some reflections, made in water.

August 30, 2009

today, i went swimming.

this is an offshoot of a very regular and fairly intense regimen of physical activity as of late. aside from cycling everywhere, i have been going to the gym about 4-5 times a week. yay for me, i guess. what has brought me to this point, who knows? but i do feel very satisfied with myself, and in the span of only three weeks or so, i do seem to notice a few changes (for the better, thankfully) in my body. it has even gotten to the point where muscle soreness the next morning is a very welcome feeling.

why did i swim today? the weather was beautiful, and i didn’t have time to go to the gym for a proper session. i figured i would take advantage of the mount pleasant outdoor pool – it is, after all, likely to be demolished after this season ends in a week’s time.

i went in my trusty brown shorts and my red hoodie. braving the breeze, i bared my skin to the air, and then to the water, wearing nothing more than a speedo, my earrings and my bracelet.

///

some of my most vivid memories of childhood are painful ones.

like most long-ago recollections, time will blur and dull the sharpest images. so i don’t really remember many individual instances of where life had me bled. but waking up bloodied next to a dumpster in an alley with your wallet missing leaves no question as to what happened, even if the original event is fuzzy.

an old friend of mine – who i have fallen out of contact with – once had a photo clipped out of a magazine taped to a mirror in his university dormroom. it was quite a ridiculous image, as i recall: a young, attractive, blond, sun-kissed caucasian male had been captured with a lop-sided, goofy grin from ear to ear, eyes hidden behind oversized sunglasses, with smooth skin fading from jaw to neck to naked shoulder.

a lot of us fresh-faced gay boys would put up such things in our dormrooms – we were (or at least i was) pretty much fulfilling the dreams of what we wished our adolescence could have been. but what was remarkable about this photograph was that my friend gently defaced it so that it read “one day, i’ll be as beautiful as you!” with an arrow pointed to the model’s toothy smile.

at that time, the pains of my being kicked out of my mother’s house were still quite fresh in my mind, having only been three years prior. since my parents split up – and really, even before that – i had been subjected to a horrible bout of psychological abuse, one that i doubt i will ever learn to forgive. really, barring the saliva, it was like being spit on…day after day after day for the better part of 16 years.

the feelings that i remember the most – the ones that time can’t seem to rust and make brittle – are the ones where my faults were so brutally exposed and magnified. penalties were severe; a simple grounding would have proven ineffective, as i had no freedoms to take away. i was subject to de facto house arrest, quartered with a monster who treated her domain like a veritable room #101. sadly, anything i did would land me in trouble.

i would be harangued for my habit of mumbling on occasion, or for being picked on at school, or for not doing well at math (something that has always been very difficult for me beyond basic arithmetic). i caught flak for being clumsy. i was punished for reading books more intellectually challenging than dr. seuss (no disrespect to the good doctor, of course). i was criticized for the results of going through puberty. i was forced to reveal my thoughts on paper, and then have them shared between all three of us: me, my mother and my brother.

basically, i was convinced that i had no real value as a human being, since i would never amount to anything of significance, let alone to being a doctor or a lawyer (my mother’s preferred careers for her sons, due solely to their salaries).

when i was finally forced out of my house for committing the most grave act of communing with my demon father, i briefly considered running across the upper levels highway at night – since i figured my life was basically over at 16. i was a wreck – a kid who had been mentally beaten to gruel. i had nothing to live for, really: it was like being crushed from all sides, much like a grape pounded to pulp and juice, only to spoil in the cask and turn to cheap vinegar.

///

as i pushed water away from me, i recalled the lessons of years ago: stretch far, kick hard, keep your knees in, look forward (not down), breathe out through your nose and in through your mouth.

swimming is not too far removed from dance: it is an expression of yourself in movement. in essence, be proud of who you are, and you will go far.

once i stepped out of the pool to towel off, i caught my reflection in a window. and possibly for the first time, i saw the person i so desperately wanted to be growing up. i am long and lean and tanned, headstrong, confident and – gradually – more disciplined. i walk in public with revealing yet tasteful attire, not because i am proud, but because i am comfortable.

and it got me thinking to julien powell and his defaced poster on his wall many moons ago. although i had never done the same thing in my room, i had done my own version of what he declared he would do. i hope that, one day, i get to meet the good man that he has certainly become.

it has really taken me this long – nearly ten years, over a third of my life – to get to a point where i can accept myself as a person. and that is maybe why life is so fragile for me sometimes. i cannot afford another decade of misery, especially when the keeper of the keys to room #101 is myself.

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