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By the evening of Thursday, March 22nd, all the effort I had put into that apartment had been undone. It was already starting to get dark when I finally hit the road, but at this point I just wanted to get Cincinnati behind me before I had time to think too much about what I had done or what I was getting myself into out in California. Almost eight years after leaving my life behind in New York and heading to Oregon , I was once again taking a giant leap of faith to the west coast, and I had just stepped off the edge of the cliff.
Somewhere before reaching Louisville, I had a mild anxiety attack as I was driving down the dark interstate. Now that I was on the road and was finally able to catch my breath after moving all day, the second-guessing and self-doubts started kicking in.
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What the fuck have I just done? What if I hate Los Angeles? What if the new job sucks? What if everything I left behind in that storage unit gets wiped out by a fire or tornado? I made it through Louisville and a few miles into Indiana before stopping for the night. Tomorrow would be a new day, I figured, and the sooner it got here the better. I left the hotel the next morning feeling rested and renewed, and my focus turned from what I had left behind to what was waiting for me on the road ahead.
The following three days took me across eight more states, the Great Plains, the Colorado Rockies, and the desserts and mountains of the Southwest. The Rockies, of course, were spectacular, and it was nice to see them again after my last visit to Colorado. I took a short detour to Breckenridge to have lunch at the Breckenridge Brewery, and spent my third and final night on the road in a tiny place called Salina, Utah. The firm is well-regarded within the profession and has been widely published, the office culture is generally casual and drama-free, I like my co-workers and they seem to like me , and the projects are challenging and interesting.
No grocery stores or strip mall renovations here.
Southern California itself has also been treating me pretty well so far, despite dire warnings from my East Coast and Midwestern friends that the place is nothing more than a traffic-choked wasteland of suburban sprawl and fake personalities. Nobody in Cincinnati is in a position to spew negative stereotypes about any other city. Cincinnati has its own less-than-stellar public image to deal with.
As such, traffic is a non-issue during the week, and I can usually take an alternate route on the weekend if a particular freeway is jammed up. For every celebrity who manages to be a constant source of tabloid fodder, there are a thousand other people who work regular day jobs while advancing their particular craft during their spare time. And then there are all the behind-the-scenes people who, despite incredible talent, will never see their names in lights.
Even though I have no desire to go into that business myself, I still find it all incredibly fascinating. The climate is perfect for me. Just warm enough during the daytime to wear short sleeves maybe a blazer during the winter , and cool enough at night that I can sleep under a thick blanket with the windows open. The natural scenery is great; within the same county are miles of beach as well as snow-capped mountains. Having lived most of my life near either the ocean or Lake Michigan, I had forgotten just how much I miss the beach and the associated casual beach culture.
And of course, there are the mountains. In addition, Southern California is a culinary delight, even on my meager budget. And of course, there is the refreshing lack of Bible-thumpers and teabaggers in the civic realm. But in the same way that the Los Angeles Basin was an entirely blank slate upon which to build a massive city from scratch, my life out here feels like a blank slate that can be given whatever attributes or characteristics I want. I keep telling myself this whole student lifestyle is only for a couple more years and will be worth it in the end, but a part of me is very much obsessed with getting my stuff out of storage and re-establishing a real home that actually feels like a home.
My biggest motivation for finishing grad school is to put this decades-long student phase of my life behind me. More than giving me the credentials I need to achieve my professional goals, my masters degree will hopefully be the piece of paper that gives me permission to settle down, sink some roots, build a career, and finally create a real life for myself.
The large apartment complex felt almost like a fantasy world, with lush tropical landscaping and fountains between the buildings, several pools, and all the other modern amenities one would expect. The apartment itself had a large fireplace, dramatic vaulted ceilings, and just the right amount of space. At night, the only sounds where crickets chirping and the running fountain outside the window. And being a fairly large complex with several hundred apartments, there are always a certain number of vacancies each month.
I just need to hold on until I have that permission slip. Continue at your own discretion. I lived in Asheville, North Carolina for a couple years while growing up, which is located in the mountainous western part of the state.
Our neighborhood was perched on the side of Beaucatcher Mountain, and was comprised of a lot of hilly, windy streets. One particular neighborhood street was especially steep, with a sharp S-curve at the bottom of a long, straight hill. Just beyond the S-curve, the terrain dropped off dramatically into a rugged, wooded ravine. If the street had been a busier road, it would be one of those notorious stretches of highway that has a nickname like Death Hill or Blood Alley.
The feeling of flying downhill was as ecstatic as the first big drop on a roller coaster, but was tempered with the very real danger of missing the curve, flying off the pavement, and ending up broken and bloodied at the bottom of the ravine. The memory of flying down that hill in a Radio Flyer wagon at high speed, with a near-certain bloody and painful death at the bottom of the hill rapidly getting closer, has become somewhat of an unfortunate metaphor for my love life over the years.
Part of it may have to do with the uptight Calvinist background I grew up in, where sexuality was hardly ever discussed except in the context of there apparently being far too much of it on television and in popular culture. Somehow my membership card to his secret club must have repeatedly gotten lost in the mail, because I kept having to go through the initiation process over and over again.
Nobody really had a name for my condition at that time; I just assumed I was a weird misfit due to some horrible character defect on my part. While my classmates were playing with their Transformers or G. Joe action figures, I was usually off in the corner sketching pictures of bridges and space ships.
A few years later when they were having their first sexual experiences, I was still sketching slightly more refined pictures of bridges and space ships. My classmates assumed I was gay or asexual, and bullied the living shit out of me accordingly. As you might imagine, relationships and sexuality — things that, in an ideal world, should be sources of joy and happiness for those involved — had come to be strongly associated with feelings of guilt, shame, rejection, and violence in my mind.
When you crash the Radio Flyer wagon into the ravine too many times, you start to dread the idea of hauling it back up the hill for another ride.
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Fast-forward to this past week, when a random bit of news during my workday brought back vivid memories of a time when I flew down that metaphorical hill way too fast, and ended up crashing into the ravine in a most spectacular manner. As it turns out, a former crush of mine is getting married on Saturday, and not to me.
Nobody else before or since then has come quite so close to my idealized version of Miss Right. I was much more religious back then than I am now, and I was convinced she was the gift from God that I had been praying for almost my entire life.
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But there was more to her than just a nice personality and physical attractiveness. Jennifer was born without arms, and used her agile feet to do things that most people do with their hands. A real-life Venus de Milo, I found her unique condition to be incredibly fascinating and sensual.
She had never known any other way to live, and her body was as normal to her as mine is to me. I was somehow convinced this made them taste better. The first crush I ever had was toward Carol Johnston , a gymnast who was born without part of her right arm. Her story was the subject of a Disney film I saw on TV while growing up, and I was enthralled with the shape and movement of her partial arm, which ended with a small, round stump just below her elbow. Carol is almost old enough to be my mother, but she appeared much closer to my age in the film, which had been produced a number of years before I saw it.
Jennifer was completely armless, not unlike Simona Atzori , an Italian artist and dancer who was also born without arms.
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No stumps or even scars, just perfectly smooth shoulders where a pair of arms would normally begin. This might be the one element that all my closest friends have in common, regardless of how many limbs they have. An army of therapists could spend countless hours speculating on all the reasons why I have these feelings, and still not come up with a satisfactory answer.
To be clear, the attraction has nothing at all to do with any hardship or suffering that comes with being an amputee. As you might imagine, being attracted to amputees brings forth a lot of conflicted feelings that include heavy doses of shame and guilt.
Veterans who lose limbs in combat are either swept under the rug and ignored by the people who sent them into combat in the first place, or are maybe put onto a pedestal and briefly worshipped as folk heros — but never portrayed as the guy next door who lost his legs and a couple of close friends to a roadside bomb, and who still has nightmares about it.
Soon after high school, my family got a computer and I was introduced to this new thing called the Internet for the first time.
The phenomenon also has a very dry technical term: Acrotomophilia.