is almost always easy. But it presents other problems. We'll see.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Thanks, Stacy. I hope you're right.

disgruntled world citizen said...

When I become rich and famous, I'll hire you as my bodyguard.

Hi from Canton, OH.

Stacy said...

Trust no-one and no-thing but FATE

XOXO said...

Just to clarify, I mean that we used positive ways of dealing with stress instead of such negative.

Anonymous said...

third worst - you've broken all the rules. I understand your need for therapy and self-examination, and that this blog is part of it, but you have internalized externally. and I know you're not much of a drinker or drug user, so I'm not sure just what the slip-up was.

retreat. retreat.