Sunday, May 18, 2008

My life story

I was born in September of 1978. At the end of a month at the end of a decade at the end of a century, I arrived in Boston, Massachusetts. That was pretty much the end of Boston’s tenure as a relevant city in the American cultural scene, too. My name is Anastasia, which means “rebirth” or “to be again.” I got that name from my grandmother, who died before I was born.

My parents were old to have me, even by today’s standards. My mom was 38 when I was born, and my dad was 49. They were married and stayed that way. They loved me incredibly and still do. They love me so much that I can feel my dad’s ghost’s love for me sometimes. My mom doesn’t have a ghost. She just calls me in Texas from her house in Maine a few times a week.

I am really lucky. I have been able to take my health for granted. I went to good public schools and got a very good education. I grew up with lots of books and read them. My parents traveled on airplanes and in a sailboat, and they always took me along. I spent lots of time with adults when I was little: I have no siblings. Even when I have no money, I have amazing friends and lots of love and intelligence within and around me. That keeps me afloat. That and the generosity that comes with the love.

When I was small, I went to a magical Montessori school in a town a little ways from where my parents lived. It was run by old ladies, all sisters and daughters. We spent lots of time making up games and taking care of animals and reading. All of my memories from then are positive. My parents became good friends with the women who ran the school, as did my friends parents. Everyone knew each other very well. Parents all volunteered to help out. One girl’s mom was French, and she came and taught us French. My dad did lots of carpentry around the school. My mom helped with Brownies when she could. There weren’t many kids there.

All the children in nursery school and kindergarten were in one building—the building with the kitchen and the bathrooms and the tables where we ate lunch. First, second, third, and fourth graders were all taught in a little house across the driveway. Thirteen of us, all in one room. It was great. I was never bored, and I got to work with older kids on lots of things. I read their books with them, did history projects with them, and participated in their science fair.

We always sang. Teachers all played piano. There was a grand piano in the room with the younger kids, and an upright in the graders’ classroom. Both were painted pink. We only had a half day of school on Fridays, because everyone took dance lessons. In the summer we got to ride the ponies that we cared for during the school year, and we swam in the old pool at the top of the playground and had a carnival with egg tosses and things like that. It really is a shiny and magical time in my memory. If our parents had to drop us off early, we would go to the old ladies’ house. They would drive us to school in a VW bus, or walk if the weather was nice.

Everyone who went to school there was friends. The girls who I spent time with then would become very strong allies or nemeses later on. I took our growing up and/or apart very hard and very seriously.

During this time, I remember my friend Abby asking a teacher to help me tie my shoes. They were boat shoes with rawhide laces that wouldn’t stay tied. I had just learned to tie my shoes and was proud of my skills, so I was embarrassed and frustrated. Abby explained to my teacher that I knew how to tie, but that my laces were really difficult, and that’s why I needed help. She even demonstrated how she had a hard time with them. That year, I had a Garfield lunchbox, and I was really proud of it.

Somewhere in there, also, I had the best birthday party of all time. All of my friends came to our apartment (which was across the street from a beach) and gave me wonderful gifts that I can still remember (stuffed animal monkey twins, a doll with a particular smell, a Strawberry Shortcake playhouse for figurines). We decorated a banner that said “Happy Birthday, Stacia!” My parents handed out plastic whistles and kazoos and rattles and noisemakers, and we had a parade along the beach to a picnic area. My dad grilled hamburgers and hot dogs on a hibachi, and we painted little rocks and flew kites. My grandparents, cousin, aunt, uncles, and friends’ parents were there. A lot of people loved me and showed it. My friend Jonathan was flying a beautiful kite with my dad. It was from Japan. A gust knocked it out of the sky, and onto the causeway road. Jonathan cried because he felt bad, and because he thought my dad would be angry, but my dad wasn’t angry at all. He gathered up the kite pieces and bound them up with string and tied a rock and they buried it at sea.

In the third grade, I began public school and I hated it. I didn’t understand why the kids were mean, and I didn’t understand why my teacher was mean, and I didn’t know that homework was mandatory, and my parents couldn’t pull me out of school for trips anymore. I hated school until I was in high school. I didn’t have many friends and was sad a lot, because I didn’t get how nobody at all thought I was worth spending time with. I knew I was great, though. I still feel that way. Compared to other kids’ real senses of worthlessness, though, I feel very lucky that my parents’ love for me made it impossible for me to think I was trash. Many of my teachers thought I was stupid in public school. I never gave them reasons not to think that.

In high school, I began to show my intellect in English classes and in debate and history. I hated my parents. I quit ballet and soccer to smoke cigarettes with kids from the Amnesty International chapter at our rival high school. I got more confidence and more friends at my own school. I had a boyfriend for the first time. He was very nice to me, and we kissed when I was sixteen. He dared me because I was too shy to kiss him on the lips of my own volition.

In my sophomore and junior years of high school, my English teacher, Anne Leaver, recognized my ability to write. She advocated that I switch to the honors section of English that year, but the administration didn’t let me. She submitted essays I wrote to various contests and did a lot to get adults who didn’t know me or my awful work habits to read my work. I felt really proud and grateful that I had such a champion. That’s when I began to think about becoming a teacher.

My last year of high school, I had a really amazing teacher. Her name is Susan Riess. With her, I read some really challenging stories. I got an A+ on a paper on “The Stranger,” by Camus. That was the year that I understood symbolism formally. She was funny and honest and she gave us a hard time when we deserved it. I remember that she called some cheerleaders “a bunch of flipping ponytails.” Knowing that all adults in my high school did not necessarily value the popular kids over the rest of us had a profound impact on me. I felt really validated in choosing my own path.

My dad and I were very, very close. He used to work from our apartment when I was small, so he did most of the parenting. His business folded when I was about ten, and then he was home even more. He was really interested in my weird imagination, in my mental processes, in figuring things out. I always knew that he really valued the fact that I was different, but when I got to high school, something changed. Once he said “Midget,” (this was my nickname, because I spoke like an adult when I was very small) “you’re getting kind of bummy.” He meant my ass was getting big because I’d stopped dancing and playing sports. Once he told my boyfriend that he thought I could probably go to secretarial school. He was totally out of touch with what women could do in that day and age. He was about 60.

My grandfather died in 1995, when he was 84. He had colon cancer. He was a huge part of my childhood, and he and I used to drive to the zoo and sing songs in his Dodge Aspen on lots of Saturdays. When he died, I was self-centered and fake. I think he knew that, and I wish I had the chance to show him what I later became—and what I’m becoming. Where he might have winced and hoped for the best then, I think he would feel assured now.

At the beginning of my senior year in high school, I took the SAT and did fairly well. My grades were awful, except in English and social studies. Still, I only applied to Boston University. My mom went there a little, and my dad’s mother had gone there to study as a nurse in World War I. This was not enough to negate my grades. I was crushed when I wasn’t admitted. The University of Massachusetts did take me, though. I started there in September of 1996.

It took me so long to get the hang of making friends in the town where I grew up that I felt hopeless when I arrived at my dorm. I knew some kinds from Marblehead, but I wanted to transcend that place. I drank a lot and smoked a lot that first year. I left with a 0.6 GPA and a directive not to come back for a semester. I told my parents I got A’s and borrowed some money to go to Spain. I went with a friend to Portugal and then Spain, and lived on traveler’s checks and credit cards until my grades came in. Then my parents told me I could come home then or never. I went back to Massachusetts and worked for my dad testing concrete and living at home for the summer. They didn’t make me pay them back, though I think they should have. Instead, they let me save up to move to Boston in the fall. I did, and I enrolled at UMass, Boston part time. I got a job at an ice cream place in Harvard Square, then a job cooking at a cute deli that did catering, and then I picked up an internship writing news for a local rock radio station. At that time, I was taking English classes, and I really loved them. When my lease was up, my parents offered for me to go back to Amherst and I said “Yes.” My decision came so late that I could only live in substance-free housing on campus.

My return to college was great. I studied and got good grades and wrote a lot and my poems were met with some good accolades and interest. I gave readings with friends that were well-attended. My friends were smart and I didn’t date much and felt bad for that, but was a kind of a heart-breaker because I was so afraid that the young men liked me for reasons I didn’t think were valid or challenging or something. I was mean to a few people who really meant well, but I got mine from the men who I did date. They were primarily self-centered and treated me like I wasn’t good enough or attractive enough. This is what I wanted to hear. This is what I thought was true.

Eventually, I came to live with a good friend the summer before our last year. Our apartment was magnificent. She had been overseas the year before. A friend of her brother’s came to see her, and we drank lots of beer and tumbled through a night. He kept coming to visit and he was my boyfriend, then, for six years. In that time, I graduated, moved to Brooklyn, got a job at a record label, a book publisher, and then applied to graduate programs, didn’t get in, and moved to Texas. He worked at a porn store, moved back with his parents in Connecticut, went to rehab, and moved to Texas with me.

On February 6, 2005, my mom called at 7:00 a.m. to tell me my dad died. He died a few hours before, but she didn’t want to wake me up too early. I didn’t like her much then. I also didn’t really like my dad then. We fought a lot when I was in college, and more when I lived in New York. I was really disappointed in him for several reasons that I now realize were valid, but none of my business. Even though my grandparents were gone, I didn’t know this kind of loss. It was really devastating. I truly wasn’t sure if I was allowed to keep living, and every day when I came home from work, I thought of hanging myself. Most of the time, though, my boyfriend was home (because he didn’t get a job) and so I would pay attention to him. Things weren’t great before my dad died, and then got worse. He started sleeping with a 17 year-old—not his first extra-relationship relation—stopped, and then broke up with me for her. We have tried to be friends, but I don’t think it’s worth it. It’s been about 2 ½ years. I have not dated anyone seriously in those years. It used to bother me, but I think it’s for the best. I have time…I think.

I stopped eating, I didn’t really drink, and I was working two jobs and taking a full load of graduate classes. I lost a lot of weight very fast. I made out with lots of guys, slept with a few, tried some important friendships, felt sorry for myself, drank a lot, got fat, rode my bike around Canada, began working with middle school kids, taught science in the desert of Utah, and got closer to where I am now:

I am going to be thirty in September. I live in Austin, Texas. I moved here on a lark, but it is by far the best that my life has ever been. I ride my bike most of the time, even though I have a car. My friends are the most wonderful, inspiring people I have ever known. I am lucky enough to have been able to take my health for granted for this long. I play soccer every Sunday. I am strong ad healthy and smart, and I spend my time with people who are strong and healthy and smart. My mom and I are friends. She just came for a visit and stayed with my in my apartment, in my bed, and she met all of the people I love most. I am about to become a middle-school English teacher. I love my students and my work. Even if I am not married, even if I don’t own my house yet, even if graduate school is taking a long time…I am a very lucky woman. My friends and my family are intelligent and dynamic and compassionate and forgiving, and I am those things, too. Someday, I will find somebody with whom to settle down.

I really would like to have kids. I’d like to be younger for them than my mom was for me. I want to be able to run around with them. If it takes a while, though, it will be all right. Maybe I’ll adopt some. I don’t know.


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