Friday, October 31, 2014

My Love Story

Once upon a time, I barely considered myself human. I had a very... difficult... childhood, and bullying in my adolescence broke me completely. Of all things, this led me to the person who would help rebuild me into someone who wanted to amount to more than just a background character in someone else's life. To tell my greatest love story, is to start with the one before.

We were friends who fell in love. We had a relationship that lasted 16 months and while the first ten were pretty great, the last six were hell. Her mother found us together and, as predicted, rejected our relationship. We were never going to last all that long anyway -- as wonderful as we were for each other, we were also terrible for each other. Our personalities were both just too big and I was not capable of meeting her needs, nor was she capable of meeting mine. The death blow was that our parenting and core beliefs were completely incompatible (though I hadn't reached the point yet where I had decided it was not worth trying to change someone else's parenting beliefs and it was simply a matter of compatibility from the start), and being a mother was too important to me.

She eventually dumped me after our relationship became unbearable for both of us. It broke both of our hearts. We hurt each other so much toward the end and while some of it was simple incompatibility (opposites attract, sure, but they also burn each other up), a lot of it was simple societal rejection. Our relationship was not acceptable, and it conflicted with her religion. In my desperation to not let go and her desperation to live a normal life, we collided and burned -- loving and hurting spectacularly (we're both quite dramatic people, so it couldn't be any less).

When the day came and everything fell apart around me, I was left alone in the night (my own fault), crying out for help (literally -- I was miles from home with no way back), afraid and spiraling and utterly lost. Some kind soul answered my cry and called the police, and an officer arrived. He stepped out of his patrol car, his sunglasses on, and full cowboy in effect. He took me home, where I dove onto the computer, desperate to make contact with someone, clutching for a lifeline.

He was there. At the time, we were friends through an online fanfic group for Star Trek: Voyager. I was a writer and he was an avid fan who gave some of the best, most encouraging feedback. There had been some drama on the group over how he joined, because he lied to gain entrance before he was old enough and it led to a mess that ended in his leaving the group and my (being a moderator) reinstating him. It was the first online community I was a big part of and they're still a family to me, even if we only catch up in passing from time to time, since when Voyager ended, my stories started drying up (much to my now-husband's sadness).

My mother's day 2010 gift--a tattoo that represented our beginnings. The words are Klingon for "Truth and Love."

At the time, it was in full swing, though, and we chatted regularly with the others and two ladies in particular. He was the only one online and despite having class the next morning, he stayed up and talked to me all night, keeping me company in what was one of the worst times of my life. When he finally had to call it and go to bed, I stepped away from the computer and went to lie in my room and stare.

The next three days, I couldn't sleep or eat and I didn't so much as drink. My heart rate was above 200bpm every time I checked, and I grew weaker. Eventually, two of my friends decided to try to cheer me up, but when they came over, they spent the whole time talking to each other, ignoring me. It wasn't their fault -- they were catching up, and I wasn't much company, lying on the couch, waiting to die (and considering that I was so dehydrated that I hadn't used the bathroom in over a day, it didn't seem far off).

Finally, unable to bear being alone in a room full of my friends, I retreated to the computer to find him there. His nickname was Voy. I was Xak. Back then, that's what we called each other, too. I complained that I felt outside, and they eventually noticed, and we all engaged in a game of I, Never. Two of us at my house broke out a bottle of amaretto my best friend had left in my fridge, and he and another friend just drank water or tea.

I ended up very drunk, very quickly. I fell out of the computer chair, and my drinking buddy took over the keyboard. I eventually passed out and slept for the first time in three days. When I woke up, I was starving. I was on the road to recovery.

A couple weeks later, Voy asked if he could call me. We had been talking every night and growing closer and closer. I don't remember if it was that night or another, but he said the three big words to me. Words I have no memory of any male ever having said to me before that, other than my grandpa Dave. It was a major shock to me -- especially when I realized that I felt the same way.

"I love you."

We hadn't even met, but it was something we already knew. So, he changed the plans he had been making to fly me down to New Orleans and himself down to meet there with two other friends meeting for the first time from our online group. He was going to fly to Missouri first to pick me up. We would have a whole night together first.

On November 1, 2001, we officially became a couple.

My ex-girlfriend and I remained friends, though we had problems learning our new roles and boundaries as friends. Then the day came that my ex-boyfriend came over to hang out and watch a movie. Things were okay, I was telling him that I had a boyfriend, etc. and then my mom ruined it by mentioning that he was in California.

This seemed to be a challenge to my ex-bf, who proceeded to sexually assault me.

This was to be only one of many discoveries in regards to how little people respected online or long distance relationships. While I recovered from that, my husband was having girls pushed on him by his mother (this happened more after he actually visited) in the mistaken belief that someone closer to home would be preferable to the unknown girl halfway across the country taking up all his time.

People dismissed our feelings, because we hadn't met in a traditional way. It's a pretty shallow thing to believe you have to physically see someone to love them. That certainly isn't true of me and it wasn't true of him, either. In his case, he was also very young -- only eighteen to my twenty-one.

We eagerly awaited the day that we would meet in person. We sent each other letters, and he called me regularly. He sent me calling cards so that I could call him back. We carried on our dial-up romance, and I fretted that I wouldn't like him in person. I worried that we would be physically incompatible, that our (for lack of a better word) auras wouldn't mesh.

We started trying to scare each other off. We unloaded all our crazies in batches as it came to us. We discussed politics and religion and all of the big topics that can destroy friendships. We didn't get scared off. We fell more in love. We were talking to each other for the majority of every day, not growing sick of each other's phone company.

Finally, the big day arrived, and he sent me a picture of himself, wearing his 'boot' (he fractured his ankle a few weeks before) so that I would know who he was when he got off the plane. I didn't end up needing it.

My sister called right before I left, fretting that our grandma had convinced her he was going to be an axe murderer. On his side, his family warned him that I would be some old dude. We were undeterred. My ex-gf drove me to the airport, where I stood against the glass, watching his plane unload. The second he stepped off, everything disappeared except for him.

I felt like something I had been waiting for my entire life, that I didn't know was missing, had finally come home. We barely hesitated the second we had the chance to embrace. All of my fears and worries vanished and I had my Voy. I had no idea how short two weeks would be.

We went out on our first date, to get tattooed. It was his first, and he'd been talking about wanting one, so I took him to my shop. I got my second tattoo (and my artist sucked, but his was fine). After we were done, we went out to eat (us and my ex) and then finally came back to my house, where we spent the whole night holding hands, gazing into each other's eyes and talking.

My tattoo from that evening.

Seriously. That's what we did (we did some kissing toward the morning). We had already talked about how much we were rushing things already and we wanted to take them slow.

My ex-gf came back the next morning to take us to the airport. It was my first time ever on a plane, and I was terrified. The flight to Texas, where we had a layover, was okay. I enjoyed looking out the window. Then Texas was horrible. From breaking my favorite pair of shoes (checking for bombs) to the atmosphere to the 'don't shake your baby' posters everywhere, I wanted to get away as soon as possible.

We got on the plane a little late, and there were no two seats together. I stood in the middle of the aisle and broke down. I was still terrified of flying, but worse, I was phobic of strangers. No one would offer to move. Finally the flight attendant had to cajole someone into giving up their seat so we could sit together. Then we were stuck on the runway, frustrated because we had no way to tell our friends that we were going to be late as they fixed something on the plane.

Finally, we fell from the sky into Louisiana (that's what it felt like to me -- the turbulence was stuff of nightmares to a new flier). We were excited, but our friends were mad and berated us for not calling to let them know that we would be late... even though the flight was delayed on the tarmac, and this was before we had mobile phones.

The next week was heaven. There were a few bumps, mainly caused by miscommunication and surprising lack of courtesy on the part of our friends (who knew I was violently allergic to cigarettes, and yet didn't warn me that her family would smoke inside and had no sympathy when I had to leave, and further got angry when I was upset that they went through my belongings and mocked things that were personal to me). But we thought they were minor issues that we got through, just caused by unfamiliarity with one another.

We flew back to my state and spent our last week together inseparable. Finally, it was time for him to go home. It was like being asked to give up an internal organ for me. I had been in love before, thought I'd found a soul mate, but it was nothing like I felt for him. My ex almost started crying watching us say good-bye, pressing our hands to the glass that separated us, the first distance in two weeks that was about to grow by 1,850 miles.

I knew I'd found the one. It was the first time in my life that I thought maybe marriage wasn't a horrible idea. I had never wanted to be married, never wanted to be trapped with someone -- but he was different. It didn't sound like a trap.

Then came the blow from our 'friends.' A good-bye letter was sent, accusing us of being maliciously responsible for everything that went wrong during our visit. We were accused of ignoring them (we could hear them enjoying their new relationship through the thin walls of the motel we stayed in together, so we thought they were just as happy as we were just being together) and that we'd had 'a week together already' (we'd had barely a day). The letter was hostile, hurtful, and worst of all, it ended with "don't bother replying, because we won't read it."

Years ago, that hurt tremendously. I loved one of them as a close friend, and to have her girlfriend send a letter like that to me was heartbreaking. Twelve years later, I just hope that they have lived as happy a life as we have.

There was a huge ice storm that winter. My mom left with her boyfriend of the time to go to Palm Springs, so I was alone when it hit. My ex and I were still friends, and she rescued me from my cold house -- but I couldn't abide being away from the phone, my only contact with my Voy. So I went home and lit every candle I had for light and a tiny bit of warmth. I cuddled my kitties under blankets and rode out the storm, watching the other side of the street get power back a day before I would.

In February, he sent me a ticket to come visit him in California. I think that may have been the unforgivable act for my ex. I'd told her that nothing would ever make me go to California. I hated the Eden complex people had regarding it. I also hated that its distance from my home state had shattered many dreams into impossibility. But here I was, flying out to the land I swore I wouldn't go to for her. Of course, I would have if it had been important, but how could she have ever known that?


Being back with him was like coming up from drowning into the most perfect air above. Still, I was scared and otherwise alone in a state far, far from my native Missouri. People were mostly friendly, but it didn't stop me from being nervous about everything. We had fun and reaffirmed that we needed to be together. Neither of us could tolerate the long distance much longer, so he started making plans.

And I saw, for the first time, a place I'd been drawing pictures of since I was a child. A place of mountains and palm trees and my favorite oak trees. A place he'd grown up, and I'd only seen in my imagination (and probably more than a few t.v. shows and movies). Santa Rosa, California wasn't my home, but I felt like it had always been a part of me I'd never known was there.

At the end of the trip, his dad took us to the airport. We walked in, and I got checked in; then he said he'd go tell his dad how much longer it would be and then be right back.

He never came back.

I ran back to the front of the airport and watched what looked like his dad's van driving away in confusion. I broke down as they called my flight to board and he didn't come back. We hadn't said good-bye.

I cried the whole way through the security check, boarding and the nearly 4 hour flight home. The flight attendants worried over me and gave me drinks and snacks, trying to cheer me up, but it was in vain. I'd missed my last good-bye, my last hug, my last kiss of the impossible person I never thought I'd find.

We found out a long time later that his dad had been hiding that he was in significant pain, not wanting to bother his family with it. I wish he'd told us. I could have understood that. I didn't understand why I left feeling like his entire family didn't like me. I hadn't really even had a chance to offend his dad.

We finally set a date for him to come live with me. We agreed that I'd fly out in April and bring him back in May. He was going to rent a U-Haul and move out. I flew back as planned, but at the end, his family talked him into taking a train instead. I felt betrayed because his mom waited until I wasn't in the apartment to even bring it up.

She didn't believe he was really going to go, even though he'd been telling her for weeks. To me, having our plans changed in a way that would mean he would leave behind basically everything he owned, was a way of her keeping him tied there -- something he didn't want. He wanted to go out and make it on his own, and he was afraid that any safety net would be too tempting to fall into.

His mom and I had a huge fight. At the time, I couldn't see her as what she was: a mother losing her baby, her oldest child, to a painful stretch of miles that would make it nearly impossible to see each other again. I saw her as the mother who wouldn't let her son go to start his own life. My heart breaks for her now, but then, I was hurt and angry. I knew I wasn't good enough for him, but he wanted me, and I knew that he was the missing key to living.

Because I wasn't living. I was existing. I had nothing to live for. All of my dreams and hopes were ripped away with nasty words like 'unemployable' and 'disabled.' My vanishing vision and PTSD that would render me a permanent passenger made college impossible -- although I saw no reason to waste the time and money on me. After all, I've been legally declared worthless. A 'waste of potential.'

Of course, this wasn't to happen for another six months, but the effects of those things were already drowning me. A biologist. A psychologist. A scientist. Those were the things I'd dedicated my life to becoming. Those were things I would never become (not officially, anyway).

But he didn't care that doors were shut in my face everywhere I turned. He didn't see my disabilities as defining me. They were just a part of me. They were something that he was willing to struggle with beside me -- because they would be a struggle between us as well. Trust was an alien concept to me. I 'knew' he would eventually get sick of me and leave. After all, I'd certainly tried to enough times.

Our train

But in the end, the train was all we could afford. We said good-bye, and in the early morning, our hearts broke watching his mom and little sister holding each other, crying and waving as we drove off. He started over with nothing but me. We cuddled in my tiny twin bed, and he got a job he could walk to. He told me to give him six months, and he'd know for sure by then if we were meant to be together.

He proposed on our first anniversary with a bouquet of roses. He had been planning to wait until we moved into our own place and he could get a ring, but I was pretty adamant that I didn't care about jewelry (and I most certainly didn't want expensive jewelry). We had our own place and were about to move in, but I couldn't wait anymore. I was afraid he still wasn't sure, and I demanded to know if that was so. I still feel like I ruined his proposal, but I hadn't been so sure of anything as I was of him.

He was just as sure of me, it turned out. He did eventually get me a ring (a cheap placeholder ring, although I was certainly very happy with it -- I ended up loving the expensive engagement ring he found later even more than my wedding ring). We were married two years after, on our anniversary again (so I only have to remember one!).

That was ten years ago. Ten years with the most amazing man I've ever known. Ten years that have changed my entire worldview. Ten years of a happily ever after that I hope will last forever.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Random Musings and Rants on Character Development and Criticisms

I both love and hate tropes. I love to abuse them -- take them and twist them into something other than the way they're usually used. I like to use them appropriately. I like to piss all over them.

One complaint I expected for my first books was for the main character. He's not John Wayne. He doesn't like John Wayne. He's not Jack from Will and Grace. I'm not sure they'd even get along. No, he's not a manly man, and he's not a flaming queen. He's bisexual. He's a geek. More, he's a B character in his own world.

That was the whole point.

He was meant to be an ordinary geek. Not some hero or super-villain in training. Part of my thought process behind him was to look at the flunky -- the guy under the villain -- and follow his transition to becoming said flunky. Not even the villain's right hand man (who, in this series, is actually a woman).

pictured: a geek's kitten from Le Meow

So, I get people bitching that he's not manly enough. Someone whined about how my characters weren't fitting into gender boxes.

I. Hate. Gender. Boxes.

They aren't realistic, for one. They aren't healthy for another. I can't stand the guides that say "How to write a believable [gender] character." They're full of gag worthy stereotypes that don't reflect any of the people I've known in my life of either gender. 

News flash: this is how you should treat people and characters both

I remember one: "Guys don't giggle." 

Uh, yeah they do. I've heard many guys giggle. Some guys don't, but if you've never heard a guy giggle, then you've probably missed an entire culture (or three) of men. Gay guys giggle, but not all of them. Geek guys giggle, but not all of them. Straight, average guys giggle, but not all of them.

Any time you say not to do something for a group, you're being presumptuous and building on stereotypes that really only match your own experience. While there's nothing wrong with writing from your own experience, there is something wrong with telling other people that only the stereotype you believe in is right.

It's not. Stereotypes are looked down on for a reason. I base my characters on real people. That may be shocking, but I think it's more shocking that some people feel that makes them 'unbelievable.' Now, when I say that, I'm not saying I'm inserting people I know as characters -- but I'm using real, observed traits from real people when I get to know the characters I'm writing about instead of relying on stereotypes and tropes.

I don't expect everyone to like them. Shit, that would be like expecting everyone to like anyone. But trying to say they don't meet their expectations for a stereotype just makes me shake my head. I'm not going to take that as constructive criticism. That's just whining. John Steinbeck said to write to just one person... I think that's too simplistic, but I think that the idea that you aren't writing to everyone is a good one.

Someone recently accused me of not knowing my audience because he wanted a 'gay vampire' book instead of the psychological horror novel with vampires that I wrote. He couldn't have been further from the truth. I know who my audience is: it doesn't include biphobic, sexist bigots who are looking for erotica. My books aren't erotica. They have sex in them because sex is a part of life, and my books are 'slice of life'-heavy.

They also don't include a bunch of vulgarities or clinical anatomical terms in the sex scenes (or flowery romanticisms that make me want to vomit, like 'honey pot' or 'turgid staff' -- hey, if that floats your boat, feel free to self-insert them; just don't torture me with them or expect me to make my editor's eyes roll into the back of her head before rightfully deleting that shit). I love sex, and I am totally comfortable with it and writing sex scenes. I'm not going to adjust my style to make my books wank fodder when that has never been what they are.

I write what I know, and what I don't know, I research, from the mouths of those who do know, not just books or blogs about a subject. Which gives me this radical idea that people can't really be boxed. And maybe some people want characters to be boxed, but I don't. Maybe that means I'll never be a New York Times Bestselling author (not knocking books on the NTY list, I'm knocking whiny critics), but I'd rather be true to my characters than create two-dimensional caricatures.