My apologies if this post seems disjointed and confessional – I’ve had a hard time trying to decide what to write about next. Chronologically, I left off glossing over my junior year of high school. I said “I went inward and created a pretty believable facade,” which is true, but isn’t the whole truth. I also started doing some really self-destructive stuff, things that go a little beyond the usual rebellion. I did rebel, there’s no mistake about that, but for the most part, if my parents noticed, they just kind of threw up their hands in defeat. Is it still a rebellion if it goes unnoticed?
Caveat for anyone reading this: there are better ways to rebel, better ways to cope with … adolescence, I guess, and family problems than smoking, drinking, drugs, self-deprivation, self-hurt, etc. I regret a lot of the things I did, the time I wasted being self-destructive instead of finding ways to feel better, habits I started then which are second-nature to me now (food issues, which I don’t talk about in this post). Finding ways to feel better and be productive takes more effort but is worth it in the long run – you’ll actually be getting somewhere instead of feeling stuck. Note to self: take your own advice more often.
I got drunk for the first time in 8th grade, after the separation. My boyfriend wanted to have sex and I wasn’t quite ready for that, and so he decided that it was over. His sister was having a party and so, I poured myself a tall glass of vodka – at least 8oz – and drank the whole thing. I was staying with my Dad that night, who was working and got home after I did. I know I got sick the next day and if Dad noticed, if I had explained at all what had happened, he probably would’ve thought the hangover would be enough to keep me away from drinking for a while.
The summer between 8th and 9th grade, 1986, I learned how to smoke, though I didn’t particularly like it, and I went to my first drinking party, probably out in the woods somewhere. It was the last summer that I was on the town summer swim team and I vividly remember dragging myself to a Saturday meet in Brattleboro, hung over, and asking Coach Mac to take me out of the Individual Medley and 50m Butterfly. He did not, but by some miracle I did actually make it through both races without coming in dead last or throwing up in the pool.
Smoking didn’t make sense to me – where was the payoff for this nasty tasting, smelly, messy habit? But I kept trying and got used to it, became addicted. There is no payoff. Sure, sometimes I felt a little buzzed, the same kind of buzz I get when I have too much coffee. But over the course of an hour or so, I would start to feel worse and worse, so I’d smoke again to get back to feeling normal – and that was on a good day. On bad days, I would turn to smoking to feel better, but nicotine can only do so much.
I finally quit in 2008 in an effort to fix another bout with depression, to avoid therapy and medication. For anyone reading this who’s trying to quit – or who thinks that smoking might be a good idea, read/listen to The EasyWay to Stop Smoking by Allan Carr. Though I had tried to quit before using just about every method out there (Wellbutrin, patches, gum, Chantix, cold turkey), my desperate brain always found a reason to start again. Allen Carr’s book had a logical answer for all of my reasons to keep smoking.
But I digress.
The summer of 1986, I wiped out on my bicycle while staying at my Dad’s apartment on High Street. I was following a friend from Dad’s to Golf Ave, where we were going to hike up Mt. Peg. One of my pedals caught the pavement making the left onto Golf Ave, after having dealt gracefully with the downhill right hand turn from High to Cross Streets. My pedal caught the pavement because I was going fast and forgot to shift my pedals so I could lean left to make the turn. I ended up with a huge scrape on my left elbow and forearm.
My friend and I did our best to clean out the cut, but my newly-single father didn’t have much in the way of first aid supplies beyond soap, paper towels, and a small box of band aids. I did clean the cut a little better and probably had Dad take a good look at it, but after a few days, the scrape became red and oozed, and an angry white line highlighted by red started to creep up my arm – it was infected. Dr. Hermann prescribed penicillin. I couldn’t participate in swim team practice or meets until the scrape healed up.
Unfortunately, a few days into taking the penicillin, I also got a rash on my torso, arms, and, most embarrassingly, on my face. That was the end of penicillin and swim team for me. I quit the team and, instead of going back the next summer, I worked every day at the Braeside, where I had started babysitting in the fall of 1985.
Annette and Walter managed the Braeside, and lived in the attached house with their little girl, Loren, who was two when I started babysitting her. They needed me to keep her occupied while they cleaned the rooms, particularly when all 12 rooms were booked. The summer of 1986, Annette had me babysit Loren during the week a few times also, to give her a break.
Somewhere along the way, probably during that summer, I started helping clean the rooms, doing motel laundry, and some major cleaning projects, like sweeping the sidewalk in front of the rooms and cleaning it with a bleach solution. Walter ended up getting job outside of the motel, which was part of the reason Annette asked me to help with housekeeping.
This job and the people I worked with were the one constant in my life until the end of my junior year of high school. After I got my driver’s license, Annette would lend me her car, a used maroon VW Rabbit, when I asked and when she didn’t need it; someone always had to be at the motel and she was stuck there a lot of the time. In contrast, my mother had leased a brand new Ford Escort after moving to the condo in Wilder and would not let me borrow it, even for short trips. In a lot of ways, Annette showed more trust in me than my mother and father did and that went a long way in building my confidence and trust in myself.
Again, I digress.
I would drive Annette’s car to the Green, where everyone congregated to decide what to do that night. I took it to parties, which Annette knew about, but if I was driving, I didn’t drink, with one exception. After seeing my stepmother, drunk and high, back into the neighbor’s house, would you?
Lending me the car actually made weekend mornings a little easier for Annette because I’d pick up my co-worker, Cheryl, a woman in her 20’who lived in a trailer on Hartland Hill Road with her 9 year old daughter, on my way to work. Cheryl was a single mother whose own mother was still very much in her life, giving her rides and helping her with her daughter, Samantha. I don’t know (or remember) if Cheryl didn’t have a car or a license or if it had been suspended.
The one exception to my not drinking and driving rule happened on January 31, 1989. Everyone went to a party in Killington that some older skiers were having. I was staying at Aunt Freda’s house that night and probably had to work the next morning. I was determined to get obliterated – to obliterate myself – at this party. I tried a little of everything that was there – beer, pot, mushrooms – everything except for cocaine, which was probably also there, but I was scared to try it (and never did try it). The condo or chalet or whatever it was became packed with people – it was hot, smoky, loud. There was a spiral staircase that went from a great room on the main level, which was 2 stories tall with a wall of windows, to a short hallway with a bathroom and the bedrooms. While trying to make my way up or down the staircase, which was also packed with people, I moved out of the way near the top to let someone by, sort of fainted, and almost fell over the edge.
A couple of friends brought me outside, where I stayed for another 30 minutes or so, gathering my wits about me. The cold really did snap me back into myself and I desperately wanted to get away from this loud party. While earlier I had wanted to obliterate myself, I could see that now I couldn’t be sure I’d be able to keep myself safe and that hey – I wanted to be safe. I don’t think I was dating anyone at the time, and I would have expected a boyfriend to look out for me. My friends definitely would have looked out for me, by they had gone to the party with the same intent that I had – to get as fucked up as possible. I made sure that whoever I’d brought with me had a ride home, and I climbed into the Rabbit and carefully drove home to Aunt Freda’s house in Woodstock, with the window open, talking to myself and driving the speed limit the whole way, 30-40 minutes. I was 16.
That year – 1988-1989 – was probably my worst in high school as far as drinking and experimenting with drugs and hooking up. Promiscuity is, perhaps, a subject for another post, but along with drinking and drugs, is a self-destructive behavior. In a lot of ways, I felt like no one cared about me, so why should I? I was looking for attention that I wasn’t getting from my family, who were too busy with their own lives to worry about me unless, perhaps, I got into major trouble at school or with the town police, neither of which ever happened. Promiscuity was also my big ‘fuck you’ to guys. I knew what they wanted, or the ones brave enough to give off the tentative signals of flirting. And if I was attracted to them also, well guess what: I’m going to let you know that I want the same thing and I’m going to do it first so that I can be in control of the situation.
This approach tangibly backfired on me twice. My junior year, 88-89, I hooked up with a guy who was, unbeknown to me, dating a friend. Obviously, I wasn’t as close to this friend as I thought I was, and I had to endure the shame of being that kind of girl, a mantle I tried to own and make my own after that – yes, I am that kind of girl: a slut, a whore – my stepmother screamed that at me that the previous year – so what? What’s the name for that kind of guy? Why isn’t there one? Why is it that guys can do whatever they want and it’s okay? It’s more than okay – their overall reputation is likely to actually improve. I was acutely aware of this inequality, even through college, and did my best, with what I had, to fight against it.
The second incident where my not-so-great reputation got me into trouble was during the fall of 1992, when I took a semester off from college. I renewed what I thought was an old friendship, but he apparently wanted it to go further. I made the mistake of trusting him too much and being alone with him on a turnoff of a dirt road somewhere. Making out quickly turned into more and I could either agree to sex or be raped. This resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, subsequent abortion, and my renewed determination to go back to school in Pittsburgh.
My life would be so different if I had waited before becoming sexually active, if I had loved myself more, treated myself better. To my continuing amusement, my mother brought this up with me a few years ago; we were talking about sex and she said something like “I wish I had taught you to wait for love and intimacy.” It’s a little late for me now. If I had been able to respected my body and myself, I would have been – I would be – a much different person.
Most shocking to me out of all of this, is that I don’t regret most of my wildness. I wish my parents had been paying more attention and given me more guidance and support, I wish I hadn’t gone quite as far as I did because I could have and should have done more with my life instead of spending all this time trying to get away from the past. I can’t change any of it, I can only go forward and somehow be okay with all of it.
Thinking about what my rebellion really has been, is, I suppose, getting good grades, going to an excellent university as far away as possible, and making a new, mostly separate life for myself. I miss Vermont and periodically spend a few hours looking at MLS listings, but Vermont is inextricably tied to a lot of bad things that I’ve spent a long time trying to get away from. The last time I was there, last summer, I kept wondering if I had stayed, would new, happier memories made in the same places muffle the bad ones?