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Connecting Truths

Dear Kim,

The times that I have felt craziest have been when I could not tell the truth about what was going on in my life.

Well, I felt crazy when I was diagnosed with breast cancer but that was a different kind of crazy. It was a betrayal of the body, of cells gone wild.

I am talking about a different kind of crazy. The crazy that comes with the denial or suppression of personal experience because of the implication of others.

Like in high school.

I was wildly unhappy in high school.

I did fine for a while. Decided to see if I could be popular at a new school as a goal. Succeeded my freshman year, largely by being friendly to everyone and never really saying how I felt about anything. And maybe the inauthencity of that worked so well, I started crashing.

How was high school for you?

(Kim: It was very difficult. I wasn't part of the "in" crowd. Classes were difficult. I loved photography. I had a girlfriend.)

I felt like an animal in a cage because my folks would not let me go out after dark by myself. So I felt captive from the moment I entered the house. And any going to any place else had to be negotiated.

It was a gendered captivity. My brother had much more freedom.

One way I solved my way out of the house was by working myself into a frenzy. I had some ridiculous job at the school snack bar at 8 a.m. when i would sleepily dispense Cokes and squirrel away M & M's. In the afternoon, when I wasn't doing theatre, I worked as a part time secretary for a two bit lawyer in the Hyde Park Bank Building,

(Kim: I had an account there. It was around the corner from the Hyde Park theater . . . right?),

typing and retyping the same letter because I was such a lousy typist.

I think a lot of the problem was sex.

I was sexually confused: careening privately, secretly between my interests in my best friend, and another girl that my brother dated for a while, and this guy or that.

I was filled with sexual desire and terrified to act on any of it. Afraid what I might discover if I went for it with any of these girls. What that would mean and what would I do and what would my family think. Or what if they rejected me and told everyone what I had said or done.

And I was afraid of pregnancy or getting called a slut if I experimented with the guys.

I don't know if hormones or this double bind was the cause but I found it very hard to concentrate in school and cut classes more than I am still willing to admit to my parents 30 years later.

I know we went to a good high school, Kim..It probably doesn't get much better than the University of Chicago Laboratory School. Good student teacher ratio. And with the exception of our sadistic phys ed teacher, Mr Patlak, there were teachers who really invested in the students and their learning. Like Mr. Bell for Social Studies or Mr. Brasler for Journalism.

We got to do some cool projects.

But I had a hard time with readjusting my thinking every 45 minutes to another subject. And I didn't like sitting so long.

When I started a project, I wanted to finish it. To read Great Expectations all the way through, not parceled out in chunks for weeks on end. To continue writing a short story in English, not just start it.

And I was having a really hard time living at home, playing by my parents' rules and trying to carve out some private space for myself.

My father seemed either invasive or neglectful and it enraged me. My adult self now understands that he was overworked and tired, probably overwhelmed by the responsibility—fiscal and otherwise for a family with three kids—had his own triggers and no handbook for dealing with a moody teenage girl.

But all I could see was that he didn't see me. Didn't see who I was and tried to control what he did see. And would not and could not let me roam free.

Was it unsafe in Hyde Park to be on my own?

Probably.

But I was desperate to try new things, to have conversations with myself and myself alone.

So we fought verbally and physically and Iran away from home.

I lived with my mother's best friend for several weeks and went to school every day as if nothing had happened. As if my father hadn't beat the crap out of me, in his frustration.

And every day as I walked down Blaine Hall, I remember passing the counselor's office, some mousy latent lesbian and thinking,I can't talk to her. I can't tell her I got kicked out of the house or ran away. I can't compromise my parents' standing in the community.And I bet if I told her or someone else, they would never believe me.

I can't tell her I am sick with love and suffering for Katie Woolf, who is jonesing for Neal Bader. Not me.

I can't tell her that all I can stand to do is cut classes and eat sugar and masturbate to D. H. Lawrence—the scene with the lady and the gardener, flipping back and forth between various gender configurations in my head. Or shoplift at Woolworth's for costume jewelry I don't even want. Or take the 57 bus down to the Art Institute and hang around the cafeteria, pretending I was an art student. An adult.

God, what a sickly feeling of shame and blame and guilt and feelings I don't even have names for because they got so mixed up.

I gained 50 pounds in high school and failed geometry twice. Once is understandable. Twice is an act of will and desperation.

I do not trace these accomplishments—it takes a lot to gain 50 pounds—to my parents, nor do I blame them. Although I probably should have been an emancipated minor and gone to art school. I really needed to get away from home and to get laid.

I blame the secrets that I kept. That I literally had to keep swallowing. Or that so preoccupied me, I could not concentrate on an isosceles triangle.

I do not want to keep secrets any more.

I have told you plenty of secrets now. Please draw me a secret of mine or tell me a secret one of your own.

Later,

Joan

Friday, Nov 18, 2005

12:30 A.M.

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