Human development proceeds in stages, no matter what the attribute being studied. If anything is stressed in Developmental Psychology, it is this theory. Whether it be moral, cognitive, physical, or personal, there is a set of epigenetic steps that must be followed in order to "complete" the development of one's character at any given age. Research shows that steps are not skipped; and, in general, they cannot be repeated after they have been completed. Of course, this is not to imply that the happenings in one particular stage of a person's development will not have a serious impact on her later life. Psychologists as far back as Sigmund Freud recognized that significant events or unresolved conflicts within a stage can have severe repercussions in later stages, and can even be so damaging as to hinder further development.
It is within this century that the field of human development has expanded with the greatest speed, as researchers study the various phases that people encounter in their physical and mental lives, no longer content with the idea that children are merely vessels to be filled, or miniature versions of their adult selves. Among the "giants" of modern developmental psychology are Jean Piaget, who specialized in cognitive growth; Erik Erikson, who researched the development of personality traits; Anna Freud, whose work concerns adolescent transitions; James Marcia, who focuses on the further development of those traits in the college years; and Lawrence Kohlberg, who is famous for his studies on moral development.
I will focus on all of the above theorists in this paper, with emphasis on Erikson, Piaget, and Kohlberg, as Marcia's work applies only to the last few years of my life. My intent has been to examine my life -- through the memories of myself and my family, and through some of the more representative "tangibles" that my mother has saved through the years, including old school papers and written records of my personality through time -- in a chronological fashion, highlighting each stage of development as it seems to have occurred. I have had a very fortunate twenty-one (almost twenty-two) years, and if the theorists are to be believed, this is reflected in my personality and abilities as they now exist; it is this conclusion that I hope to reach in the course of creating this, a series of snapshots of my life on earth thus far.
Peter Nielsen and BJ Wahl met at S.U.N.Y. Binghamton, in 1967. They shared a class in geology, my father's major and an interest of my mother, who would go on to study Library Science. Although it took some convincing for my mother to marry him, they were eventually wed in May of 1970; my father was then completing his master's degree, and my mother her bachelor's. They spent a year in the Northwest Territories, gathering information for his thesis; and then relocated to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where my father began his Ph.D.
Both of my parents come from households that emphasized academic achievement; this factor, and that they met in an academic atmosphere, set the major tone of their marriage and the upbringing of myself and my siblings. From the days that we were born, we were expected and encouraged to perform to the most of our abilities, which were also assumed to be quite high. My parents expected this of each other, as well; they have recently separated, citing the lack of physical attachment: their relationship was based almost entirely on "the meeting of like minds," as they were intellectually and emotionally very compatible, but claim to have lacked passion in other aspects of their lives.
There were other aspects of my parents' childhoods that came into play when we were being raised: both of their families had been very critical of them, and perhaps without realizing it, they brought this same attitude to their own family. I can remember them being quite demanding of my work as a child -- this will be shown in more detail later -- but although I could, in general, handle this aspect of their parenting, my brother's personality has suffered for it, and he is only now beginning to realize that he is ultimately the judge of his achievements and actions. I do not blame my parents for this, however; how we are raised has been shown time and time again to affect the ways that we raise our children.
The other major factor in my parents' relationship was, I believe, the time at which they married. My mother was nearly 21, my father almost 23; they had only recently come to terms with their own identities when they made this commitment. My mother, whose religious identity had been a major part of her life before, had recently "converted" to atheism; for her, it was a time of great emotional and intellectual change, and she hypothesizes that this rushed transition was among the factors that lead to their divorce. Of course, I now find myself preparing to be married at nearly the same age; as in many other circumstances, my life parallels that of my parents. I have discussed this with them, however, and they agree that both David and I are significantly more mature and self-aware then they were at this age: we have their "blessing."
I was born at 11:34 p.m. (mountain time) on the seventeenth of June, 1974, fully one month overdue. My mother had endured a 48-hour breech labour under a doctor whose license was later revoked; she says jokingly that I knew he was a quack: being breech, I had the opportunity to urinate on him immediately after being presented to the world, and I apparently took that opportunity! My father assisted in the delivery, a practice almost unknown at that time; my parents were always willing to try new things.
Being their firstborn, my baby book is full of prints; they have hundreds of slides of the infant Jan, and there are literally hours of 10-mm film of me gazing around the room, wriggling at first with little control, then smiling and grasping, then finally progressing to more focused stages of coordination. In fact, comparing my mother's record of my earliest developmental milestones to the table of median ages in the text, I found that I was far ahead of schedule for the events that she recorded (see Table 1).
I would attribute this to the fact that I was constantly stimulated at home: my mother was able to stay home with me, and both of my parents lavished attention on me, reading to me even as an infant, and providing me with bright, interactive toys. Of course, the chart in the text was 45 years old at the time my mother recorded these events: I do not know if the development of children as a whole has surpassed these ages in the time since the chart was first published, but it would not surprise me, given how much philosophies of parenting have changed since the nineteen-thirties. I find it interesting to note that in one of my baby pictures, one can see on the bookshelf a volume entitled Child Development and Personality, right next to The Parents' Encyclopaedia. My mother says that she consulted both volumes often with me, to make sure that I was healthy and relatively normal for my age; I imagine the results she found pleased her as much as they did me:
Order of Skill Description of Stage Median Age (weeks) My Age (weeks) ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- First Order Skills: Sit on lap, compete head control 19 15 Second Order Skills: Control of trunk, etc. On back, rolling 29 19 Held erect, stand firmly with help 30 21 Fourth Order Skills: Locomotion in prone position Creep 45 30 Pull to stand by furniture 47 30 Fifth Order Skills: Unsupported locomotion in upright position Stand alone 62 37 Walk alone 64 40 Table 1: Comparison of Median Developmental Age vs. that of the Author
More important to this paper, however, is the development of my personality: from the ages of birth to two years, according to Erikson, is the bipolar crisis of "trust versus mistrust." I feel that I can confidently say that I was nurtured quite sufficiently: not only am I quite trusting of others, I am also one of the more hopeful people I know, to the point of being somewhat unrealistic at times. My mother recalls that when I was of preschool age, I would go to the window each morning and declare, "It's a nice, sunny day!" even if it was pouring down rain! I have always felt that my attitude towards life matched my blood type (B+) quite well, and Erikson's theories indicate that this attitude can be directly linked to the attention I received as a child.
In Piaget's schema, this age is characterized by a child's immediate physical interactions with the environment: the sensorimotor stage is a period in which these interactions have a direct effect on the future intelligence of the child. Many of the pictures my parents have of me at this age are active ones: in my crib, there are mobiles and activity centers; I am surrounded by books and brightly-coloured toys, none of which are gender-stereotyped. Evidently this stimulation had some effect: my mother made a list of words I could say clearly at 18 months: the 52 words are mainly nouns, such as Mommy, Daddy, nuk, and snow, but there is also the fairly abstract concept of "hot." She also records that at 20 months I could count to 20 and say the alphabet, and writes, "and she recognizes all of the letters and numbers too! No kidding!"
There is no note of how television can affect children's intellectual growth in the text, but from my own experience, the more children watch, the slower they develop: the only t.v. I was allowed to watch at this age (if any) was Sesame Street and similar educational programs, while I have babysat for children whose parents use the television as an excuse not to interact with the child, and they are often far behind as far as language development is concerned.
It is difficult to gauge my moral development at this stage, with the exception of some of the phrases my mother has recorded: things like "NO!" and "I don't want to!" predominate, and at age two, I was apparently fond of dictating my mother's actions: "Mommy, don't sing it!" "Mommy, don't whistle!" and "Mommy, don't exercise!" all appear in my baby book as "favourite expressions." I would suggest that these all fit within Kohlberg's first and second stages of moral development; clearly, demanding that my mother not exercise is a one-way concern about her, as there would be less time for me if she was exercising. This is a trend that I see continuing up through first grade, but I will discuss this in more detail then.
My sister, Robyn, was born when I was 27 months old. It is also around this age that both Piaget and Erikson note a change in the developmental patterns of children: the sensorimotor stage of cognitive development phases into the intuitive or preoperational stage; in the scale of personal growth, the child is confronted with the conflict between autonomy and shame, which is resolved in feelings of individuality and self-direction.
The birth of my sister meant that I was no longer the baby of the family. In terms of psychological growth, this was an ideal time for such an event: I could no longer be totally dependent on my parents, because I was no longer their only dependent, and the immediate care of my sister would take precedence over my own. I am told that I also helped (as much as a two-year-old can) with tasks relating to my sister's care; my father says that I was an excellent older sister at this point. I was encouraged to do things by myself and to explore; though I was apparently difficult to potty-train, I wasn't pushed too hard. My favourite expressions at age three included "Mommy, pick Roby up!" and its converse, "Mommy, put Roby in her crib!" which I take to be expressions of independence: I had a sense of power, at least over my immediate surroundings, including my sister.
In Erikson's terms, I was well on my way to developing a clear sense of will, of having some control over my self-direction, of creating an individual sense of self. All of my drawings at this age are signed with a large, clear "Jan..." except for one, which I drew in the style of one of my friends: all of her people consisted of a head with arms and legs, whereas my own had a torso; I wonder now if I neglected to sign this one because I realized that it was not truly mine. (See the Appendix for the drawings.)
Piaget saw this age as the beginning of intuitive and preoperational thought. Language development is key at this time, as is an adult involvement in that process. My parents came through once again, reading to me whenever the opportunity arose and actively participating in my play -- another "favourite saying" at age three was "Mommy, talk for my Raggedys," those being my Raggedy Ann & Andy dolls. Another phrase is "Let's have a sandwich hug -- I'm the meat and Roby can be the mustard!" I don't know if this is truly an example of imaginative thought, or if I was just repeating something my parents said, but it seems to reflect my feelings of family: each of us had an integral role to play within the family, but at the same time we were all different people with different "tastes." This is also revealed in my artwork at age four, in which I would draw my family, but each member was always very separate from the others.
I started nursery school at age three, then switched to a different one at four, as we moved from Toronto to Ottawa, Ontario. Though I do not have any records from this time, my drawings still indicate a great deal of happiness with my life. My brother was born when I was four; I remember holding him when he and my mother returned from the hospital. I also remember playing many "imagination games" with my friends and siblings: Robyn and I liked to pretend that we were rabbits, living in the tall grass next to our house; and my friend Andy and I would imagine ourselves in a spaceship, taking adventures far more interesting than anything found on television.
Erikson notes that the primary conflict in the years from age four to age six is that of initiative versus guilt. The text claims that girls tend to prefer their fathers at this age, and that they tend to model the behaviour of the same-sex parent, but neither my parents nor I remember me going through this phase. I do remember telling my mother, upon hearing that when people reached a certain age they left home, that I would never want to leave -- I wanted to stay with them -- and her reply that someday, I would feel different about leaving. I also recall asking my mother repeatedly how I would know I was grown-up; she became quite creative with her responses, as I remember her telling me once that I would be grown-up when I moved up and down when I walked (due to the motion of my hips, I imagine).
Of course, this is also the ideal age at which to present a foreign language, a fact of which my school took advantage; the entire school, from kindergarten through grade 5, was based on the language-immersion format. Most of our activities were done in French, as well as the majority of our reading and writing. My teacher wrote many comments like "Jan is intellectually very curious and is very enthusiastic about learning;" "She is a very active students and she loves to be involved in all activities;" and, with regard to my emotional development, "She has made good progress and she has a super self-discipline. She is very responsible." Also included in the Appendix is a survey we were given, with responses indicating our social development; it seems that I was very happy to work in groups of boys or girls, and that I enjoyed school a great deal.
I was also very outgoing in all of my activities; I remember having no qualms whatsoever about reading, acting, singing, or even dancing in front of all of my peers. This kind of self-confidence was accompanied by the feeling that I could do things for myself, and that I could do them well; it was also unfortunately accompanied by a note of bossiness on my part, as I felt that things would be done best if they were done the way I did them. I distinctly recall telling one of my classmates that he simply had to colour inside the lines, or his picture would look bad; it would be a while before I realized that there was more than one "right" way to do things.
At six I moved on to grade one. The intellectual expectations from home are most visible in my first trimester report card: I had received one or two B's, and my mother wrote to the teacher, "We were surprised to see B's. Being a very academically-oriented family, we expect a preponderance of A's!" My grades improved the next trimester; here she wrote, "That's more like what I expected of her!" I don't think that my parents' expectations ever bothered me, at least not at that age, but at the same time, it wasn't very hard to do well in school, as long as I paid attention.
Although I would not say that I had entered the concrete operations stage, I do recall being very literal in grade one: my teacher had, at one point, told us to keep our mouths shut (for a filmstrip), and of course I had to ask if that applied to those of us with loose teeth, as it would be hard for us to wiggle them with our mouths shut. But then, I could not understand why my classmates all laughed, or why my teacher looked so flustered; it didn't make sense to me.
Soon after I turned seven, we moved to Racine, Wisconsin. It was a huge move for me; I was leaving behind my best friends, my home, and even the country I had come to love. For several years after the move, I would go so far as to kiss maps of Canada, and my siblings and I tended to refer to those we disliked as "American slime," much to the dismay of my parents.
I didn't do very well in school at first, partially because I was homesick, and partially because I simply didn't pay much attention in class, preferring to read; my teachers comment frequently that I had to be prompted often to return homework assignments and the like. My work improved after I was moved up to the third grade reading level; similarly, my math teacher reported that my interest in math increased greatly after we started doing multiplication: we did the basic stuff in first grade in Canada!
Despite research indications that most children enter concrete operations at this age, I do not think that I had yet, as I was still very tied to my imagination games, and at even later ages I was sometime unable to distinguish between reality and those things that I might imagine. My siblings and I made up extensive worlds in which to play; we had an entire community of sheep made of Lego® blocks, which became more and more complex as we grew older; most of our games had a science-fiction bent: we pretended to be extremely well-travelled cats, who spent most of their time in space. I believe that my lag in proceeding fully to concrete operations might be explained by the influence of my siblings, who are two and four years younger than me, and as such were generally a stage or two behind me; if I were to proceed, I would no longer be able to play with them as had been our wont.
Among the school papers that my mother has saved from this period is a note that I wrote to my "boyfriend" Craig. For some reason, this third- grader thought that I was just terrific, and wrote me the cutest love notes and the like, but after a time, I wrote him this (spelling mistakes are verbatim): "Dear Craig, I have to tell everyone that I broke up with you becuse if I tell them that I Love you thay will laghf at us. So if thay ask if you Love me say I don't. Love, Jan" I believe this is a moral decision based within Kohlberg's level three, in which the moral agent is concerned most with relationships and the way that others perceive them. This also seems to be consistent with other judgements I made at the time, and I believe that I reasoned primarily within this stage until approximately the end of eighth grade.
I don't know how it was brought about, but in the August after second grade, I was seen by a school psychologist who deemed me ready to enter the fourth grade -- I was not being challenged by material aimed at my age level... and the gifted-and-talented magnet school I was to attend had no room in the third grade. I suppose I could find one instance of the literal-mindedness typical of the concrete operations stage in this experience: the psychologist had me write my name on the board, and as I wrote it, he told my parents, "She's writing backwards!" I wasn't, and I knew it: all of my letters were facing in the right direction, and I was writing from left to right. It turns out he was referring to the way that I held the chalk, the way I have always held a pencil, but it confused me for a couple of years afterwards.
Given my various successes in academics, it was not difficult for me to end up on the "competence" side of Erikson's next crisis, mastery versus inferiority. My mother also took a huge chance and told my brother and I what our tested IQ's were (153); it was also not hard for me to become rather uppity about my intelligence. This, combined with my obvious dislike for the country that was now my home, did not make it easy for me to make friends in the fourth grade. It was the beginning of what was to be the only conflict that I feel I lost for a time: my social identity crisis. I had always been quite pleased with myself as I was, but now I was being rejected by nearly all of my peers -- what on earth was wrong with me? I soon lost the outgoing nature that my previous teachers had enjoyed so much, retreating into a world of books, associating almost exclusively with my best friend, Kristen.
My hesitancy to think that I had fully entered concrete operations is brought about by two facts about myself at the age of eight: one, I still believed faithfully in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy; and two, I fervently believed that "wishing could make it so." The latter is backed up by an anecdote that has always bothered me, but it is a story that I feel is important enough in my development to include. Around this age, I had become somewhat obsessed by pregnancy and pregnant women. Among the papers my mother saved is an embarrassing little note in which I explain to my parents that I believed I was four months pregnant, not because I had done anything illicit, but simply because I had "wished about 2000 times." I still don't understand the attraction; however, the story does illustrate my lack of true reasoning at the time; even after my friends tried to explain to me that it was simply not possible, I held on to the notion that my wishes could become reality. I'm sure it must have confused them and my family a great deal... but no less than it confuses me now.
Although my social status was a concern to me, I did spend more time happy than not. The Lighthouse program (as the gifted-and-talented program was called in Racine) was quite ideal in terms of their educational philosophy; the program goals are found in the Appendix. Any reports that we did were done in the form of a matrix, which I was later thrilled to find out is based on Bloom's Taxonomy: as in that system, the major components included knowledge, comprehension, analysis, evaluation, application, and synthesis. An example, a report I did on dolphins in the fourth grade, is included in the Appendix, along with the rubric that was used in grading our projects.
Despite the interest that I felt for school, I do remember spending most of my time reading, even when the teacher was trying to explain something; the constant comment on my report cards -- until high school, even -- was "Does not apply herself," and the even more pervasive "Needs to work on organization skills." I think my teachers would finally be happy with me now... but then, my report card consisted mostly of the disappointing S for "satisfactory." High points were my willingness to take intellectual risks, demonstration of the ability to create understanding from facts and concepts, and originality, but the great socialization my previous teachers had observed was slipping away quickly.
I had a few close friends then; at the beginning of the year, there were six of us who would play together at recess, though our numbers gradually dwindled as our games got stranger... and they did. As the year wore on, the games that had once been spontaneous and light became almost scripted -- we did plays, rather than playing. It was still quite imaginative, but now we would do a scene over and over until it felt right to us, whether we were discovering a forgotten Egyptian tomb, or running from a cascade of lava. This change may have indeed been the result of the progression into concrete operations for most of us, but the approach the school took towards imagination and creativity seemed to allow us to remain in touch with the make-believe world. In all honesty, I don't think that I went through a really "black and white" phase until high school... but more about that later.
A representative sample of my thoughts and feelings at age eight is my autobiography. I do find that my father is mentioned much more frequently than my mother, a possible indication that I was indeed following Erikson's theories, if a little late (though I really don't remember feeling strongly about either of them in that way). I had a clear idea of where I wanted to go: I wished to be a teacher, a singer, and a mother when I grew up -- this does not seem to have changed since kindergarten.
The transition into fifth grade was easier than the previous one. The only thing that had really changed was my vision: I got my first pair of glasses soon after I turned nine. While of course the material we worked on was different, the structure of classes remained much the same. I started to play the violin, too, and although I hated practicing -- who wouldn't, sounding the way I did! -- I liked the idea of playing an instrument. However, towards the end of the year, when I was feeling as though I really hadn't made that much progress, and that I wanted to quit, my father came in to say good-night, and to tell me that he was glad that I was learning to play an instrument -- he never had, and still regretted it, he said. At that moment, I knew that I had to keep going with it, no matter how much I hated practicing, because I couldn't let him down. This seems to be a level three moral decision to me: there was no coercion on his part, just an attempt on my part to live up to his expectations, which is a major part of conventional reasoning.
According to my mother's records, my major concerns shifted to my appearance, since that seemed to me to be the standard by which popularity was judged at school. My "favorite expressions" have shifted to such gems as "Oh, I weight 86 pounds!" and "Mom, do you think I'm pretty?" However, I still enjoyed school, even if I did turn in a lot of late assignments; mainly book reports, which I hated doing, even though I read constantly. A couple of assignments I did turn in are found in the Appendix, for their illustrative value: the worksheet on "Fables and Proverbs" hearkens back to my understanding of relationships, based on my parents' experience. College, besides being an institution of learning, was the place to find your future mate! I believe the story starter "I saw a monster on my way to school" could illustrate my fundamentally trusting nature: even monsters can be friendly if you give them a chance; but it also seems to indicate the beginning of possible tensions between my mother and myself, or at least the need for a little privacy on my part. I was, after all, nine years old -- old enough to take care of myself... wasn't I?
I was ten years old during sixth grade. None of the theorists have anything major happening at the age of ten, but it was the beginning of a bad period for me. My social adjustment continued to lag; except for Kristen, my only friends were moving on to bigger and better social positions in the "who's in, who's out" hierarchy. Clothing and hairstyles became the major determinant of who was to be liked and who would be the outcast. My clothes came from Value Village and my cousins, and hairspray had never touched my hair: I was out. I had no friends in most of my classes, since Kristen was assigned to a different homeroom; I spent most of my class time reading and wishing for the day to end, so I could go home and talk to Kristen on the phone.
My feelings of trust and hope, so strong before, were being eroded by my classmates. I remember too distinctly a day in our advisory period [McKinley was a model middle school, especially for the time] when we were discussing family. I confided that it bothered me when my relatives visited and commented on how "developed" I was getting -- because I was, really -- and by the next day, my indiscretion was all over the sixth grade. I went to my teachers in tears, crying that things said in Circle Time were not to leave the classroom, were they? and although the teachers made that announcement in class, it did not stop my embarrassment from spreading, until the story finally died a few weeks later.
I really don't remember that much from sixth grade, besides loneliness, but what I do remember has been enough to make me want to change things for other kids who are now in the position I was in then. In a situation where adults can prevent such hurtful circumstances, I strongly believe that they should, and I intend to when I teach.
Between sixth and seventh grade, Kristen moved away to New York. Now I really was quite alone; the girls who had tolerated me before in Kristen's presence abandoned me, and my only real friend was a boy I sat with on the bus. The other girls who I considered friends were in reality terrible gossips, and I always found myself the butt of their jokes and junior-high conspiracies. Around this time, too, I started gaining weight -- my pictures document a steady change from a healthy little girl to a pudgy early adolescent with glasses. I knew that it wasn't good for me, but then as now, I really didn't want to deal with it, instead ignoring the problem. Naturally that didn't help my social status much either, but by this time I was pretty much used to my position.
The boy I sat next to on the bus, who was a "geek" just like me, turned out to be my first serious crush. He was one of the few boys that didn't care about who was popular or what kind of clothes people wore; he was into "Doctor Who" and "Dungeons and Dragons," and read a lot of fantasy, like me -- two escapists in a pod, we were. We really only saw each other on the bus for the most part; his mother was somewhat overprotective of him, and we couldn't spend much time on the telephone together, but it was enough for us to realize that we had a pretty decent relationship. I remember distinctly my first sexual thoughts: sitting next to him one day, I became aware of how nice his thigh felt pressed against mine, how warm and special it made me feel. He made me feel special, too; although it was a little embarrassing for me, he had an excellent voice, and would sing "My Wild Irish Rose" to me. Actually, I still feel a few butterflies when I hear it...
My academic performance was fairy mediocre in seventh grade. I dreaded seeing my peers at school, and it showed in the group work we did. The only times I really enjoyed working with groups were when we could chose our own; then, I usually ended up with the other social misfits, and we actually got along quite well together. Forced groups, on the other hand, always ended in disaster -- I still think it's a mistake to completely assign groups.
I don't think I had any major developmental jumps at this age; the only tangible relic of my social status is a checklist I made for myself, detailing my plans to deal better with my place in middle school. It wasn't an issue of wanting to change myself -- apparently my self-esteem was still better than all that -- but merely of trying to be happier with the cards I was dealt, or had dealt myself.
In Piagetian terms, of course, children enter the "formal operations" stage at around eleven years of age. I imagine I was no exception (although none of my phases seem to have been complete, when I think about it), even though I have few or no records to go by from this period. I do remember thinking a little more broadly about things at this point, and I started to enjoy fantasy literature. The book suggests that people in this stage begin metacognition, but I recall thinking in this manner long before the seventh grade; I would make up entire dialogues between myself and my friends, playing through the scenarios in my mind until I found one that was plausible. I think I was doing this by the age of ten or so; many of the projects in which I was involved really required this kind of thinking, as I'm sure was the teachers' intention.
My fear of heights was to be challenged during the summer between seventh and eighth grade: the area Girl Scout camp offered a "high adventure" week, in which participants would work on their social skills and group dynamics by conquering the ropes course. Unfortunately, it was as much of a social disaster for me as the previous year had been: none of the girls liked me very much (though the dislike was mutual...). It was certainly not the ideal environment to promote trust and cooperation: adolescent girls can be remarkably malicious towards one another when they want to be; in my case, they definitely wanted to be. We did trust falls, of course, the first couple of days; I wouldn't be surprised if some of my lack of trust in groups came from the fact that I was repeatedly dropped by this happy little bunch! The only times I really enjoyed myself that week were when we did things for which we needed only to rely upon ourselves: I knew that I wouldn't fail myself, but the other girls were really quite dubious when it came to trustworthiness. As usual, the adults did nothing to intercede... if they saw this tendency at all, which I doubt; still, I had and have now much more trust for adults than I did for my peers.
Eighth grade, it turned out, was a little more bearable for me. I had become close friends with another boy in the bus; as with Aaron, we ended up siting together because there were no other seats, and no one else would sit with us. Our relationship progressed from one of mere tolerance to one of terrific conversations, and since our names were alphabetically sequential, we sat together in many of our classes as well. We talked about everything, from the content of our classes to world events to fantasy novels -- he had introduced me to the awful puns of Piers Anthony's "Xanth" series -- and found great solace in our friendship. He, too, was twelve years old in a thirteen-year-old's world, and it seemed that our lives had really paralleled each other as far as our childhoods were concerned.
However, our respective moral developments were not on quite the same plane. When we went on the cave/camping trip (an eighth-grade tradition), I wanted to spend my time with him: we were, essentially, the only close friends we had. But I remember being very disappointed and even confused that he was more concerned with the way his other associates would react: how could he hang out with a girl, of all people, when he really should be with other boys? I did my best to stay with him as much as I could anyway, and I believe my reasoning was, "Well, there's no rule against it, is there?" But then, it seemed that many of my premises went that way at that time: I had stage four written all over my reasoning.
Still, Derek and I remained good friends through that summer; we celebrated our thirteenth birthdays ten days apart. We often rode our bikes to the University of Wisconsin at Parkside, where both of my parents worked, and spent hours playing on the Macintosh computers or running around the library stacks. Being that we had recently become teenagers, though, there was a bit of a tension between us; it was a major thrill the first time we held hands, walking around on the campus of UW-P. We spent the summer mostly at each other's houses, reading together or just talking; we rode our bikes all over Racine, sharing our dreams for the future.
When school started again, I was bused to Washington Park High School, and he to St. Mary's. It was a time that both of us could use to start over, with new friends and new identities: I had, over the summer, matured sufficiently enough to consider the judgment of my peers now less important than my own self-judgment. I played the violin in the Orchestra, and enjoyed it immensely, though at times I could barely keep up; and my classes at last were challenging, interesting, and fun.
I also developed a couple of rather bad crushes on two of my teachers -- Mr. G., my English teacher, and father of one of my classmates; and Mrs. S., my Biology teacher. I had realized a couple of years previous that I was attracted to women as well as men, so this came as no huge shock to me, but I still attempted to conceal my feelings towards Mrs. S. as much as I could, not because of my classmates' potential reactions, but because I knew it could get her into trouble, and nothing could come of it anyway. I did spend as much time in her office as I could, under the guise of being a TA; Mr. G. I simply avoided for the most part, as I had already heard stories of how much trouble male teachers could get into over their female students.
Mrs. S.'s office played another role in my intellectual development: despite my knowledge that monsters simply did not exist, at least in horror movie form, I was still intensely afraid of the dark. Her office was connected to a photo lab by way of an enclosed revolving door, such that in order to turn on the light in the photo lab, one had to reach out into the dark to find it. I had seen the remake of "The Fly" recently; every time I went into the lab I could just see the hairy, twisted arm of the title character reaching out to grab my hand. Of course, there was never anything there; gradually, I was able to calm myself within the darkness, at least enough that I could find the light switch without panicking.
But there were other areas in which my imagination still got the better of me, despite my seeming rationality and my intelligence. I have always had a strong aversion to smoking, and ,occasionally, smokers, and one night I had a dream that Mrs. S.smoked. It was so real and so disturbing that it took two weeks for me to rationalize away the disappointment I now felt for her -- I avoided her as much as I could during that week, until I finally convinced myself that this feeling was simply too silly to act upon any longer.
Some occurrences were not, unfortunately, imaginary. I recall the profound, and very real, disappointment that I felt when an old acquaintance of mine, from elementary school, walked into the cafeteria and announced to our little circle of friends (of whom I actually had quite a few, this year!) that she really wanted "something alcoholic, and does anyone have any?" This seemed a betrayal of all things that seemed good and right: how could one of my friends do something that was so obviously wrong -- not even legally, but biologically as well. Everything was black-and-white then; it was right, or it was wrong, and there was little in between; Joleen was definitely wrong in wanting something that would harm her -- it was, in effect, against what I assumed were both of our personal laws.
Then again, it was definitely not wrong for Derek and I to progress to the next level in our relationship. I remember the moment that I confided in him that I wanted to kiss him -- not a peck-on-the-cheek kiss, but a real kiss... and how I was absolutely on cloud nine for days after the first time it happened, despite my initial giggles at our attempt. We still saw each other fairly often, at least on the weekends, and called each other every day after school; we were as much in love as two thirteen-year-olds could be. I catch myself now, moralizing about kids that age, and have to remind myself that I was no innocent myself... though I do think we might have been more mature than "kids these days..."
I did a lot of writing that year, a hobby that was to sustain me the next few years; I wrote stories to fit our vocabulary lists in English (you should have seen the one for our reading of A Tale of Two Cities, with words like guillotine and lunatic...), and once they had been returned, I would elaborate even further on them: one grew to be fifteen single-spaced pages long. That one, about a genetically-engineered cat named Variant, included cameos by Mrs. S. and a few of my other friends, as well as the moral that sometimes, life just isn't fair, and no amount of wishing can make the impossible possible. But then, sometimes you have to be careful of what you wish for...
All year long at Park, I had wished that I could go to a smaller, more intimate high school, one where I would not be just a face out of three sub- schools, with bells tolling constantly and too many kids in the cafeteria. And then my father was denied tenure at UW-P (publish or perish...). We would have to go somewhere else. I hadn't realized until then how much my new friends and my newly rediscovered self-confidence meant to me, and how much they were tied to my surroundings. Suddenly the song that we used to sing in Girl Scouts -- the one that Kristen and I, in our more concrete stage, used to laugh at: "How could friends ever work/play/laugh/cry the whole day? No one could ever have real friends if that song was true!" as the song said that friends were "nothing" until they had "worked/played/laughed/cried together the whole day" -- made a great deal more sense: it also says that "friends are nothing 'til they part with teardrops in their eyes..." Derek and I, and my new friends and I, could now consider ourselves true friends if it lasted even through a 3000-mile separation; we knew how much our love meant to us, now that it was threatened by this move.
And so it was that my family and me, and my new, stable identity, packed up seven years' worth of stuff, and moved "back east" to Swanzey Center, New Hampshire. I visited my new school, Monadnock Regional High, a few days before the semester started, so that I could chose my classes and perhaps meet a teacher or two. It was tiny compared to Park, build in the mid-60's to accommodate about two-thirds of the students who now roamed its halls. Whereas I would have taken Advanced Biology with quarter-long courses in Genetics and Astronomy at Park, now I would take the ninth-grade class of Earth Science.
In fact, three of my six classes that year were with freshmen; they might have been my age group, but they certainly were not my peers. The first day of classes, I wore my "Park Panthers Science Team" t-shirt, missing the familiar, uncrowded halls, and my own locker. A girl whom I would eventually identify as one of my "enemies" at Monadnock approached me in Earth Science, and began sarcastically asking me, the new girl, questions about where I had come from, and who I would be. I tried to regain the control I had felt at Park; I answered her questions easily and, I hoped, in a manner "cool" enough to gain acceptance from my new classmates... it was the old battle once again, and I could feel the old demons whispering inside me. "Are you good enough?" they prodded; "Can you take this again? Are you going to let them control you again?" I pushed them back for that period, at least...
All was not lost, however. Even though the students in my tenth-grade classes had been together since first grade, they were not hostile to me in the way that Michelle had been first period. Three of them came up and introduced themselves to me, and soon I found myself the center of attention -- many of these people had never lived outside of Cheshire County, or even travelled beyond New England, and I became the ambassador to the outside world.
So, I lived through the classes I had with freshmen; I excelled at those I had with sophomores, and in my eleventh-grade math class, I was again the "baby," as I had been in middle school. "You're only fourteen?" people would ask with disbelief, and I took great pleasure in telling them "Yes!" Once again, I never really felt like I belonged with this group, any more than I did in Racine, so it was normal, status quo, and predictable, and I liked it.
My closest friends and acquaintances were all transplants to Swanzey as well. Lauren and I found each other through our taste in literature: I saw that she was reading Piers Anthony in class one day, and -- very unlike the old me -- I made the first move and introduced myself. Soon we were fairly inseparable, spending time at each other's houses and talking on the phone together. Together, we didn't have to worry about what other people thought. She was integral in helping me see who I could become with a little more self-confidence. Nothing could ever take away the scars I received in grade school, but at least I could incorporate them into my personality, and be a better person for it.
Developmentally, I believe I was past the stages that the text describes for my age group; my turn with the "imaginary audience" had been taken when I was in middle school, mainly in sixth and seventh grade. I had been engaging in the use of empathy when making decisions for some time, and had definitely realized that opinions and the like were quite relative. Puberty had not been traumatic because I was well-prepared for physical changes, both at school and by my parents. My mother claims that I have always been quite egocentric (I think it comes from being the first-born!), so this, too, was nothing new. The year passed easily; I received decent grades after the first quarter's adjustments to my new environment were made, and I was pretty comfortable with my identity and my life.
There were no major changes over the summer, nor even minor ones. Lauren and I spent many summer days together, playing dress-up and discussing her precocious days in Virginia Beach; she had a story for every sleep-over, it seemed. It was a calm summer... it became the calm before a quiet, but very important, storm.
My junior year changed my life as I knew it. Sure, the academics were great: I had plenty of challenges with Human Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry, Pre-Calculus, Economics (a social challenge, being a mixed-ability-level class), French IV, and Honors English; but it was my personality and my moral intellect that grew the most.
My English teacher, Mrs. S., became the guiding force I needed for my writing, and something of a role-model in my life. She was an excellent teacher; I was in love with her style from day one, when she assigned us the traditional "How I spent my Summer Vacation" essay... but the entire thing had to be a lie. This was the kind of writing I could really get into: fiction was my forté! She also had us keep a journal: we were to write for at least ten minutes each day. It didn't have to be anything deep; if we wanted to, we could use the list of journal starters she gave us. I chose to bare my soul, however. I don't remember why; I guess I just trusted her from the start.
First semester was fairly normal as school, for me, went. At least, until around mid-November. Then, for the first time, I asked someone out: it was okay, because it was a Sadie Hawkins dance, and the girls were supposed to ask the boys. Jon had piqued my curiosity the previous year: he was hyperactive, yet intensely musical, and he had the most gorgeous hands! Already I'm sure you can see the conflict coming: "officially," I was still involved with Derek. But I really didn't see anything wrong with the situation; both Jon and Derek knew about each other, and neither of them seemed overly bothered with it, not that I could see, at least. Sure, it was unconventional, but so were we, I thought; no one would get hurt.
So, I went to the dance with Jon, and that night he asked me to go out with him again... with a little prodding from Lauren. A few weeks later, Derek came to visit me, over his winter break from school in Racine. Although both of us were tempted to do more than just kiss each other, it finally came down to the fact that he felt he was not yet ready for sex. I really could have gone either way, despite my mother's warning that we not do anything she would, especially at our age; I had read enough that I thought I could handle it. Still, fifteen seems awfully young to me now; I wish I could remember precisely what was going on in my head at the time. [Every year, I look back on the previous year and think, "How young I was! How naïve! or How silly!" and it's been that way since I was twelve; but every year I think how mature I am, and how well I can think for myself! I wonder when I can finally be certain?]
At any rate, Jon and Derek did meet: I brought Derek to school on our first day back, as he still had a few days of vacation left. There was no love lost between them, but no fights broke out, either; they were both actually pretty ambivalent about it. Looking now at the situation from a developmental point of view, I have to admit that I was acting and reasoning at a preconventional level: what happened to the two of them admittedly mattered less to me than did my own happiness. This is to be a recurring theme in my late adolescence; I'm not proud of it, but I can't change it. Jon broke up with me about a month after we started going out; after I got over the initial shock of being so unceremoniously dumped, I return to my previous state of optimist: "at least I still have Derek," I write; "he'd never do this to me."
The other two very important things in my life were writing, and music. My journal at this time is full of references to the Keene State College Community Orchestra, of which I had become a member at the beginning of the year, after attending the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music Summer Camp between sophomore and junior year. That, too, was a very enlightening experience for me; I must admit that I grew up more emotionally in nine days there than in the entire previous year, mostly thanks to the friendship of 25-year-old Andrea, whose guidance helped me see how important it really was to think before I spoke.
Writing was my other true focus. Besides the typical book reports and essays that make high school what it is, my English class offered some true challenges: we were to do several major projects relating to an author of our choosing: we would do an analysis of the grammar and style of our chosen author, and a biography of him or her; then, we would use our analyses to re-write a fairy-tale in the style of that author.
I chose Ayn Rand from Mrs. S.'s list, because I knew she had been born in Russia, and I had lately taken an interest in that part of my heritage. It soon became apparent to me that she had much more to offer than her birthplace: she had philosophy, a subject in which I had previously had little interest: I was simply an atheist, and usually left it at that. This philosophy was amazingly appealing to me as an adolescent: there were very few shades of grey; it was permissible for people to do virtually anything they wished, as long as it harmed no one else and was consistent with their moral system; and everyone was responsible for their own morality: it was absolute without being totalitarian.
My journal from that period is full of statements about the quality of Rand's writing, the perfection I found in her moral code, and the stupidity of those who couldn't see that what she was writing was good and necessary for the development of individuality and responsibility. I wrote, "If I ever needed a role model, I would probably pick her..." at least before I read her biographies.
Aside from this new license to be virtuously selfish -- an attribute that I tried to use with care, as I did still care deeply for that idealistic concept of my "fellow mankind" -- the class gave me the opportunity to do a great deal of fiction writing. I wrote stories about ghosts and angels, cats who could become vampires, vampires who fell in love with "mortal" women... all exquisitely melodramatic, of course; like my mother at fifteen, I was terrific at imagining the melodrama in every situation. Translated into my musical tastes, this precipitated a jump into the Romantic period. I loved the Russian composers, and was beginning to enjoy more modern composers, such as Dmitri Shostakovich, whose life I analogized to a character in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.
My classmates in English loved my stories, as did Mrs. S. Whenever I mentioned them in the journal, she was full of praise and support. I was chosen out of all the aspiring writers in my school to compete in the National Council of Teachers of English writing contest, so many of my entries concern me fretting over what I should write. However, with all the praise I had received, I wasn't really worried about the contest or writing the story: I knew that I could write. Whereas before I had seen myself teaching Biology or another science subject, now I imagined that I would become an English teacher like Mrs. S., and write novels in my free time over the summer. At last I felt that I could truly feel pride in one of my accomplishments: I could lose the fear of success that hampers so many young women. And so I did; I performed with my best and my highest in everything that I felt was worth doing, and I ended up being one of three New Hampshire winners of the NCTE writing award.
By the end of the year, I was well aware of another stress: I had fallen in love with Mrs. S. This was not the semi-childish puppy love that I thought had comprised my earlier crushes, but true love in the sense that Ayn Rand (who was still a major part of my philosophical development) had documented. I saw my teacher with such admiration and such respect; she had helped me so much when I was struggling with my grandfather's recent death as well as with my writing. I looked at her now as a role model, idealizing her as I could not idealize Rand, with all of her life's late hypocrisies. The only way that I could tell her was through writing: I instructed her to save my journal for the last when she read them, and on the last few pages I would write that year, I confessed my feelings towards her, all the while imagining the worst-case scenarios: that she would misunderstand, or think I was being silly or childish, or that she would simply not feel the same for me.
But, as is usually the case, my fears were not realized. I cried when I wrote to her, and again when I read her comments in my journal: she said, in part, "You have no idea what a wonderful experience I have had this year (what a challenge you have been)! ... I often worried that I was not providing sufficient stimuli... etc. You are really very special to me -- I love you, too!" It felt so very good to be accepted, faults and all, by someone for whom I had such respect and trust; I really felt that I had earned her love as well, which meant a lot to me, given my current philosophy.
The end of the year was hard; it meant giving up many of the pleasures I had come to realize in my classes. I have to admit, I did and do know how to play the game of education... but I also know how to learn, to make the most of what I am offered. Of course, the end of the year also meant that I could go to Apple Hill again; although it was amazingly expensive (at the time, around $700 for nine days), it was always a tremendous experience for me, musically and socially.
This year was no exception; Andrea was there again, but where I had clung to her the previous year, too scared to really make friends with anyone else, this year I was able to create new relationships by myself. I was determined to make the most of those nine days; instead of sitting inside and reading, I organized quartets to try out arrangements I had made of Beethoven and Mendelssohn. I danced with the rest of my new friends after the Chamber Players' concert; on the day off, I went to Keene with others, without being stuck to Andrea.
However, I did surrender and read once, on a rainy day; I had brought (what else) Atlas Shrugged with me, and spent a couple hours rereading the "good bits." An older gentleman, who played the clarinet, told me that he had, once upon a time, found Rand's ideas to be interesting, but that he had grown out of it after a while. I remember quite vividly telling him that I would never do such a thing: this was definitely a philosophy for life. And I remember why, too: the "rules" of the philosophy were such that in order to leave, you were forced to commit an immoral act -- you had to sacrifice something ideal to reality. This is not to suggest that I felt bound by the rule of Objectivism; they all sounded very reasonable to me, and I could recognize that if everyone behaved according to Rand's principles, the world could be a better place.
I do feel that by this time, I was reasoning according to Kohlberg's level five or six. Granted, I had few moral decisions to make on any regular basis, but when I thought about moral issues, it was not in conventional ways at all. As an atheist, I had no built-in moral code upon which to fall back: there are no Ten Atheist Commandments, no holy books, no manuals. But I did have a family that would discuss anything with us, and numerous idealist books: science fiction can be the ultimate in idealism, especially the works of Robert Heinlein. After Lauren introduced me to his work, I had an entirely new philosophy to consider: his was individualistic and as such very appealing, but also involved was an ethic of empathy and care towards others. Thinking about the differences between his philosophy and Rand's helped me to temper the extremism that hers fostered, and helped me step into a more comfortable moral space.
Although I think I was functioning primarily on a formal cognitive level, there were definitely times when sensorimotor took over. For example, Lauren had an old boyfriend up from Virginia Beach that summer. Since we were both into Heinlein, we recognized the emotional benefits of "sharing;" when Elliot and Lauren decided to have sex, I was there for it. While I did not compromise my principles at that time, and have sex with someone I didn't love, I was certainly part of the action. It was not a moral decision, as such, but it was definitely a sensory experience, and I was not, at the time, terribly concerned with any potential consequences, to myself or to Lauren [though there ended up being none for me].
That entire school year was to be similar. The previous year had been one of psychological growth; this one would be one of relative stagnation and even a little backsliding. I felt that I knew myself enough to be comfortable, and didn't push for any new gains. My big moral decision that year -- to actually go "all the way" with Derek over winter break -- was precluded by a spur-of-the-moment menage-a-trois with Lauren and her then- boyfriend Arthur. That was a definitely an example of the kind of Piagetian backsliding the text describes at the end of Chapter 5: my decision was based entirely on the immediate sensory experience that it would provide. However, it was a long time before I would regret the decision; I ended up telling Derek, and it hurt him terribly, but I actually felt no guilt for my actions at the time. I have tried many times since then to recreate the reasoning I must have used to come to that "conclusion," but as with another decision I would make in a year, I cannot recapture the mindset
I applied to only three colleges my senior year, with the intention of going into English teaching: Dartmouth, Middlebury, and UNH. Only UNH accepted me -- I suspect that Middlebury's disappoint might have had something to do with the fact that I put my height in centimeters and my weight in newtons -- what right did they have to ask about stuff like that? Although getting into UNH was good enough -- it was, after all, the only one my family could really afford -- I was still a little disturbed by the decisions of the other two colleges: once again, I was faced with the perpetual questions: what is wrong with me?
After one last summer surrounding Apple Hill, I was college bound. I began my tenure at UNH with a major in English Teaching, hoping to add another major in Biology, and a minor in music. It was good to finally be on my own; I loved my parents deeply, but I did need some space; I never had cause to rebel in high school, but I was getting close that summer. I felt pretty well prepared academically; I knew how to take notes and tests, and from my father I had learned the tricks of getting to know the professors, who would then remember your intellectual questions when the end of the semester rolled around, and boost your grade a little accordingly. What I was not prepared for was the emotional trials that awaited me...
The first few days of orientation, I started hanging around with Beth and her two friends from Pinkerton Academy: Matt P. and Matt F. Right away I could tell that Matt F. was something special; he looked just like the characters I wrote about when I was in high school, with a nice, dark look, and canines to match. I found out soon that he, too, was into vampire fiction and lore; he liked music, and was terribly impressed that I played the violin. It didn't take long for me to develop feelings for him... unfortunately, I didn't find out until it was too late that he believed in the one thing I could never really understand: Fundamentalist Christianity.
Still, he seemed very reasonable about it; he never tried to convert me, but was willing to discuss our differing beliefs when the subject came up. According to his bookshelf, he was pretty well-read about it, too: he owned many volumes by leading apologists, as well as a few by some scientists I had heard of. Besides, I wasn't about to convert or anything... was I?
That point became more and more debatable as the semester continued. I found myself rather deeply in love with him, much to my dismay... but he said time and time again that even the bible warned against relationships with those who did not share the same faith. Even though he seemed to feel the same for me as I did for him, he was unwilling to go out with me, citing the conflict between my atheism and his religion. I began to refer to myself by the nickname of Pandora -- I wanted to open that box up just a little bit, just to see what was inside, just to touch it and yet... the lock was really quite secure...
I certainly tried, however; much as I admired his faith, there was a part of me that simply needed to be closer to him, more so than he could in good conscience allow. Knowing full well that it was of very questionable morality -- both of us could get hurt, and from his point of view, I would be at fault no matter what was his reaction; he should have the right to make up his mind based on reason, not testosterone -- I decided that the only way I would be able to claim him was through the weakening of his faith, whether it be by scientific means (how could he ignore the contradictions between his senses and the bible?) or by means of seduction.
I tried both, and it only seemed to strengthen his resolve... and mine as well. This unrequited love was becoming quite unbearable to me; the constant rejection wore at me just as constantly. The woman that he wanted to put on a pedestal was an impossible ideal... but for him, I tried everything. I wrote him stories I knew would find their mark in his emotions; I dressed the way he liked, acted the way he liked, even tried to think the way he did, to get some kind of glimpse into his mind. My journal from this period, as well as much of my non-fiction writing, is concerned with this new quest of mine; as I became more and more depressed, so does the tone of my writing.
As this depression increased in magnitude, my self-esteem suffered a proportional decrease. I came to the point where I would literally do anything to get Matt to understand how I felt -- if he could understand, even just a little, surely he would have no choice but to realize we should be together. I became sporadically suicidal, spending long hours sitting on a little cliff overlooking the railroad tracks as they pass by the Mini-Dorms, listening to the Requiem Masses of Mozart and Verdi, anything I could find in a minor key. I looked down at the tracks and wondered what it would be like to die.
Just before winter break, I managed a partial success... one whose cost I am still trying to gauge. Matt had told me many times that he did not want a physical relationship, but of course I still tried. On the night of the Marston House Holiday Semi-Formal, we were down in my room; I put on a tape of "Fur Ëlise" which I knew was one of his favorites; I stretched out my hands and smiled at him. "If you're trying to seduce me," he said, "I'll have you know it just might work." My heart jumped at the prospect -- I knew that sex was out of the question, but there were other things...
After several minutes of some very passionate scramblings, he suddenly pushed himself off of me, an angry, almost cruel look in his eyes. For the next hour, he paced up and down the room, berating himself for his weaknesses, praying out loud for strength and conviction... while I sat on the bed, the source of his rage and his shame, and watched with tears in my eyes. Was this really what I had wanted? After he left, I was stunned to recognize that what I really wanted was to be forgiven, not just by him but by this being he believed in so fervently, that could bring this man to such depths of despair! The moment of truth? How could something so emotional be imaginary? How could I not believe in this thing that put such fire in him?
And so, at the lowest point thus far in my life, I called Matt and asked him how one went about praying. I don't know which one of us it surprised more; my journal entries call it a revelation, and hope that the "change," as I called it, would last forever, like our relationship. Neither was to be the case; despite my conversion, I was still unable to fulfill his desires. I was too dangerous, too ready to go back to our old, "unclean" relationship. I suppose I simply knew too much about him for him to be comfortable with me. Two of my writings from the months after my conversion are found in the Appendix, both of which document part of the emotional journey I was still taking.
More moral ambiguities lay in sight, however; despite the absolutes that I was now committed to following, I could not tell my parents of this change of heart. When it finally came out, in a classic Freudian slip, my mother was mortified that I had fallen to such intellectual depths. I wonder if her reaction had been different, if the "change" would have lasted as long as it did? Having never rebelled before, I discovered that I secretly enjoyed the self-righteous anger that I was now allowed to feel -- the "persecution complex" hit me like a ton of bricks, and I fell right into it.
For a year I tried to live this duplicity, knowing in a dark corner of my mind that this was wrong, that nothing I now professed could really be true, not in this universe. I felt guilt from virtually every decision that I made; something was always against one rule or another, even when I knew in my own mind that it was right or good. I had a one-night-stand out of sheer vengefulness, hoping that Matt would find out about it "accidentally" and feel the guilt that I wanted him to feel about stringing me along the way he did. Of course that accomplished nothing; it hurt everyone involved, but at that point I really just didn't care anymore; anything was permissible because nothing really mattered. I don't think I would call this phase immoral so much as amoral; I had ceased thinking in moral terms, but simply flung myself in different directions with the wind.
After school got out, the summer passed uncomfortably; my father had accepted my religious change without too much trouble, and even drove me to church on Sunday mornings, but my mother never missed an opportunity to question my beliefs -- which, in my paranoia, I interpreted as attacks, and felt even more stubborn about it. Of course, I would never admit then that I was driven by rebellion... Still, I was able to keep up a fairly decent charade of being the happy Jan they had always known, and before too long it was time to go back to school.
It was definitely the worst period of my life; I find myself still recovering from it at times. It took a year to regain the self-confidence that I lost in those six months, and still longer to be able to see myself as having any kind of worth at all. Dan helped me; we met playing D& D at my dorm, and I guess for him it was love at first sight. He was one of the first men to treat me like a lady -- quite literally at times; he made me feel special when that was what I needed. Despite my guilt complex, we started seeing each other quite regularly in October, and by December I was willing to let go of the last pretense of belief in Matt's religion that I had held. At last the guilt could be let go; I could enjoy my life again and feel at least marginally confident in the morality of my decisions.
Dan and I were together for a year and a half. It was far from perfect; I wanted children very badly (once I was financially and emotionally ready), and he would have nothing to do with the idea, and so we spent many sleepless nights over that. Still, I did imagine that he was the best I was going to do in college, and so we were engaged on Valentine's Day of my junior year... much like my mother before me. Naturally, the Pandora inside me could not let it pass so simply.
I realized at the end of that school year that I was quite in love with one of our mutual friends, David. We had so much in common, more than Dan and I ever did; like me, he spent countless hours listening to music, and confided to me that one of his fondest dreams was to someday have a family. When I finally found the nerve to tell him how I felt about him, he replied that he had "loved me from afar" since his freshman year, but never felt that we could be together. I couldn't let this chance fly from me... although I knew that it would confuse my family, and that it would hurt Dan more than I could imagine, after a long and messy summer, I broke off my engagement with Dan, and freed myself to be with David.
The decision was made on many moral levels; the first thoughts that troubled me were those relating to the reaction of my family: they expected the wedding to happen; how could I do this to them? Then there was the effect on Dan, whom I knew well enough to know that a breakup would scar him for years. Both of these are in the realm of level three reasoning; but it was a postconventional reason that finally helped me to make the decision. Although it would mean breaking a contract (the engagement), and hurting those around me, there was ultimately more to gain for all of us than there was to lose. I spent countless hours trying to fit my proverbial feet into everyone else's shoes, and finally came to the conclusion it really was best for me to be with David, for everyone concerned.
I have been with him for two years now; and those have been overwhelmingly positive times. In those two years, I have taken two education courses that deal directly with morality and ethics. I now know that all the little traumas I went though in high school and in college were due to a few of the psychological defenses and identity formation stages Anna Freud and James Marcia studied: my love for Mrs. S. has a distinct twinge of displacement to it; my attempt to follow the philosophy of Objectivism looks very much like uncompromising behaviour; my amoral behavior smacks of regression to earlier stages; I experienced substantial identity foreclosure in my quest to find love with Matt. And now, as I approach my twenty-second birthday, after seventeen years of being in school and all the ups and downs those years have brought, I feel that I am close to some form of identity achievement: I have undergone no major personality disturbances in the past two years, and have drawn ever closer to my lifelong goal of becoming a teacher.
Having re-read all of the papers and drawings and writings and transitions that went into the formation of the person I have become, I am astonished. I have laughed at the little Jan I used to be, cried with the Jan who could admit such tremendous feelings for others, scolded the "bad" Jan who refused to admit reality and morality to herself, and occasionally wished with hindsight that some of her decisions could have been made differently. But every decision that I made, every consequence I faced, everyone I touched through pain or happiness, all of these things have gone into the Jan I am now. I know that things will change for me in the future, and that I will face challenges I have not yet imagined, but through it all, I will be the same Jan and yet a very different Jan, a continuum of identities merging into one. And you know, I quite like her.