Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"You May Have Changed Me, But I Made Me."

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things that make us. Nothing existential—I was done with the practical knowledge of physics after CP Physics senior year of high school, and I’m a lethargic pagan with Zen tendencies and religion usually gives me a throbbing headache. More like, the little (and sometimes not so little) things that makes someone up—the little pieces/parts that are unique yet universal.

Maybe it’s the fact I’ve been home so much lately. Going back to the house I grew up and seeing the people I grew up with and sleeping in the same room I did for 18 years of my life (even if I wake up bolt upright every first night home now mid-panic attack because I don’t know where I am,) makes me think about the person I am and who I’m becoming.

There are the little universal things: most daughters use the same brand of make-up as their mothers because that’s what they started experimenting with when they hit middle school or puberty, whichever came first. (To this day, I’m a Clinique girl—foundation, blush, eyeliner, mascara, lip color and all. Thanks, Mama.) Most people still eat at the same time they grew up eating dinner—I’m stuck around 8 or 9 PM because that’s usually when my dad’s wonderful culinary ventures were finally done by. Fathers remain, as John Mayer said, the “god and the weight of their [daughters’] world.” My father is still the person I seek the most approval from—he’s the one I desperately want to like the guys that actually make it home.

(Hmmm, interesting side-note: you know how Freud and psychologists always say that women look for partners like their fathers? I tend to disregard this claim, but this last little endeavor of mine got me comparing notes. Perfect’s birthday is the day before my father’s. My dad also threw discus quite spectacularly in high school. They both like wood-working. They both hunted in their youth. They’re both painfully logical. They both have far more female than male friends. And they both like things THEIR way—their timing, their plans, their deal. They both seem to be hopelessly good at anything they turn their hand to. I believe they are what you would call a “Jack Of All Trades, Master Of All, But Bored Very Easily In Their Pursuits.”)

There are the things you’re born with: a predisposition for warm weather, cool drinks, and good music. A love of cities and men with hazel eyes. Short calves and shorter stature. The same blue eyes, blonde hairline and forehead that everyone else on your dad’s side of the family has. A tendency to talk quickly, even more so when you’re either A.) mad, or B.) in Jersey. The way you sleep on your right side at night and curl up in the fetal position. How you laugh. What words you stutter—“rural,” “tinted windows,” and “Hawaii.” A love of jewelry and cars. Luck at the racetrack and the blackjack table. Baby toes. Dry humor and an inquisitive mind.

There’s the things that are harder to explain: how you can always, always—road blocks, detours, maps lost, bad directions given—find your way home. Like a homing pigeon. I can always point you in the direction my home is. I can tell you how to get there from the east, west, north, south, and which way is bound to have bad pot holes in the road.

Home seeps into your veins. Both my parents are New Jersey transplants, but I’m a Vermont Girl through and through. My night vision is phenomenal from running through fields at night, holding a beer bottle in one hand, and the can of gasoline for the bonfire in the other, or holing up in a playground’s tunnel tube with a polar fleece blanket and bottle of vodka in the middle of winter with the Twinny. I’ve ridden in the bed of a drunken friend’s truck and gone muddin’ and field driving. I could drive a Gator or Kubota before I could handle a gold cart. I drive better on dirt roads than paved ones. I own a pair of Carhartt pants for the winter, and I slip into the Vermont vernacular of “hun’nin’” and “fer” and “yer” and drawling out long and flat vowels as easily as I picked up contra dancing and wearing plaid. (That was “hunting” and “for” and “your,” for those of you who don’t speak Backwoods.) I cleanly killed a 150 pound doe on the opening day of fall hunting season, even if it was with my car and not a rifle. One of my favorite prom memories was when they played Big & Rich’s “Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy,” and the glittery and well-coiffed and be-tuxed dance floor turned into a massive hoe-down.

And I’ll admit, there’s something appealing to me in the date described when they sing, “‘I’m a Thoroughbred,’ that’s what she said in the back of my truck bed as I was getting’ buzzed on suds out on some back country road. We were flyin’ high, fine as wine, havin’ ourselves a big and rich time, and I was goin’ just about as far as she’d let me go. But her evaluation of my cowboy reputation had me beggin’ for salvation all night long, so I took her out giggin’ frogs, introduced her to my old bird dogs, sang her every Willie Nelson song I could think of, and we made love.” (I think I actually may have done something like this—one of my high school beaus knew to cut the engine of his Wrangler a hundred yards from the end of my driveway and coast to the mailbox, where I would meet him after sneaking out around midnight with a six-pack of Bud and the knowledge that my parents were fast asleep, thinking I was on the other side of the wall in bed.)

And then there’s the things you accumulate along the way: Your education, or what you so choose to take with you from it—to this day, I can relay physics theorems with you and the major players in the American Revolution and positively OWN a five paragraph paper complete with opening paragraph with thesis, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph that ties them all together in air-tight and faultless detail, but get me a calculator for simple math.

The people that helped shape you: teachers, friends, authority figures. Alli, my riding trainer, is my second (much younger, much more entertaining) mother, and the person other than my father who guys should really go out of their way to impress, pulling out all the stops—handshakes, “yes ma’am,” “no, ma’am,” “pleasure to meet you,” and all. If I bring a guy to the barn, that’s when they know I’m serious about them—not when I bring them home. My parents I can survive you meeting without much of a to-do, but meeting my horse and my trainer is like meeting my child and therapist.

Past relationships you bring with you—scars, lessons, and all. Every new guy I date has to deal with the damage and triumphs of previous boyfriends. After the Inappropriately-Aged Boyfriend, I acquired the need to know, in brief terms, where, with whom and what guys were doing when not with me. (That’s what a cheater will do to you.) After Catholic Boy, virgins were nixed from the dating list. After the Douche, men who followed through were given priority. The Flaky Artist started the Tall Boy Obsession. Legs taught me what abandonment feels like. Jersey Blunt gave me a taste of what a real guy is supposed to do—call back, text you first occasionally, and like to include you in what they’re doing, even if it is helping him sell his wickedly good weed. And Perfect gave me that guy that every other boy in the future will despise: that ex that’s still around, on my phone and a few towns over, who did everything right; the Golden Boy; the one I still can’t say one bad thing about, even when pressed. I can give a shrug and a “He drove me crazy, but he put both toilet seat and cover down, what more do you need to convince you?”

I recently pulled my senior year book out again, feeling a little nostalgic at the end of another summer as I watch people getting ready to leave for their first year of college. I remember that newness, that feeling of “thank god; I’m finally outta here!” and the fears that came with it: Will I like my roommate? Will I make new friends? Will I be homesick? Will the classes are too hard? Will I get caught partying by the cops? Will the girls be cute? Will the guys be hot? Will all my stuff fit into my dorm room? Will I have to share a bathroom? Will my roommate sex-ile me? Will I be sex-iling my roommate? Will I get good grades? Will my professors like me? Will I like my professors? Will the food suck? How often will I get to visit home? Will my friends from home stay in touch? Will I like it there? Will I grow up?

I now look back on this, and I can give a firm “yes” to all of these things. And if at first it seems like “no,” give it another try.

In my senior bio, my future plans and quote were wise beyond my years. Somehow, my 18 year old self knew back then that College Carissa would need to open that page up, and see something other than the fact that it is never, EVER a good idea to include your current boyfriend or girlfriend in your bio—something I failed at, mentioning Catholic Boy and our romps in the Tech Room twice. Instead of focusing on this, I left myself two pieces of gold: “‘I’ve done the math enough to know the dangers of a second-guessing.’- Tool, and future plans: conquer the Amazon with a mongoose, and when that’s not exciting anymore, raise sheep in Ireland with a gorgeous farmer. (Or go to college, be happy, and love one man, or many.)”

It was telling already, even then. Along with the picture of me accosting a life-size Beef-eater bedecked teddy bear with a leg and am arm over it like it was a giant, furry stripper pole in London that accompanied it as my senior portrait.

I’ve always enjoyed a bit of shock value. That remains the same.


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