I Belong To Me

From my late teenage years to my early twenties I was obsessed with Cosmopolitan magazine. I never missed an issue and I saved all of them inside an old travellers trunk in my closet. When my collection and I finally parted ways, right before I left on my semester abroad during the winter of my third year of university, I swear I could’ve supplied an entire hospital’s worth of waiting rooms with reading material. I think I had roughly seventy magazines in my collection, all of which were put out with the recycling the day before I left.

After my return home, I kept reading Cosmo. I can’t remember whether or not I collected them, nor can I remember when I stopped buying them altogether. What I do remember is the last time I opened one: I was at the gym, right around my 25th birthday, and I needed something to read to get me through a particularly grueling treadmill workout. Since I used to enjoy Cosmo so much and my females-only gym was full of them I picked one up from the pile, revved up the treddy, and started reading.

To my surprise, I couldn’t even make it to the middle of the magazine before throwing it to the floor in dramatic disgust.

It was the same old Cosmo I’d always read and enjoyed, but something had changed. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I realized it was me. I’d changed. I wasn’t who I used to be. I was no longer a young woman desperate for tips on How to Please a Man! or What Look He Likes Best! I no longer cared what the male population of the world thought of me, nor did I believe it to be my responsibility to make a man happy. Maybe it was because, at the time, I was nearing the crux of my relationship with my abuser and there was an ever-present rage simmering under the surface of my skin, just waiting to turn into an angry boil, and there was nothing I wanted less than to discover the best tips and tricks to keep my man interested when what I really wanted was for him to disappear into oblivion.

That was five years ago. I haven’t picked up a Cosmo magazine since, but last year I subscribed to the digital edition of Women’s Health, thinking it would be more up my alley. As you know, I’m pretty fitness-oriented. I run, I eat well, I occasionally partake in strength training (I know, I know, I should do more of this). Surely Women’s Health would have more articles relevant to my interests, right?

Wrong.

Okay, sort-of wrong.

Women’s Health does have a predominant focus on fitness. Yes, it’s cover models are still usually well-known celebrities, but they’re normally displayed appearing fit and confident, not sexy and stuffed into a dress that’s more akin to a sausage casing. Each issue has a section called Scoop!, highlighting fitness, health, nurtrition, weight, and beauty – all areas of interest to me. It has a fashion section. It talks about vitamins and common women’s ailments and how to treat them. Women’s Health does indeed have more of the information I tend to look for in a lifestyle magazine, unlike Cosmo’s primary concentration on what women can do to better appeal to their romantic partners.

BUT!

Women’s Health is not just a magazine. Like most every brand these days it also has a Facebook group, to which I used to subscribe (key words in that sentence: used to). I unfollowed the group just yesterday. Why? Because, even though there’s no real focus on it in the magazine itself, the group does share articles more-or-less up the Cosmo reader’s alley, including, but not limited to: Deciding What To Do With Your Pubic HairMen’s Biggest Turn-Ons (and Turn-Offs!), and, my personal favourite, 13 Things You Should Never Say to a Naked Man. For a magazine meant to promote and focus on the health of women (it’s called Women’s Health, right?), it seems quite concerned instead with how men view us females, as well as what we should do to receive positive male attention.

Needless to say, I also won’t be renewing my magazine subscription next year.

The good news is that while some women seem to accept these types of posts without complaint, a lot of women who follow the group do complain. A lot, actually, and loudly. They don’t like being told how to please a man, nor should they. They are vocal in asking why the content has been posted. There are voices speaking up against this weird status quo of women only existing for male benefit and I feel extremely uplifted when I read their comments. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in thinking, “What the actual fuck does this have to do with my health?” because believe me, I existed for a loooong time trying to make men happy and guess what? It never made me happy. It was only when I stopped doing it that I found my own inner happiness and, after that, a healthy, well-rounded relationship with a man who loves and respects me and doesn’t give a shit what I look like or what I wear as long as I love and respect him back. Full-disclosure? The skin on my face currently looks like that of a thirteen-year-old instead of a thirty-year-old, and he still says I’m beautiful every night before I go to bed, sans makeup. That’s love, guys. Believe that. Believe me, I don’t put on my makeup every morning for his benefit or anyone else’s but mine.

This is getting long, as my posts are wont to do, but I just have to say this: I don’t only have a problem with magazines that try and make women feel like they need to do x to get y. I have a problem with anyone or anything that does. Women don’t need to do anything for anyone but themselves. Like I said, I don’t put on makeup for anyone else but me. I like eyeliner a lot because I like how big it makes my eyes look, but you know what? I like my face without it, too. I don’t wear pretty dresses or leggings as pants (don’t judge) because I want others to admire my toned legs, I wear them both because they’re so damn comfortable and honestly, pants with zippers and buttons fit me funny because of my never-ever-going-to-be-flat-because-it’s-not-in-my-DNA belly. I don’t owe my husband, my father, my brother, or any unknown man on my morning bus ride anything. Any man is entitled to look, but he better know I don’t do anything for him. I do it for me.

Somebody, somewhere, tell me that someday women will finally achieve full autonomy; that we will be confident and respected because we’re people. Tell me magazines will stop pushing the message that if I don’t know how or I’m not willing to learn what my husband/lover/boyfriend/whatever wants from me I’m less of a person somehow. Tell me shit like this will stop happening because I can’t take it anymore. [Insert deity of choice here] give me the strength and the wisdom to raise any potential daughter I might have to respect herself first above all others and know without a doubt her body is her own and not a prize to be claimed. Give me the strength and the wisdom to raise any potential son to know women do not exist solely for his pleasure and her respect must be earned and not taken, either through violence or by the whispering of sweet nothings in her ear.

It’s 2014. Hell, it’s almost 2015. Let’s move on, shall we?

Note: The title of this post was directly stolen from, yes, a Jessica Simpson tune. Whatever, I love her, haters to the left.

Adventure Time with Cyn & Dave: Wolfville, Nova Scotia

As mentioned in a previous post, I want to spend most of my weekends outside this summer, biking around the trails of my province (and others, if possible). I think it’s kind of ridiculous that I’ve traveled all over the world and yet never truly discovered the areas around my own home. So, with my newly-formulated plan in mind, Dave and I made a trip down to historic Wolfville yesterday.

If you’re unfamilar with the area, Wolfville is nestled in a part of Nova Scotia colloquially referred to as “the Valley”, inside the interior of the province. It’s a beautiful little town, home of Grande Pré and the epic tale of Evangeline and the Acadian Expulsion. Most of its homes, shops, and services are centered around a small-yet-bustling Main Street, flanked with buildings of both modern and old-world charm. As a university town, it’s filled with students and burgeoning culture.

Dave and I love Wolfville. After we got married two years ago we spent a couple of days at the absolutely gorgeous Blomidon Inn and explored the area, reveling in our newly-married status. The town holds a certain allure to us, so yesterday we gladly made the hour’s drive from Halifax to explore it a little more in depth via bicycle. Originally I’d planned to bike Blomidon Provincial Park, but a friend of mine advised me that there was a great trail in downtown Wolfville, so we changed our plans to cycle it instead.

That was mistake number one.

When we finally reached the trail, Dave & I were a little unsure of whether we were in the right place. We’d found a trail, which was already filled with people at 11:30 in the morning, but something just didn’t seem right. I called Katie and she advised we were exactly where we were supposed to be. As I spoke to her on the phone Dave explored the area, only to return to the car to report that biking was prohibited on the trail. We were pretty disappointed, having driven an hour only to be unable to do what we’d set out to.

I quickly decided we’d head up to Blomidon instead. It was my original plan anyway and I’d already emailed the park office to ensure biking was allowed there, so I knew we wouldn’t have any issues. It was a little farther out but we made the drive up in no time, pulling over to take in the breathtaking views along the way.

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I mean, really. Look at this.

We were feeling good, back on track, ready to ride. When we arrived, we parked the car in the bottom lot, close to the beach. The tide was out and I really wanted to explore a bit before unhooking our bikes, so Dave obliged me and we trekked down to the shore. It was totally worth it.

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The last time I’d visited Blomidon I was six years old. I have a photo of my brother, dad and I standing on these very same steps.

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We took a stroll along the ocean floor…

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…and found a waterfall, which brought out Dave’s inner Backstreet Boy…

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…seriously, Quit Playing Games (With His Heart).

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#waterfallselfie

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I want to live here.

Once we’d finished exploring the beach we made our way back up the stairs, ready to get our proverbial show on the proverbial road. Back at the car we suited up, donning our helmets and backpacks filled with sunscreen, water, and snacks. Our plan was to go 20K and then head back into town for lunch.

Mistake number two.

I got my bike off the rack and climbed on. As soon as I started peddling I noticed something didn’t sound or feel quite right. I got off immediately, looked down, and saw that my back tire was completely blown out. It was so flat it was coming off the rim. The problem we now faced was we were completely without access to an air pump. We were miles away from a gas station and had made our first rookie cyclist mistake: we hadn’t brought a manual pump with us.

I was so, so frustrated. Having no other options we racked the bikes once more, deciding to head back to Wolfville in search of lunch. By this point it was one ‘o’ clock and I was getting pretty hangry, but we took one more detour, heading to The Lookoff to recreate one of our honeymoon photos (which had sadly been eaten by a faulty SD card at the time we’d taken them).

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I mean really. How amazing is this view? IMG_4300

I can’t believe I’ve spent (almost) the past two years married to this dude! Lucky girl.

Once back in Wolfville we stopped in at The Naked Crepe. Just as the name suggests it’s a quaint little creperie, a new-ish addition to the town. It was recommended to me by a colleague who’d spent the last four years living in Wolfville as he’d attended Acadia University, and, as a lover of all things crepe, I convinced Dave (who’s definitely more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy), to check it out with me.

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Dave’s donair crepe.

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My Nicolette, filled with spinach, strawberries, slivered almonds, and melted Brie, drizzled with maple syrup.

I’m no food critic, but I have to say they were really tasty. Both were considered to be savoury crepes, which was a little different to me because I’m used to partaking in sweeter, more dessert-like varieties, but the maple syrup added that sweetness to mine and made it pretty phenomenal. The only complaint I have is that the service was a little spotty – we saw tables that had ordered after us be served first and Dave received his crepe about five minutes before I was served mine. Either way, I’d definitely recommend checking out The Naked Crepe if you have some time on your hands or are just in town for a day trip.

After lunch we headed down the block to Rainbow’s End, an awesome used goods shop, specializing in books, music, and movies. We’d discovered it during our honeymoon trip and, if you know anything about Dave and I, you’ll know we love used books, music, and movies. The prices at Rainbow’s End are excellent and the selection is astounding. We never leave empty handed.

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My Rainbow’s End haul.

After spending roughly a half-hour perusing the store, I’d worked up an appetite for ice cream. Another thing about Wolfville: there are signs advertising ice cream all over town. Clearly the subliminal messaging worked because there was no way we were leaving without it. We stopped at a little convenience store right on the outskirts of town where a young kid with a heavy hand served us up two amazingly-huge waffle cones of Grizzly Tracks and Moon Mist.

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All-in-all it was a great little trip, even though we didn’t get to bike the area as we’d originally planned. Once we arrived back in Halifax we filled my tire at a service station and hit one of our local trails, hoping to at least get in a shorter ride before the close of the day, but I quickly found out my tire wasn’t only flat – it’s broken. I made it 3.5K before we had to turn back. It was the most difficult ride of my life, not only because of the flat tire, but also because my bike is a little too small for me. I’ve decided to purchase a new one, and I’ll be heading out momentarily to do just that.

If you’re in my area and looking for something to do this summer, I highly recommend checking out Wolfville. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Summertime Sadness

Roughly two weeks ago I rode my bike through the beautiful campus of the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). It was a brilliant morning, almost summer-like, although it was early spring and a chill still clung to the breeze.

I hadn’t visited the campus in years. I’d lived there once, while my stepmother was completing her Bachelor of Education, between 1995 and 1996. For two years, my family had taken up residence in Blanchard Hall, occupying a small, two-bedroom apartment in the family wing.

Seven people living in a two-bedroom apartment. Think about that. Let it sink in a little, good and deep. Think about the repercussions of packing so many people into that tiny space.

Some history for you: As a child, I lived with my mother for the most of the year at home in Halifax. Normally I only saw my father and stepfamily when they made rare trips to the city, but once the school year wrapped at the end of June my dad would pick me up and together we’d make the three-and-a-half hour trip to PEI. Every summer, from the ages of seven to fifteen, I’d spend six weeks with him, my stepmother, and my step-siblings before being shuttled back to my mother and another impending school year.

I do not resent the custody schedule that had been arranged for me, for it could have been worse. I know kids who drifted back and forth between divorced parents on a weekly basis. My arrangement was much better than that. In fact, I look back on those hot summer days with a fondness that almost borders ecstasy. I loved spending endless days at the beach, a packed lunch in tow. I loved taking trips to play in the woods in Victoria Park; to the parade during Old Home Week; to Cows for a dripping, sticky ice cream cone. Not only that, I loved having four other children, close to my age, to spend time with. I was one of those kids lacked companionship, but craved it so desperately.

The memories of living on the UPEI campus that summer are foggy at best, but I can feel the tension that somehow still resides in them. It was a stressful time for my family and even more so for me, who always felt a little like an interloper.

Let me paint you a picture of me at the age of twelve: I was awkwardly built. Tall, but not gangly; a little chubby. Teenage hormones took up residence early in my body and it didn’t know what to do with them. I wore glasses from the age of nine, near-sighted and blind as a bat. I was terrified of the changes happening to me. There was hair growing in places it had never been and my skin had begun to shine – albeit not healthily – from sebaceous glands that had kicked into high-gear from my burgeoning puberty. I’d woken up on a hot, sticky summer morning in July of 1996 with something equally sticky between my thighs for the first time. It was the final nail in the coffin of my body’s betrayal, telling me my childhood was over.

I should have known right then what kind of summer I was in for, but, still clinging to a child’s innocence, I remained blissfully ignorant of the changes yet to come.

I had been blended into my stepfamily years before, when I was four years old, and yet I’d never felt like I belonged to them or with them. It wasn’t their fault. My stepbrothers and stepsister, natural siblings from the time of their births, had spent nearly every one of their waking moments together. When our parents had another child together, she was (expectedly) quickly assimilated into their folds. I was The Interloper. I was The One Who Visits On Weekends, and then, when my family moved away, The One Who Visits During The Summer. They tried to integrate me, but it was understandably difficult. I just wasn’t around enough. Being away from them for ten months of the year, I missed too much.

I also stuck out like a sore thumb. My auburn-coloured hair and green eyes didn’t fit in to their dirty-blond(e), blue-eyed world. None of them wore glasses or had even an ounce of fat on their bodies – they were all resplendently golden-skinned and ramrod straight, nary a curve between them. Anyone could look at the five of us and just know that I didn’t belong there. I belonged somewhere else entirely and I knew it; keenly, irrefutably.

Our differences were never more evident than during the summer we lived on the UPEI campus. I felt my other-ness so distinctly every day. In the close, confined quarters of the apartment, there was no escaping what I considered to be the almost-otherworldly beauty of my step-siblings; no way to avoid people so different than I.

Andrew, sixteen and already six-foot-four and so strong, a god amongst all other teenaged boys. That year I’d noticed he looked harsher, with pointed planes taking over his face. Later I learned they were caused by an inexplicable anger that had grown inside him over the year before. He was always irritable that summer, completely unapproachable and closed off, but that rage didn’t detract from his good looks. Somehow, it only served to enhance them.

James, fourteen and as stoic as he’d ever been. I saw secrets in his dark blue eyes, fringed with equally dark lashes. Over our year apart he’d let his blond hair grow longer than it had ever been, as if he hoped it could hide him, but from what I wasn’t sure. His quiet fortitude was – has always been – my beacon in the storm.

Sarah, eleven, tall and thin and tanned, astonishingly beautiful. Her hair was the colour of honey, golden, hanging in long ringlets down her back. That year she kept her face frozen in a perpetual glare, unapologetic of her brashness and anger, mirroring that of her eldest brother. To me, her aggression only made her more beguiling.

And Saundra, six years old, already a beauty despite her young age. Blonde and blue-eyed, the same as the rest of them, but with freckles across her nose and skin so pale it looked like milk. Already a force to be reckoned with.

How could I, the queen of all the awkward twelve year olds, ever hope to fit in with these fine works of human art? How could I measure up against these masterpieces?

That summer was strange. I, The Interloper, picked up on its oddness immediately. There was a peculiar sense of apprehension floating amongst my step-siblings. At first I didn’t know what caused it, but I quickly found out. Our parents were stressed out, almost pushed to their breaking point from worrying about money, the wellbeing of their children, and other things that cause adults concern. They were trying not to let it show, but they were cracking under the pressure of it all. The air was thick with tension and it was hard to breathe, but it wound itself tightly through the ranks of us children, pulling us together.

Because our parents worked during the day we spent most without supervision, with Andrew, as the eldest, in charge. We played catch on the sprawling green campus lawns. We rode our bicycles through its hot grey parking lots. We collected pennies and bought cookies to share between us at the campus sandwich shop. We watched movie after movie, Jaws and Angels in the Outfield and Robocop, lying on old couches and chairs, sweating through our clothes in the damp humidity. We waited for relief, but it never came, not that summer.

Our parents fought. Voices were raised, doors were slammed. We children sequestered ourselves in our bedrooms, played board games while listening to the radio to drown out the racket. Andrew, his brow furrowed together in frustration. James’ long fingers setting up the board. Sarah, openly hostile over having to stay out of the way. Saundra, just wanting to touch everything.

And me, barely breathing, wondering whether my being there had caused it all.

Even though it was a stressful summer, it was the most memorable I’d spent with them. I joke now about how it was hell, living in such cramped quarters, listening to our parents fight in sharp, hissing tones, but I’ve never felt closer to my siblings than I did that summer. In the moment it was almost unbearable, but hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes.

During my bike ride through the campus two weeks ago, I pointed out to Dave the places I used to go when I lived there as a child. The roof of the veterinary college James and I used to sit on. The hill I used to fly down on my bike, as quickly as I could go. The bridge that used to be over a pond, now long dried up, where we released a frog we’d caught and brought home, realizing it couldn’t live in our bathtub all summer long. The windows of our old apartment, how they’re easily visible from the road, and how I can never, ever pass by them now without singing this song.

Sensing my creeping nostalgia and hearing a certain sadness in my tone, Dave asked me if I was feeling okay. He mentioned he’d noticed recently that I’d been talking more about my step-siblings, when I normally take precautions not to mention them. I told him I was fine, but it was – it is always – hard to explain. Having a blended family is not easy, especially when you’re The Interloper.

I told him I envied him and the relationship he has with his siblings. I envy him for having people he grew up with, who know the ins and outs of him, people who are still around. I envy that he has people who share the same experiences he has, people who are still in his life and want to be there. I have shared experiences too, but it’s different. I have all these things that happened that I share with three people, but barely any contact with them. I feel a sense of loyalty to people I’m not sure share that same sense of loyalty to me.

I haven’t seen Andrew in five years. With James, it’s been two. Sarah, four. Because I’m a sentimental fool I miss them, sometimes a lot, sometimes every day. We’ve had our differences at times, but that aforementioned sense of loyalty keeps dragging me back to them. Andrew and I have never been close – never truly gotten along – but if for some unfathomable reason he ever needed me, I’d rush to his side immediately. Cancel all my plans, book a flight, fly across the country to be with him. Satan himself wouldn’t be able to hold me back. I would fight to the death for him, even though I don’t know if he’d do the same for me. I’d do that for James and Sarah, too, but I use Andrew as an example because of our tenuous relationship. That kind of feeling is almost impossible to explain to someone who didn’t grow up the way I did, to someone who wasn’t there, to someone who doesn’t have the same experiences I have.

Believe me, I’ve tried.

Over the years, I’ve started to keep quiet when it comes to my strange, blended family. I’ve buried my memories of us deep down inside, accessible only to myself, because they’re nonsensical to everyone else. The love I have for these people is nearly inexplicable and trying to do so sometimes tires me out, so I’ve just stopped altogether. I mention them in passing but no longer give long explanations, as I often used to. I try not to dwell on the past because it’s gone. Thinking about them and how we used to be – and aren’t anymore – usually just makes me sad, and lately I’ve been thinking about them a lot.

I almost wrote that I don’t know why, but then I realized: it’s almost summertime.