a taste for danger
1990 was a turning point year. But maybe I’m only ready now to grapple with one of the most important things that happened, and tease out what it might have meant.
Backstory: For Spring Break, I’m back in OKC, bringing Grandmother to visit my aunt and cousins, as a favor to my mother. (Sweetened with a bribe of actual money, because otherwise I refused to return there.) My aunt offered more incentives, including the use of one of my cousin’s cars, while everyone else was working. (I was too young to rent a car on my own.) The cousin who had previously hurt and threatened me, H, had moved to another state, so I had some hope of relaxing, and enjoying myself.
So we went. Nothing my aunt promised happened because Reasons. H somehow just happened to be visiting his parents that week. My aunt contrived to throw us together at every opportunity, despite my strenuous attempts to avoid him.
I couldn’t enjoy the company of my grandmother, aunt, or other cousins because all my emotional energy was bound up in what H was doing. Instead of exuding menace, like he had in 1985, though, he was almost like a puppy who’d spotted a potential playmate. And oh, I’d missed him so much. Someone smart and funny and wry and “too sensitive” and mixed up. Someone who had no idea what they were doing with their life. Someone of my generation (his siblings are all Baby Boomers; our parents are of the Silent Generation). Someone I had once loved more than anyone; someone I couldn’t hate, no matter how hard I tried.
And this time, I didn’t have to be responsible and moral in loco parentis: for the first time in our lives, we were both adults.
That Friday night, aunt required the whole family to attend Important Event. She maneuvered me into “having” to drive with H, in his car, that had only slightly less charisma than he did . . . I let myself give in to temptation. Some part of me really did think we would somehow never arrive at Important Event, and that might well be because something terrible was happening. Other parts of me were tantalized by possibilities I couldn’t imagine.
We did arrive at Important Event, timely even. Underneath the expected tedium ran a current of awareness, impatience, anticipation. We two left early. He drove recklessly, and I almost hoped we’d crash. We both wanted, yearned for . . . something we didn’t know how to find.
That night, talking about important stuff in our lives, in a fast car with no particular destination, for the first time in a long time, maybe for the first time ever, I felt confident and powerful, almost cocky. Something deep within me resonated; something finally made sense. Nothing I could put my finger on though, but finally, something worked.
But. I was so afraid that what I felt that night might be sexual attraction that I refused to let myself think about it. Occasionally it wandered into my mind anyway. And then I emphasized to myself all the negative aspects.
I’m so tired of running from myself. Of not exploring scary things because they’re scary. Pretending like I have everything “under control”, when actually, I don’t even know what my own feelings are.
Here’s what I do know. Sometime after I finished menopause, after I realized I probably wasn’t going to drop dead at any moment (from other, unrelated, health issues), I realized my libido, which had always been at least as strong as most men’s, had completely disappeared. I’d been thinking about sex more or less constantly for about 30 years. Now I wasn’t ever thinking of it, unless I went looking for those thoughts.
That entire 30 years, I probably would’ve agreed with Freud, that the human sex drive is the primary motivator for behavior. (I’m paraphrasing, based on what I’ve picked up from mass media.) The constant interest I had in sex seemed to also fuel my creative drive, “sparkle”, and a great many other things.
So when I first realized that my libido was totally gone, I kind of felt like it was a (different kind of) death sentence. Now I can’t be an artist anymore: what on earth will I fill my time up with? How will I care about anything? Obviously I won’t still be attracted to attractive people, but will I even find them, or anything, beautiful? What point is there to living at all?
I’ve cycled in and out of clinical depression since I was about 10, but this was different. I fell into utter despair. Curiosity, though, kept me going, just as it always has: what might happen next? How might the universe surprise me?
And lo, I was surprised.
I can’t have the same kind of sex I thought about for 30 years. Nor do I feel that hormonal cascade that sweeps everything else before it. Health issues can interfere at inopportune times.
But if I want to have sex, I can have it. And it’s not less enjoyable than it was before; it is different.
More importantly, though, my curiosity and creative drive remain intermingled, and they are as robust as they’ve ever been.
Now that I’m not thinking about sex all the time, I can put that mindbody energy to other uses: writing, photography, philosophy, poetry, fiber art. Non-sexyfuntimes with Spouse.
And exploring my own feelings. Including those that have been bottled up for many years, waiting (perhaps not patiently) for some attention. Even though I’ve been Writing to Heal as a thing for over a year, I was still surprised at the powerful cathartic effect of writing my last post. As I wrote, I sobbed, I wailed. I was so emotionally overwrought at one point, I had to stop and do something else. I was terrified about continuing, which I admitted out loud. Before pushing through anyway. I had no idea when I started writing that I might be able to come up with a way to use those feelings, express them, resolve them. There was no plan.
If it turns out that even the most terrifying feelings — the ones that feel like, if they get loose, they will destroy the world — just want to be felt, and expressed, before dissipating? I didn’t have to be cowering in my own mind from Mrs. Marciniak for 40 years! I didn’t have to be waiting for other people to pass judgment on me — I could’ve cut right to the chase, and just been making my own valentines, for me, for all that time! Fear kept me from doing any of that.
What else, besides time, and confidence in myself, have I lost to fear in 40 years?
I don’t know what H is like as a person anymore. I haven’t seen him since 2008. We last spoke in 1993; our last meaningful conversation was 1990. We’re both married. I look back now at pictures of me from 25 years ago and recognize I was beautiful, but I didn’t know it, wouldn’t have believed someone telling me. I want to see myself now, old, as beautiful, but I don’t. I’m working on it.
I’ve been exploring my bottled up feelings from that long-ago day all afternoon. I don’t think it was sexual attraction at all. I think it was something else. But I don’t know what. I know how it felt, and I have felt that feeling in other situations, although not usually with human beings.
I think part of it was unconsciously (subconsciously?) recognizing just how similar we were, on a visceral/emotional level. Stuff that went well beyond being the same generation, because I have that in common with my siblings.
I want to say it’s entangled with being kinesthetic and/or tactile, but I don’t know how I could know that. Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Because there’s no one in my life now who is tactile and kinesthetic. Spouse, very definitely, is neither. I never saw anything to suggest that any of my siblings are. My mother is, but that does me no good whatsoever. I’ve had a few friends who probably were — artists who worked with their hands — but that commonality, if we really did share it, wasn’t anything we talked about or thought about.
If tactile and kinesthetic people really are only 5–10% of the population, no wonder it’s so hard to find them. I’ve repeatedly gone looking on the web for information; alas, most everything I can find is geared toward (1) teachers of small children, or (2) parents of small children, including those homeschooling. There’s nothing for adults.
I know plenty of visual artists who work with their hands to make their visual art, yet they are not tactile and kinesthetic. Or, maybe they are, but we would need other things in common, and we don’t have them.
Even if H is not tactile and kinesthetic, we had a lot of stuff in common, that I did not have in common with anyone else I knew back then. Some of those are things that would not have changed, but others might have. Would what’s left be enough to have a (friendly) relationship as adults? Would we have developed new interests in common? Or spark interests with each other? I don’t know.
I had a deliberate policy to never ask anyone in my family of origin anything about H. If they talked about him to me, I never asked questions. Not because I didn’t wonder, but because I knew that none of them could tell me what I really wanted to know. And some of them were a little too interested in hurting me as much as possible, and since H was a sore spot for so many years, it seemed better to just avoid everything to do with him.
Now, finally, it feels safe to wonder. But there’s no one to ask.