Sexually Transmitted Images

  I must sound like one of a gaggle of prudish old hens clucking amidst the clicking of their mahjong tiles, but what has gotten into young people today?  At the ripe old age of 22 I reflect back on my adolescence as a time when self confidence was taking continual nose dives with every fresh glance in the mirror at my awkward form. I remember the battle of wills trying to control a part of my anatomy that seemed to want to embarrass me by demanding attention at the most inopportune times. If modern trends are any indication, I should have let my mindless yet determined member say cheese.

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"In youth and beauty, wisodm is but rare." -Homer

A survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy revealed that 20% of teens have sent or posted sexually explicit pictures or videos of themselves, with a full 39% having sent or posted sexually evocative texts or emails. ABC news contributor Cole Kazdin remarks on the most startling incidents where “[c]hildren as young as 12, who aren’t sexually active, are sending explicit, provocative and even pornographic images to their peers” and “kids who are too young to wear bras…are posing in them, and then topless and then actually engaged in sex or even in masturbation” (Kazdin). Despite being a Generation Y cohort, my heart has long been enraptured by the 1950s, a simpler, less sexualized and un-digitized time.

And maybe that is why, for the majority of my own teen years I was either wrestling with the adolescent exhilaration of trying to sleep after receiving the rare flirtatious compliment or suffering palpitations while attempting to orchestrate an extra-curricular social gathering (it’s not a date, it’s a group thing!) that might get my fantasy girl to “like me like me.” At the start of such a foray existed the stubbornly persistent cycle whereby I  would unsteadily dial the number that would connect me to her only to, in a moment of cowardice—or sanity—abruptly hang up the phone off before she could answer. I can still recall the cold drops of sweat that would form in the intense silence after I pressed the last digit, and the first ring that set them rolling.

On the rare occasion I was brave—or delusional—enough to let the call  ring through, my crush’s smooth, casual manner of speaking made me consciously discomfited of the stammering and verbal stumbling she reduced me too. The eloquent scripts I wrote for myself before I endeavored to call always came out butchered once that last ring cut off and she answered. The neat conversational phrases I had penned turned into awkward mishmashes of questions without upward inflection or comments that stalled mid sentence.

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"If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees." -Kahlil Gibran

Needless to say, I might have melted into my bedroom floor completely had I switched the phone into camera mode and sent a pixilated image of my privates to her. Of course, considering that 38% of teens believe that it’s common practice to share sexual images with people aside from whom the image was originally intended for and sent to, I could have let this statistic work in my favor and shared an explicit picture or two with the mutual friends my crush and I had in hopes that she would become enamored with my…candor

I remember the searing, unquenchable, inferno of jealously that consumed me when I would see or hear tale of my dream girl having talked to another guy. We weren’t anything, even by adolescent relationship standards, but that fact did nothing to assuage the pain my heart felt. As far as I was concerned, she was going to be my Snow White and I her Prince Charming. And I desired, like husbands do of their brides, that she keep herself only to me. With the fact that presently nearly half of high school boys have seen a nude image of at least one of their female classmates, I can only imagine the indignation my still maturing mind would have suffered had that girl—whose soft gently parted smile and lively blue eyes simultaneously intimidated and mesmerized me—appeared explicitly on the screens of my male compatriots. It would seem—given the current trend of sending and receiving “innocuous experimental message[s] sent to a cute boy or girl”–that my romantic morals have always been, like the fairy tale featuring the seven dwarves, old fashioned (Gil).

Hope

Hope

noun, verb, hoped, hop·ing.  the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best; to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence; to believe, desire, or trust; to feel that something desired may happen.

Hope  is telling your heart that you’ll see her again as you watch her familiar figure recede into the bustling milieu and blur from the tears forming behind your eyes; the calming breath that quells a racing, troubled heart; the fresh day that dawns on a fitful night and reminds you that light replaces dark given enough time.  It’s the melting of despair’s frosty layer on the spirit; the flapping of wings and not shivering of shoulders, the flutter felt in your stomach that says “maybe, just maybe” and the smile worn during a daydream.

The Letter You’ll Never Read

“I found a place so safe, not a single tear/ The first time in my life and now it’s so clear/I feel calm, I belong, I’m so happy here.” –Avril Lavigne

I start in my goodbye letter by saying how tragic a loss it is for the ones you left behind: the evidence was clear in the packed funeral home and the street choked with cars parked on either side. A lot of people loved and cared about you, it was easy to see.

I progress to verbalize the sentiment of the lamenting tears cried by so many as you were eulogized at the youthful age of 21; a collective air of untimely loss hung as heavy as water vapor in the humid summer air. But alas, here the divergence between the goodbye letter I wish I could write and the missive that needs to be written emerges.

I wish I could tell people how you overcame obstacles like losing your parents in infancy and fought down the demons of your addictions to make something great of yourself. But instead I’m relegated to the truth: you died because you injected more drugs into your body than it could handle.

Remembering the sweet, shy girl with gorgeous eyes I knew from middle school, it’s my delight to recount the cute quirk of fate or small-town coincidence that would have your Sunday school teacher later become your DARE officer. A story-book ending woulde that his continuing counsel with you turned your life around. In its place, I have to say that in spite of acknowledging how many people cared for you and recognizing how much they wanted to help, you continued do abuse drugs and run ‘til the end.

In earnest I can say that there is a lasting and profound legacy you have left in me. While I would be remiss to omit
the butterflies I remember having when around you and the times I fantasized about us being close, I would be doing a disservice to the truth to exclude the broken heart, shattered self-confidence and cynicism you caused by abruptly picking drugs and crime over me.

No matter how much the disparity between what I desire to say and what my conscience tells me to include, it is perfect truth to say that I will always remember you and cherish the moments I had you in my life. I copiously proclaim the unfairness of the world for taking you too early, but take solace in the fact that your own brand of suffering is over.  Regretfully I append that your death was a penalty for a lifestyle those of us left behind know you didn’t need to live.

"Black star/Forever will you be/A shining star" --Avril Lavigne


In this goodbye letter you’ll never read I nonetheless offer you my heart that was filled with empathy too late, a hug of forgiveness that can never be given, a sigh of lamentation that now serves no purpose, and the wondering that will never cease: I wonder if I could have been the person to save you.

Born to Fight: The Story of a Lyme Warrior

“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else. ” -Emmerson


I remember standing in front of my bedroom mirror, looking, imagining. Standing up straight in my US Army uniform, I blocked out the reflection of my white sock feet and instead admired the government-issue fabric that ensconced my adolescent body. Over time, my uniform was supplemented with authentic battle gear: a suspendered belt with pouches to hold clips of ammunition and a poncho tied on across the back. I hunted down a one-man first aid pouch and clipped it upside down to the left suspender for easy grasp just like I saw in real life.  But even as I came closer and closer to being a perfect imitation of the soldier I aspired to be, the day of reckoning was flanking my youthful vigor.

For many years I was a soldier for Halloween; getting to show adults a all-inclusive preview of what I expected to be was a rare highlight. Occasionally I’d wear my uniform to the grocery store but on those outings the dummy hand grenades and authentic Kevlar helmet I eventually accrued always had to be left home. Yet however much or little of my GI ensemble I was allowed to wear, while I was in it I embodied the persona of a skilled warrior and left my weak, pain-prone, Lyme Disease riddled body as transient features of the enemies I eliminated in countless bedroom firefights.

Spent NATO 5.56 bullet casings used by US forces.


However, like all battles in every war, the fighting eventually subsided and it came time to formulate the casualty report. In moments of clarity that betrayed my increasing maturity, my faithful, imaginary M-16 was stowed in the armory of my mind and I realized that the obstinate belief of being a frontline defender of freedom had been long-filed under the heading Killed in Action.  At this realization I became a soldier of misfortune, a prisoner of a war I would never fight.

Gazing loathingly at my thin arms lacking muscle, glaring at my chest stretched tightly across my ribs, and staring at my slumping bony shoulders in the mirror I wondered what it was I would be, what I could be, what Lyme disease would let me be. After years of being held in continual custody by an enemy power—my own mind, not the foreign government of a real soldier—I realized that the warrior mentality needn’t die in the absence of a battlefield.

From birth my body has been ravaged by a microscopic enemy: borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease. And since age two I have been on antibiotic treatment with the hopes of eradicating the infection.  So while I was prevented from ever being a soldier in the ranks, I now look back on all the hardship that I’ve endured over the course of my affliction and say with certainty that I have always been an army of one.

Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria

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