Growing up with a feeling of loneliness and craving connection, it’s no surprise that I sought attention in all the wrong places, which usually translated into me being an easy target for boys looking for the perfect girl: low self-esteem and a willingness to please. I remember wanting to be liked, loved, and taken away from my crazy family life. And because I fought my weight problem, if a boy did show interest in me, I was over the moon about it. Though I felt like an adult at a young age, I shudder to recall how young I was when I had my first crush, first kiss, and first love.
Because my mom did not trust people in general and had social anxiety in so many ways, my sister and I became her best friends. Our parents took us to bars and restaurants very early mostly because Dad played in clubs and dinner houses and so we were around parties and partying behavior regularly. It was just a natural thing to go out to dinner and try to order a cocktail and get away with it. Mom and Dad always had a permissive attitude and preferred us to bring our boyfriends to dinner and drink in front of them rather than sneaking out of the house to get stoned or make out in a parked car like most teenagers do. There are pros and cons to either being too permissive or too strict as parents, so I can’t say that I regret how I was raised. Because I did not feel the drive to hide much from them, I was never arrested or given a DUI, never got in a car accident, never had an unwanted pregnancy or abortion or miscarriage, and never got hooked on serious drugs. But, I did push the limits, for sure.
I remember the first time I got drunk. I was 13 and we went to some formal holiday cocktail party with my parents. There was a champagne fountain in the center of the room. But, mom and dad were pretty busy between dad having to be on his best behavior to make sure he pleased the boss or community at the event, and mom having whatever panic attack which she masked with a few cocktails, I found myself able to easily sneak over to the mountain of stacked, cheesy plastic bubbly glassware and start sipping the sparkling wine. Surprisingly, since I passed for 16 or 17, no one even looked twice at me. I was wearing all black, my hair up in a bun, with hose and heels, a little makeup and some dangling earrings. No one said a word. Within an hour, I’d had at least 10 of those little tiny glasses, but for a young girl, it was plenty.
Mom and Dad finally figured out what was happening and whisked me away before anyone busted me. I remember going home and getting into some jammies and snuggling on the couch for the night, head in my mom’s lap. She looked down at me with a sad expression as I babbled on about whatever a drunk ‘tween babbles about and she stroked my hair, agreeing with whatever I said. I’m not sure if she was feeling guilty for putting me in adult situations at a young age or if she was worried I’d grow up to be alcohol dependent.
My first real boyfriend happened around the same time. His name was Matt and he went to school at the Military Academy in town. We’d meet up at the mall on Wednesdays and Sundays for their ‘town leave’ when they could have several hours to shop, eat out, or meet friends. The boys would ride the bus to the shopping district and meet the bus back in the same spot 4 hours later. Matt and I would sneak away from the mall and go to the local Dairy Queen across the parking lot, find a booth in the very back, and smooch. We’d literally hold each other for hours, chatting, nibbling on french fries, and smoking cigarettes. Sometimes we go to the bowling alley at the mall and play video games, or make out in the alley behind the joint. It only lasted a few months until one of his friends told me that Matt was secretly in love with my best friend, Ann. I quickly broke up with him and he dated her for even less time before it ended.
My next boyfriend was also a military academy boy named Rob (name changed). He was a sweet man…I say man because I was 14 and he was 18 – quite the age difference. He was a senior and I was in 8th grade. But, he was very kind to me. My folks would have a whole group of them and their friends come over to Sunday lunch at our home quite regularly. Mom would cook for all these long, lost, little soldiers and we’d enjoy the day at our house together. Rob was very normal, as far as my boyfriends were concerned. He was not abusive, or emotionally unavailable at all. In fact, he was very open about being in love with me. He was a little chubby, too, so he did not give me any crap about not being a skinny girl. But, my parasocial relationship with Simon le Bon was budding and I felt trapped in between being an adult and a teenager, so I’m sure I was too immature to handle the relationship. Never the less, it was a serious one in my development.
I told my mother I was staying at a girlfriend’s house for the night one Saturday that year. Because Rob was old enough and having the proper ID, he rented a hotel room in town. I got a ride over to the room. I spent the night with him there. The next day, we met up at my house for the usual Sunday meal with my family, but Rob and I were not much interested in socializing. We snuggled on the couch and told the family we were pooped. They did not find out until later that Rob and I had been intimate that weekend.
Only a few weeks later, Rob graduated and was sent back home, out of the country. He swore we’d make the long distance relationship work. Over the summer we kept in touch by phone and with cards and one visit from him. But, by fall when I transferred schools, my new mailbox at the dorm remained empty along with my heart as the hope for our love affair waned. I was angry at him for a long time after that. My heart was broken, the first of many times.