The years during high school were filled with longing, rejection, triumphs, and loneliness. When I see children playing happily as toddlers, I still shudder to this day to think of what they may go through as they grow up. Passing a middle school while driving can bring back a memory that gives me nausea or butterflies of worry in my heart and stomach.
I think that part of my strong inclination towards not having children of my own was based on the feelings of fear and despair I felt as a teen. People have asked, “How come you never had any kids? We’re you afraid of the responsibility?” It’s hard to say, “No, I’m not afraid of babies or taking care of them. I’m afraid of teenagers and what they do to one another and having that kind of relationship in my own house having to relive all of my terrors vicariously through someone I would love so much.” It was just not an option for me.
Growing up, my home life was unstable. Dad worked all the time and was rarely home. Mom owned her own business, a uniform shop, but she struggled with depression, anxiety, a manic-type roller coaster emotional life, alcoholism, and anorexia/bulimia. They both smoked cigarettes in the house and we over indulged in food and beverages as a group in response to daily traumatic events. We struggled financially and there was little money for clothes, trips, or non-essential purchases.
My sister began to withdraw out of self-protection, the only thing one could do in that type of environment. We’d walk on eggshells, wondering what word, phrase, memory, or incident with the check-out clerk would spark an outburst from mother that would last all night, ending up with a drunken fight, a withdrawal of her own, a guilt-trip, or a spontaneous party…extremes were the everyday habit pattern.
My role became that of the clown, the peacemaker, the desperate child wanting nothing else but for everyone to get along and be happy. I tried everything. I would sing songs, make jokes, communicate with each party during heated arguments or stalemates where each party was locked in their respective rooms. I’d beg, plead, cry, cajole, deny the issues, or space out in dull apathy. I was a classic fight, flight, or freeze personality…sometimes all of them at once it seemed. I remember blanking out quite a bit and there are large chunks of time I do not remember, whole classes of people who I cannot remember a single name of from school, and years I have completely blocked out. Maybe everyone has these experiences. I don’t know.
Just as I was using food, alcohol, or cigarettes to either pacify my fears or emotions, I began looking for companionship to take me away from my unhappy home. I looked to dating the locals or boys from the military academy to fill the deep need for love I felt which seemed as deep as the grand canyon sometimes. The boys from that school were either from America, or Central or South America and came from military families either looking to have their boys well educated or to ship them off somewhere to keep them out of trouble. Some of them were already troublemakers, and though I did not much go for the mean, aggressive types, I did tend to go for the emotionally unavailable ones.
I was on the cheerleading team in 10th grade. I was only maybe 30 lbs heavier than the average girl and I struggled, but I tried to stay active joining the basketball team and chorus as well as the drama clubs which kept me going from 7am-11pm daily! I remember one boyfriend of mine was a football player. He was tall, blonde, handsome, and kind of a jerk. He actually told me one day that the boys in the locker room asked him if my bathing suit said Goodyear on the side of it like the Goodyear blimp. I was mortified.
That same year, we did an assembly cheerleading pep rally at the military school. At the end, each girl did a jump or twirl while yelling their own name out loudly. When it got to me, I jumped in the air and yelled “Debbie” and as I hit the floor, a huge row of boys stomped their feet and yelled out “Boom!” The loud sounds filled the old, wooden building. I stood there blank faced, shaking as I looked at all the boys searching for the ones who had done it. Their may have been laughter, but I don’t remember much after that. I know I did not cry until later, but I searched the crowd for my boyfriend who had a look of embarrassment mixed with pity for me in his eyes. That relationship ended soon after that and I slipped into a deep depression.
I remember one of the bully type leaders at school formed a club around torturing me. She’d start rumors, talk behind my back, and could be seen sneering or snickering in hallways while looking my way. Her name was Lee. She once had one of the girls come and get me to bring me to her room to have a discussion with me, like she was some Don from a mafia family. She told me that everyone was tired of my depression and I needed to get over it and move on and that no one much liked me anyway, so I better shape up. Not a great way to pull me out of my funk. I withdrew further and began trusting less.
I started dressing in black and I shaved one side of my head and grew a long tail on the side…a classic 80’s do, for sure. My usual attire was over sized baggy pants, high-top tennis shoes or combat boots with baggy paisley shirts untucked, lots of bracelet bling like Madonna in Lucky Star, and black sunglasses or oversized hats. I worked at the mall hip clothing store, so I got discounts and used most of the money I earned on buying fashions. I started dating a local boy named Chris, who also had punk leanings and we’d spend hours in my Toyota Celica kissing and listening to the Psychedelic Furs. I was so in love with him. He was super androgynous, tall and skinny, with punk hair and big green eyes – every new wave girls’ fantasy. I think we were 16 at the time. It only lasted about 6 months, but we were together all the time for a while. When we broke up, he started dating his best friend, Jason. Go figure.
The ways I did excel were in academics, music and theatre. I won the drama and chorus award for my class in both 10th and 11th grades and was voted best poetry submission for the school literary journal. I sang and danced in every show, review, end-of-the year play or talent show, usually winning first or second place if judging was done. I started playing in a local band, too, and found myself at band practices with groups of musicians writing songs or learning cover tunes to play the the local teen dance club. I was hooked on music, even more so than theatre. I was never much into real drugs in high school besides some booze and a few joints, but music really filled the cravings I was having for love, happiness, and that feeling of safety. My whole world became about music and I was rarely seen without my Sony Walkman during those years.