Because of this, I was drawn to people like my best friend, who was dynamic and bold.
In tenth grade, we made friends with a group of older guys who hung out on the main street of town, which ran parallel to the local university — guys who'd once gone to our same high school and had never left the social scene. I remember how quiet it was, birds soaring overhead, no other sound. I'd completely accepted her romance with an older guy as normal, even destined. When he wasn't upset, he was in kindness overdrive, buying me things: a gold necklace with a floating heart, stuffed animals.
When they weren't doing BMX and skateboard tricks in front of the post office, they were spending what money they had at the nearby arcade, or spinning on stools and shooting straw wrappers in their favorite burger joint, just across the street. I grew to dread the moments we were alone, especially when I needed a ride home at the end of the night to make my curfew.
There was something especially cool about being friends with them. "I don't want you hanging around with someone that much older than you.""Mom." I'm sure I rolled my eyes. ""So, no normal 20 year old wants to hang out with someone who is 15. Stay away from him."This was the sort of thing that always led to my leaving the room in a teary huff, maintaining loudly that she Just Didn't Understand. One Saturday, the guys planned a picnic in a nearby forest park. We had gotten in the habit of him driving me home, and my suddenly wanting to make different arrangements seemed to inconvenience everyone.
We were still at an age where our parents insisted on treating us like children. Once again, she was treating me like a child, someone unable to make her own decisions. It didn't seem like such a big deal, as my best friend was doing nothing sneaking around to be with her boyfriend. Suddenly, I wasn't that scared, invisible girl anymore, watching from the sidelines. I remember it was a gorgeous fall day, crisp and cool, and the first time I'd had Brie cheese and red wine. Even worse, I couldn't say why I didn't want to go with him.
How wonderful it felt to have an "adult" who valued our opinion; thought we were not just cute but interesting. I was wearing a Bundeswehr tank top I'd gotten at an Army supply store and faded jeans, a thrift shop crucifix around my neck. But as we sat there together in the sunshine, the wine buzzing my head, I suddenly felt … All I had was my instinct and discomfort — a bad gut feeling. When I write novels, there is always a clear trajectory: the beginning, middle, climax, and end.
My best friend was 14 when she fell in love with a 21 year old. My friend's older boyfriend was close with a guy I'll call T. My mother, spying him from the front window, asked me how old he was."I don't know," I said. After awhile, my friend and her boyfriend disappeared, leaving T. With real life, however, and memory especially, it is harder to keep things so neat and organized. In the first, I snuck out of the house with a guy friend who lived down the street. My friend came back, we went home and I slid back into my bed. The second incident I remember happened when he was giving me a ride home.
(I know how that sounds: I cringe now just typing it.) But at the time, to us, it wasn't weird or taboo as much as this epic, forbidden romance. Before long we were all hanging out together, driving around in his car: T and me in the front, my friend and her boyfriend in the back. Many memories remain fuzzy, but incidents such as that day in the forest remain in crisp detail. It was late and my parents were asleep as we drove over to the house where T. At some point, my friend left to go somewhere, and for whatever reason I didn't go with him. Maybe he only stepped out to go to the store down the block. This was after the night at his house, though how much later I cannot say.
While they made out, we made conversation, thrown together in the awkwardness of nearby coupledom. What I do remember is sitting on a couch with T., him putting on a Elton John song and telling me, in words I can't recall specifically, that he wanted to be my boyfriend. I just recall being almost to my house, when I told T. In the initial years following, I never really talked about this with anyone other than my high school girlfriends and various therapists.
Before long, we had our own inside jokes, a shared eye-roll at yet another lover's quarrel in a small space. I didn't want to hang out with him anymore."You don't mean that," he told me. As I got older, however, the more I realized that my experience was not an uncommon one.
We talked about music, about high school, his experience then and mine now. "That's your mom talking."I told him that this wasn't true: it was my choice. It seemed just about every woman I knew had a similar story, a time when wanting attention meant getting the wrong kind entirely.
I could see my house now, coming up ahead."We need to discuss this," he said. That this was just how I felt."We'll go talk about it," he said. "We'll go somewhere."And that's when I said it."."My own voice — big, firm, filling the space — was a surprise to both of us. When I turned 21, I remember making a point, regularly, to look at teens and ask myself whether I'd want to hang out with them, much less date one. As a teen wishing to be an adult, it is easy to get in over your head. That if something feels wrong, that's all the reason you need to get out of there.