On My Own

Just before my 17th birthday, at the end of April of my junior year of high school, I moved out on my own, which consisted mainly of moving my things from Aunt Freda’s house into the manager’s quarters of the Braeside, the motel I worked at, with Cheryl, my alcoholic co-worker, and her 9 year-old. I had been working at the Braeside since I was 12 or 13, starting with babysitting and gradually taking on more responsibility. My manager’s marriage fell apart and she resigned, going to live with her father in southern NH and working for a company she had family ties with that ran midway stands at fairs over the summer. I’m fairly sure Annette, my manager, negotiated with the owner for Cheryl and I to move in. We were, after all, the work force, and with Annette and her car gone, neither of us would have a way to get to work cleaning the 12 rooms and running the front desk. So the owner, who owned a few other businesses in town but was based out of and owned more businesses in Maine, allowed us to move in, rent-free, in exchange for one of us being on the premises 24×7 while she looked for a new manager.

Initially, I think my parents and I kept up the ruse of visitation. I remember catching the bus to school from the Braeside only once or twice; it just far enough out of town that I’d have to use the narrow shoulder of Rt 4 to walk anywhere. Luckily, Susan Steele and her Dad, my 7th grade English teacher, drove to school every morning past the Braeside and offered to give me a ride when I needed it, which I remember initially not being every day.

The day I moved in I also had to work, cleaning rooms in the morning and watch the front desk in the afternoon, with just enough time to make one trip from Aunt Freda’s house. My mother ended up packing the rest of my things and brought it to my new room at the motel. She also went grocery shopping for me, getting some essentials, easy things that I could fix on my own.

The weirdest thing for me was that all of Annette’s things were, of course, moved out of the house, which was attached to the center back of the motel and included the front desk and reception area. The house looked weird, as houses do when they are emptied. I took a spare mattress and box spring from the motel storage, along with a spare dresser, and moved them into my room, which was over the front desk & reception area. Cheryl spent the afternoon moving her furniture, from a trailer on Hartland Hill Road to the rest of the house – she provided a kitchen table, living room furniture, and of course furniture for her bedroom and her daughter’s bedroom, all at the back of the house. When we were done, it still looked somewhat sad and empty, Annette-less.

I was relieved to finally be in one place, instead of spending nearly every night at a different house. Moving in with my Dad full-time wasn’t an option, since my stepmother had thrown me out the previous winter and we had just begun to reconcile at the beginning of the school year. Moving in with my Mom full-time wasn’t an option either, as I still didn’t want to switch schools and she didn’t want to drive me (or let me drive) from Wilder to Woodstock every school day. And though I’d kept my grades up, made honor roll in all of my classes (all of which were smarty-pants, advanced classes except for math and I’d taken 2 languages, French & Spanish), the constant moving was becoming overwhelming. So my parents took pity on me and allowed me to move into the Braeside.

I was hoping the Braeside would be a permanent solution to my housing dilemma until I graduated and went off to college, if that is in fact what I was going to do after graduation. I had started dating a guy who was a year older than me with whom I’d had various crushes on since junior high, when he started going to WUHS. Our families also knew each other well; our grandparents had been neighbors, my grandmother worked in his uncle’s shop for a long time. Moving into the Braeside gave us the freedom to spend whole nights together, which actually happened less than you might suspect.

The Braeside might have worked long-term in spite of all of the obvious things that were wrong with the plan. Cheryl and I got along well, her daughter and I got along well. Like many of my friends, I already had a fake ID that got me into bars, The Gin Mill in Queechee (phonetically 2 syllables, kwee-chee), which was located (to my continuing amusement) in the same building that now houses Mid-Vermont Christian School. We could get kegs in Rutland, or have older party friends get them for us. Moving in with Cheryl meant that I could get alcohol with less of a risk of getting caught.

My parents wouldn’t have to really parent me much as long as I kept my grades up and stayed out of trouble. They’d just have to keep in touch, make sure I had food, medical care if I got sick – things like that. I think by that point my Dad was already absorbed or overwhelmed with his new insta-family and had abdicated (in my mind, anyway) a lot of his parenting responsibility (particularly when he allowed his new wife to throw me out of their house).

My mother, who often said that she felt like she was growing up with me because her teen years had been so repressive, had been seriously dating a man, Bill, who lived in Hanover, NH (basically just across the river from Wilder) for about a year and a half. She met him at a Parents Without Partners meeting and they hit it off. He had four children from his previous marriage: two daughters who were in college, a son a year older than me, a daughter 2 or 3 years younger than me. He lived in a 3-bedroom duplex in Hanover owned by his mother, who lived in the other half.

Mom and Bill came to visit me at the Braeside one day in late May or early June. I was in the kitchen, doing dishes, and they were acting … strange. Not that smiling and holding hands is strange, but when Mom tried to get me to look at her left hand, palm down – that was strange. And I still didn’t get it; she actually had to tell me that they’d just come from (I think) Fred Doubleday’s (actually, Aunt Freda’s and my grandmother’s cousin – they were named after the same beloved Fred), the Justice of the Peace in Woodstock. They had gotten married. I was happy for them, assuming that was what they really wanted, live and let-live, if it makes you happy, etc., and if I wasn’t, I covered it up because I didn’t want to upset my Mom. This meant that Mom would move into Bill’s, because he needed to be near his mother, who had health problems, and he didn’t want my now-step-brother & step-sister to change schools, which would have been Hartford. She rented the condo in Wilder, I think to some Dartmouth grad students, and moved. What did I care, really? I had my own place; what my parents did no longer really affected me. And I had realized by this point, that I really had no say in what they did and that trusting either of them was risky.

By early June, the owner of the Braeside had found a new manager, who would live off-site but be responsible for operating the motel. Deb and her son Kenny had moved up from, if I recall correctly, Tennessee. Shortly after I met her, one of my friends told me that Deb was her Aunt. I knew my friend’s mother, and I guess I could see a family resemblance, but where my friend’s mom was quiet and rational, conservative in appearance (little to no make-up, generally dressing like everyone’s dream New England mom, i.e., preppy), Deb was outgoing, colorful both in words (southern accent & dialect) and dress (lots of jeans and reds) and makeup (lots). She gradually let it be known that she and Kenny had run from a man, perhaps an abusive man, and that her sister had helped her out by giving her a place to go and finding this job.

I wasn’t entirely sure of how true this story about the man was or really what to believe from either Deb or Kenny. To be honest, it really didn’t matter. What ended up mattering was this: Deb started asserting her authority as manager and I, in my youthful over-confidence, started to resist the change. Of course she was going to do things differently than Annette did, but I didn’t realize that then nor did I adjust well to the change. In some ways, I suppose you could see it as me resisting any authority. I mean really: on my own at 17? Why was that, exactly? Would an outsider assume I had authority problems? That may be how Deb saw it – I was just a kid and what the hell did I know?

But Deb was also a functioning alcoholic and the functioning part of the equation started to fall apart the more comfortable she got with Cheryl and I. At the beginning of July, Cheryl pointed out the bottle of Jack Daniels Deb had starting keeping in one of our kitchen cupboards and that she would start each work day with a shot or two in her coffee. She got so drunk one night at the Gin Mill that someone called us and drove her to the motel, where she crashed on the couch (or maybe in an empty room?).

Cheryl and I had no direct contact with the owner, although Annette was still checking in every now and then and we could have (or did? I don’t remember now) told the owner about what was going on. But we both knew that would be the kettle calling the pot black. My boyfriend came over one night after school ended, maybe his last weekend in town before he spent the summer out west working. Cheryl drank us both under the table – literally, to the point where I had to help my guy to the toilet. Cheryl and I both talked pretty freely about drinking a lot, so who were we to go to the owner with this when really, there was no evident damage?

Eventually, Deb and I had a confrontation. I don’t remember it very well, but it ended with her firing me and me being only too happy to get out of there. But now I had another problem: where would I go live? My mother had rented her condo. My cousin had taken my room (or was planning on taking it) at Aunt Freda’s. This left me with one option: my Dad’s house. I think he’s even the one I called to come get me after Deb fired me. And I must have been in touch with him and my mother, I’m pretty sure they both knew about what was going on with Deb.

So in mid-July, I moved into my Dad’s. Once again, Annette came to my rescue: I had three weeks before my boyfriend was flying me out to spend a week with him and Annette’s mid-way connection, her twin sister, needed help in the fried dough stand. The first fair I worked with them was in Norwich. The only thing I remember from that fair was stuffing a 1’x1’ block of shortening into the deep fryer, which was fun for the first 2 minutes and not so great after that. The next fair I worked was in Cornish, NH. The woman who ran the cotton candy and sno cone stand ended up needing help more than Annette and her sister, so I learned how to make cotton candy and sno cones. The Cornish fair was much busier than the Norwich fair and at the time, I remember realizing that I was too busy to look for anyone I knew. It’s funny to me now, but I didn’t even know enough to look around for J.D. Salinger or his wife, who figures prominently in the Cornish Fair, particularly with quilts.

The last fair I worked was further south in New Hampshire, probably somewhere around Keene. I spent the weekend with Annette in her sister’s family’s trailer, which was literally a trailer hauled by an 18-wheeler converted into living space. I think I slept on the living room floor or the couch and I was ever so thankful for the shower in that trailer. I really liked working in the cotton candy stand; it got so busy that you no longer had to think, just do. Not-thinking requires a lot of soda (to replenish the fluid lost through hot humid afternoons in what is essentially a little tin box) and as much cotton candy as you can get away with (a lot; I never got sick of it).

Annette’s husband was supposed to pick his daughter up on Sunday for a visit that during that coming week. He had agreed to give me a rider to my Mom’s, in Hanover, where I’d get my laundry done, get a good night’s sleep; the next morning she would drive me to Manchester, NH and I’d fly out to spend a week (or two?) with my guy. Well, he didn’t show up. She called and waited, called and waited, and pretty soon, it was getting late. It became clear that he wasn’t going to show up, so Annette drove me to the bus station in Brattleboro and paid for my bus fare to White River, Jct, where my mother picked me up. I felt awful for Annette’s daughter, who had been looking forward to a visit with her Dad. She didn’t understand why he hadn’t shown up (neither did I). I found out that later, he thought it was the following weekend (or so he said).

Arriving late, too late to do my laundry according to my mother, and tired and with a plan (for the night and my life) that went completely off the rails, arriving in a house that really had no room for me – a house planned with me specifically not in the picture (I would bunk on the couch) – I lost it. I think the laundry issue was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I started yelling, screeching probably, and throwing things around. My mother was trying to shush me because (I thought, and still think) “Oh my god! What will my new mother-in-law think? What will my new neighbors think?”

I had had similar outbursts (if I’m being somewhat objective) or tantrums (as they are known in my family) for much of my life. Definitely tantrums was I was smaller, though I’d called down from, say, 7-13, and then with the divorce and puberty I started losing it again occasionally. One day shortly after my parents split, probably June or July of 1986, I took the little goldfish bowl and the three resident zebra danios (which I’d gotten for my 13th birthday, in early May), told my mother I didn’t want them anymore, and proceeded outside with them. When she tried to stop me on my way to the brook across the street where I was clearly going to dump them, maybe by telling me they’d die in the brook, I ended the very short argument with some shrieking and by smashing the bowl on the ground and running back in the house to hide in my room (“If you’re going to bawl, go bawl in your room,” I had heard many times and so that is where I went.)

So this latest outburst was nothing really new for my mother. But unlike previous outbursts, I had no safe place to run to – it wasn’t my house, it would never be my house. I ran out the front door and down the street and ended up in a hedge up against (I think) some condominiums. I heard my mom & step-family trying to find me, but I stayed in the bushes until I calmed down and then I walked back to the duplex. I did do laundry that night, though there was not enough time to dry everything so I wore a damp dress on the plane for the reunion with my beloved, who’s family life was even worse than mine.

I’m sometimes surprised I actually came home from that trip. It would have been so easy to start a life out west, but that wasn’t what I wanted: I didn’t want to run away, I wanted to legitimately get out, to graduate from high school, make all of my hard work and advanced classes count for something by getting into college and then living happily ever after. The happily ever after of not going to college, or not going far enough away, wasn’t so happy – I associated a lot of my unhappiness with Vermont and, of course, my family (for one other reason I still haven’t explained). Though I ran away, or threatened to run away, many times when I was younger (let’s say, under 10), when actually faced with the possibility, I couldn’t leave everything behind and do it.

When I got home, my Dad had found a car in my budget and bought it with the money that I had been saving. He helped me set up insurance, which I paid for, showed me how to check & fill the oil, and one weekend, replaced the muffler. I found another job that August; I would work Saturday and Sunday mornings at the Village Inn serving breakfast to guests and stay through 4pm, when the owner would come back and to check guests in and start setting up for dinner. I also must have started late summer soccer practice.

I also ran into Cheryl and her daughter somewhere, probably that fall. Cheryl had started AA and had met a man, another recovering alcoholic, there. She told me that one night, not long after I left, she drank so much that she blacked out, which wasn’t that unusual. But she had beat her daughter. Cheryl was (and is, I assume) a gentle, well-intentioned woman who would never do that to her daughter, but the evidence was there in the bruises and the overturned furniture. She stopped drinking. I don’t know under what circumstances she left the Braeside, or where she or her daughter are now. They are, I guess, two of the people I left behind and didn’t look back for, too afraid of slipping into that life myself.

So things fell apart and came back together again, but not for long.

In the Mean Time

I’ve been busy pulling together a project that’s been in the pipeline for about 6 months now, since that fateful day in August when thermalgal (Jenni) came to a Loudoun Needleworkers meet-up and announced that she was (and still is) expecting her 2nd child in March.

We had just finished a blanket for our fearless leader, electricsoup (Misty), which ended up being large enough for her whole family to cuddle under. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but our intention was to make something for behbehsoup, as Zoe was known then. Misty has definitely appreciated the blanket, wrapping herself in our collective love (yes, even I get cheesy and melodramatic sometimes) during the last few weeks of her pregnancy, at the hospital, and during her maternity leave. We also made a Flying Spaghetti Monster for Misty’s son Alex, and by we I mean mainly snarkymarcy (Marcy) and BeadedLaceHoar (Karen), and Marcy’s husband Todd, who mastered the Embellish Knit for most of that I-cord.

So for Jenni, I was hoping to improve on things and do something a little different. Everyone involved agreed on a baby blanket and a family blanket, and many suggested making something for Jenni’s son Henry. As with Misty, Jenni provided a picture of her nursery so we could pick colors that would coordinate well with it. And as with Misty, we ended up using KnitPicks Comfy Worsted. I should have been more diplomatic with my project management, but ended up making some dictatorial decisions about the design. Making something as a group for Henry was going to be too complicated, so we left that as an optional bonus (I’m still working on my item for him).

I decided that hexagons, rather than squares, would be interesting to do, and in early December came up with several different blanket designs using 5 vibrant colors for the family blanket and 5 coordinating, paler colors for the baby blanket:

Jenni's Blankets

I ordered the yarn and distributed it along with the designs and instructions for making a basic, center-out hexagon. Even though I planned carefully and spent a day looking for the missing link in my hexagon calculations, I did not come up with the right formula for calculating the sides. I should have asked the LNW hive mind for help, but the hexagons (and blankets) turned out reasonably well.

I started piecing together the baby blanket last Wednesday afternoon and finished all but one hexagon on Friday morning, spending most of my time on the blanket and watching MI5 (aka spooks) on Netflix Streaming. Thursday I sent out email asking for help putting together the family blanket, comprising hexagons double the size of the baby blanket. RabbitSmile (Lisa), HoundHoar (Alana), and AliseKnits (Alise) all came over on Saturday with their crochet hooks to edge each hexagon with single crochet and then join them all in sections. Alana, who took a break to go home and get her 3 greyhounds, stayed until 3am, which is both crazy and the most fun I’ve had in a while – we giggled at the dogs, at IT Crowd, at my lack of piecing prowess as I crocheted the same seam for the 3rd time. I tossed the blankets into the washer and went to sleep.

Sunday: Jenni loves the blankets. They turned out really well, much better than they look in the pictures I took Sunday before the meet-up.

Baby Blanket: Family Blanket:
Blanket: Baby Blanket: Big

Since starting this project, we have two other LNWers expecting, both for their first child. [Insert obligatory but tired joke about drinking the water at knitting meet-ups.] I’m taking a break from blanket project management, which makes me sad/guilty (I could do it! Really!) but also relieved that I can focus on other things, like getting back to the point of this blog or life or some third thing I haven’t come up with yet.

Dear Dogs

Dear Jacey, Lily, and Moose,

I know we’ve had this conversation before and it’s obvious to me that you did not absorb the information I have attempted to communicate in the past. First of all, please learn English, learn how to read, and get a device that will connect to the web to read this post. God knows there’s enough equipment laying around the house that you could use, even without opposable thumbs.

The mailman drives by our house twice every day except for Sunday and government holidays. I expect you to recognize him as a non-threat after – how long has it been? 5 years? more? – and yet you continue to bark at him like he’s going to hop the curb and crash his little truck into the house. That goes for the FedEx guy and the UPS guy too, even though I suspect they’re often exceeding the speed limit as they careen down the street.

In addition, please stop barking and charging the door every time the doorbell rings. You guys should be smart enough to bark only after you figure out whether or not it’s someone we know. A sure sign of this is when I say “It’s okay! It’s ____!” Door-to-door salespeople are definitely bark-worthy, but not if they’re Brownies or Girl Scouts. We all get excited when the doorbell rings; all I’m asking is for a silent charge to the door.

And while I’m pretending you understand what the hell I’m saying and might actually comply (would a sticker chart help?), could whoever’s been marking Ethan’s room and the basement please stop? You should have gotten the message after we gave all 3 of you dirty looks while spraying Nature’s Miracle everywhere. But no, we had to pull out (and actually use!) the carpet cleaner. I even spent money on some dog repellent stuff that obviously doesn’t work. So, let me say plainly: please urinate outside only. We all know who’s house this is, but you don’t see me peeing on the carpet, do you?

With love and treats for good dogs,

M

Rebellion

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?