who taught me what

I’d been working up a post about things people have taught me–things that maybe should have always been obvious but weren’t (to me, anyway). Then Krista posted today about influences, and so I decided to riff a bit off her.

Mrs. White, my high school English/comp teacher, Dostoyevsky and Raskolnikov, and Sartre taught me when I was a junior that I could think about life in ways that I didn’t know were viable. I had a kind of life-changing moment, sitting in the quad of my high school reading some Intro to Philosophy reader under the hibiscus, where I realized how tenuous my simple-minded perspective was. I remember that moment with great detail: the feel of the humid air and the hum of water fountain–and the way this epiphany brought me an equal sense of freedom and fear.

As an undergrad, I worked at a volleyball club in Virginia Beach as a referee and office person. The assistant director taught me that I could put as much cream cheese on a bagel as I wanted; I could even tear the bagel into pieces and drag it through the cream cheese. She also taught me (through her example) that infidelity in marriage, something I thought only existed in soap operas, happens all around us, all the time.

My step-mother’s mother, who babysat us during those summer days we stayed at my dad’s house, taught me that people actually DO watch General Hospital. She was the first person I ever met (and one of the few in total I’ve ever known) who watched soap operas. every. day. She also taught me that smoking can keep some people very skinny, and that smoking can eventually, after a good deal of suffering, kill a person.

My step-mother tried to teach me that running would make my uterus prolapse and render me barren and childless. I figured I would have to either smoke or run, and at 14 I’d yet to witness death-by-running. Since then, of course, I’ve read about runners dying because of hypo- and hyper- all kinds of stuff, but I clearly didn’t have to worry about the barren part.

My mother sat me down when I was 14 and said, “Every single time I had sex without protection, I got pregnant. The same goes for all your aunts. Your eggs are of extremely fertile stock. Make sure you know how to use a rubber.”

That same year, in English class with Mrs. White, we were talking about RU-486 and sex education. Within that context, I said something about rubbers, and got hugely quizzical looks from the entire class, including Mrs. White. “What Madeline means to say is condom,” Mrs. White hastily added.