14 July 2010

Anniversaries and Revolutions

Today is le quatorze juillet or le jour de Bastille.  I don't think I did anything revolutionary today.  I hadn't planned to.  Then again, what revolution is ever planned? 

 The word "revolution" comes from the word "volute," which is the spiral scroll on Doric columns.  "Volute" in turn comes from the Latin "voluta," which is the feminine of "volutus," the past participle of "volvere," which means "to roll."

So "revolution" means "turning again."  In other words, they happen as part of some cycle or another.  Nobody can plan that.

That's why nobody can plan on making any radical change one needs to make in one's life.   At least, I never could have planned on making the most important changes I had to make in my own life, or the ones that were made for me.

Three important changes--at least two of them revolutionary, at least in the context of my life--happened on this date.  At least they happened on this date in different years.  Can you imagine what I'd be like if they happened on the same date in the same year?

On this date in 2003, my name officially changed from Nick (Nicholas) to Justine.  I had filed for the change a little less than a month earlier; the court order was issued on the 14th.  On that date, I got the right to be known as Justine Valinotti a.k.a. Justine Nicholas.  I would use the latter name in writings that I published as well as in some other professional capacities.  Five years later, on the very same date, I would officially become Justine Nicholas Valinotti.

In 1986, on the fourteenth of July, I spent my first day clean and sober.  Actually, I had made three earlier tries of it; none of them lasted more than a week.  But twenty-four years ago today, I spent my first day of my adult life without alcohol or drugs and haven't gone back.

And on this date in 1980, I was discharged from the US Armed Forces.  Officially, I was a US Army Reservist.  In reality, I was an ROTC cadet at Rutgers who did some training exercises and got paid--not much, but paid nonetheless.  Actually, I had been set loose a couple of months earlier; the papers weren't signed and notarized until the 14th of July.  However, I wouldn't know that until much later, when I finally saw the papers.  Ironically enough, I was in France when the US Army cut its ties with me.

And, yes, it was an honorable discharge.  Basically, I kept myself out of trouble, which was about the best I could do.  I did not distinguish myself in any way as a soldier.  Then again, I didn't have any real opportunity to do that.  Then again, I'm not so sure I would have wanted such an opportunity.

So why was I discharged?  Well, a clerk discovered that I hadn't had a medical examination in more than two years.  On my records was a report of tendinitis and traumatic arthritis in my right knee.  The doctor (or medical assistant:  I'm not sure what he was) cranked my leg, heard a low noise, shook his head and sent me to the end of the line where a clerk rubber-stamped my papers.

Leave me to my own devices, and I start to ask the "what if?" questions.  In my case, I can answer the ones related to this anniversary.  The short answer is that if none of those things happened, I wouldn't be who or what I am today.  In fact, if I hadn't gotten clean and sober, I might not be at all today:  I probably would have died years ago.

Ditto if I'd remained in the Army and had been sent off to some exotic foreign place to meet interesting people and kill them.  If you are sent somewhere to kill--or if you go off to kill on your own volition--you run as much risk of being killed as you have of killing someone.  How do I know shit like this? I dunno; I just know.

And what if I hadn't changed my name?  Well, the real question is what if I hadn't done the other things that prompted my name change?  But it was certainly one of those milestones--along with my "coming out," my first day at work as Justine and my surgery--along the road to the life I have now as a woman named Justine.

Some people have told me that such a life is revolutionary.  The funny thing is that it feels anything but, and I didn't undertake it because I was trying to change the world.  I don't mean to compare myself to real revoulutionaries, but I don't think any of them ever set out to become such significant historical figures.  Rosa Parks just wanted a seat on the bus after a long day of work; Lech Walesa just wanted to be sure that he and his fellow workers could afford to feed their families and themselves after long days of work.  I don't think Ms. Parks ever envisioned herself as a founder of the Civil Rights Movement:  Given the place and time in which she grew up, I'm not sure she could even have imagined anything like the Civil Rights Movement.  Likewise, I don't think Mr. Walesa thought that he would start a movement that would help to bring down one of the most powerful empires in history.

Me?  I'm just happy that I was able to lead the life I've always wanted, even if I had to wait until fairly late in the middle part of my life to start living it.  So what can I say?  En bas...to what?  En vive.. Justine!  Hmm...Some might say it's grandiose.  But I think it has a rather nice ring to it.