What sets me apart from most people in my life is that I was alive when Jimmy Carter was president. Then, when I was one, Ronald Reagan took office and we moved into the house my Republican parents live in to this day. I began a lifelong love of reading in that house by going through my father’s electronics catalogs and attempting to read the descriptions of the latest eight track and Betamax players.
In 1982, Eric was born, except she wasn’t Eric; she was Amanda. Then Ronald Reagan began Star Wars and I launched my own strategic defense against not-Eric’s encroachment upon my place in the family structure. In school, I enjoyed more age-appropriate reading material, and I discovered boys. Chris Glover was my first-grade “boyfriend”, a relationship that consisted of little more than our six-year-old classmates calling out “Glover Lover” while staring at me and stifling giggles behind stubby fingers.
While I was acquiring a third sibling, somewhere in the Soviet Union, a young boy, an only child, was being teased by his Communist classmates for being an “American lover” since his unusual last name sounded very much like “American.” He took swimming, wrestling, and gymnastics like all the good, athletic Soviet children, while I balanced myself between two desks and swung my legs wildly back and forth in Mrs. Graf’s class during a multiplication round-robin elimination contest until I flipped backward, hit the hard floor, and was knocked unconscious. Multiplication didn’t go much better for me in fourth grade, so I cheated off Mary Cotton on the quizzes about 7s, 8s, and 9s until she refused to let me anymore, and I knew then that I would never be at the top of my class.
The Berlin Wall fell while the raising of the wall between me and everyone around me began after the death of my grandfather. The kids from Townline Elementary merged with us in Alden Middle School and I swapped out some old friends for new ones, like Jennifer Cordier and Anne Janas, though eventually I would shun them too. I was still an ardent proponent of the Christianity I had grown up in, but I didn’t feel like I really fit in with the other kids in the youth group. I joined the world of work, as a babysitter, which opened a whole new aspect of life in which I had my own spending money and didn’t have parents, teachers, peer pressure, or religious influence. By my last year of middle school, my hallmark personality traits of confidence, intelligence, curiosity, and independence were firmly embedded.
I was the sometimes off-key singer in my brother’s Christian rock band, but all I thought about was booze and boys and escaping my small-town, restricted life. A real job for $4.25 an hour at Burger King and my first car let me do just that. I met a community college boy from the Southtowns and had my heart utterly demolished. I didn’t feel able to go back to my old life after that and mentally checked out of my senior year of high school, though I only managed to physically escape to Gettysburg College for a few months until I started to choke on the hoity-toity liberal arts college life.
I got my first apartment, back in Buffalo, and enrolled in the 30,000 student state university where the opportunities were endless. I spent the summer on the Jersey Shore with the one person I had bonded with at Gettysburg, and I discovered a whole world of people on the J1 visa, which set my international life motion. And so, taking advantage of all the programs University of Buffalo had to offer, I spent the next year abroad, including five months in India where I found the empirical evidence I needed to eradicate my already heavily eroded religious brainwashing. Then I spent the summer of 2001 in Germany, my last international trip before the world as we know it changed forever.
Even though the world had changed, my lust to experience it all hadn’t, and so I took off immediately after graduation to teach in Mexico, South Korea, and Russia. In Russia, I met the man whose surname I would adopt for 12 years, the “American lover.” I left him frequently to keep travelling the world, but the pull of someone who loved me for me, as unfeeling and difficult as I was, couldn’t be resisted. My career as an English teacher advanced, but my volunteer work with Chechen refugees interested me much more. When I took the Russian to the United States on a holiday, I decided not to go back to Moscow with him, so he went alone, packed up our belongings, and returned to Buffalo several weeks later with an engagement ring and an airport proposal.
Life in the United States was dull, and both of us made less money and had worse jobs than we’d had in Russia, but we had a plan. We packed up a moving truck with my car in tow when gas was $6/gallon, right before America’s first black president was elected, and headed for Colorado so I could attend graduate school and then work with refugees again in some exotic land. Graduate school and marriage disappointed me equally, but a big ray of sunshine, my precious Trotsky Bear, came into my life on the last day of 2009.
Graduation took me not to Africa or South America but to an office job—my first adult job—on the west side of Denver. This was not what I wanted from life and I needed to make some changes, starting with a divorce. I enjoyed feeling so stereotypically carefree American in all the ways I had missed out on in my twenties. I made real, lasting, wonderful female friends for the first time in my life, found a new relationship, and began an exciting job as a managing editor at an education technology startup. I also bought a motorcycle, rediscovered the passion for writing that had vanished in my teen years, and resumed the life of international travel I’d once had.
That renewed wanderlust pushed a deep urge to leave Colorado, but I simultaneously loved my life there, so I opted to move just 35 miles away from bustling Union Station to the serenity of a beautiful custom home on top of a mountain overlooking Boulder. Yet there was no serenity as the person I lived with continued his downward spiral into alcoholism, depression, and control of me, and so, with friends expressing concern that I might become a victim featured on an episode of Dateline NBC, I left him. I rediscovered what it was like to really be me, just me for me, and threw myself into new passions and pursuits, with great friends urging me along. And now—in the best shape of my life with my old pup sidekick still by my side along every forest trail and up every mountain—I turn 40, excited and optimistic for the second half.