When I was 16, my father came into my room to wake me up and saw a blond head. He immediately thought there was another girl in my bed, and stared at me dumbfounded. The night before, I had decided to bleach my hair, but, not knowing anything about how to do that, I ended up with platinum, orange and yellow hair. I didn’t tell my parents; because at that point, I did anything I could possibly do to avoid telling them anything.
I think about what that moment must have been like for my father, and think about my own path with my daughter and think fucccccckkk.
You could say I was not the ideal teenager.
I went through all the regular stuff at 13 – bad skin, greasy hair, and an ass the kids I babysat at the time described as SO HUGE. I managed my fair share of relationships (which I would later learn was a result of being one of the first girls to develop) but as we reached the end of the summer of our eighth grade year and prepped to be freshmen, I was single. The soon to be senior boys started hanging out with us – my friends pairing up one by one over the course of the summer.
There was a field that we frequented at the end of what defined our neighborhood – when we were little, to swing and run and climb a weird set of rocks I always imagined a tribute to Stonehenge, when we were a little older to make out in the woods, and on this particular night – to bask in the love of the soon to be senior boys. Now I know – I had no shot with these men. Out of the lot of my incredibly beautiful friends I was low on the totem pole. At the time, though, I could fool myself into thinking I was bound to end up with one of them, of course, like the end of a John Hughes movie, perhaps sitting on a table leaning over my birthday cake with romantic 80’s pop in the background.
We were all lying on the rocks– making fun of each other and flirting.
And then, a little yellow convertible screeched to a halt at the end of the road, and my father yelled, GET IN THE CAR ERIN, NOW.
I’d told him I was at my friend Kacie’s house, and I was – until we decided to head down to the field.
If Meredith, Courtney and Kacie’s curfew was 9:30, mine was 9:00. If they could cross the bridge to go to the school playground, my limits were on my side of the river. If they could go to Horne field with the soon to be senior boys, I would have to get picked up by my dad in my mom’s very recognizable little yellow convertible, inevitably killing my John Hughes ending.
I vowed to never forgive my father, for probably the 100th time.
And soon after, started to do what I imagine millions of teenagers had done before me as a result – lied.
I said I was sleeping at a friend’s house, and snuck out to go to an all-night party at the town reservoir. I emptied my parent’s liquor cabinet into plastic cups our family had gotten at a fast food restaurant and my friend and I drank them in less than a half hour – and then collected all of the political signs in the neighborhood – and redistributed them. I went to after school parties at a neighborhood boys house and watched my best friend chug a bottle of vodka while I kissed my then-boyfriend.
What was happening at the same time behind the scenes of my very strictly regulated young life though – was slow developing self-hatred. Although I did have a boyfriend, freshmen year – he was not all that nice to me, never really expressing affection, only holding my hand when no one was looking.
I broke up with him, finally – telling him I wasn’t emotionally fulfilled.
My self-image – not as a result of my relationship with him, but as a result of all of the teenage hell of hormones we all go through, was pretty awful. In short: a really ugly, mousy woman with an incredibly deep voice that needed to lose weight. With 20 years of perspective looking back now, I can see that I was the same adorable human I am now, of course, but then, could not see that girl in the mirror in front of me.
My parents will time and again draw a specific timeline to my metamorphosis – when we moved from my small hometown in Northern New Hampshire to Southern New Hampshire. Like a magic, overnight transition – like when Michael Jackson sees the moonlight – his eyes turning a deep yellow/green, sprouting ears and hair – turning into a werewolf unexpectedly. His werewolf status would actually be a good way to describe what I ended up being in my parents’ life – a total. Fucking. Nightmare.
I remember my mother saying, as we were pulling out of town, that she understood how I felt – and feeling like that was impossible. She was not 14, she was 40, and she wasn’t ugly – she was beautiful. Everyone loved her that met her, she had a huge community of friends she could talk to, she wasn’t a teenager. She was an adult. A decision maker.
I survived the 2 hour drive and the adjustment to a new school, but barely. My mother took me back to Berlin regularly, at the time I thought for me, but now I know those trips were for both of us. I found friends that felt like a fit, even if they weren’t the ones I’d left.
And my parents were right in that the move changed me – all of us, really – but it didn’t put me on a path of self-destruction, it just ramped it up into warp speed.
I stole the car. I snuck out. I skipped school. I went to parties at UNH. I drank and did drugs I would have a hard time admitting openly to most people. I told my parents I was going one way, and I inevitably went the other, ducking and hiding the entire time.
What happened also, though – during that period of time, is that my parents continued to love me, even when I was giving them every reason not to. They attended every event I was a part of – whether it was a parade, or practice, or concert or game. They volunteered to help at the school, even though I wouldn’t even openly admit to their existence any more than I would admit to my own. When I wanted to drive my mom’s famous little yellow convertible to the senior banquet, my dad quietly worked on the car so I could, adding expense and time to his life that I didn’t really deserve, only telling me in response to some flip comment I’d made to him about wanting to drive it in the first place.
And years later, when I found myself pregnant, unexpectedly – there was no gap in between delivering the news and feeling support from them. I moved into their house, huge and hormonal. My mom listened to my cry about being pregnant, brought me tea on the back porch in the afternoons and let me fall asleep reading. She helped me pick out baby clothes and make the huge room in her house that Anna and I would share feel like my own.
And even though I swore at her when she decided to talk to the nurse about a rash she was developing when I was in hard labor – the two of them leaning over me, I do not know how I could have gone through the delivery without her. When she cut the cord, tears streaming down her face, I told her I was sorry. Because even though I had grown up, a lot, actually, until Anna – I didn’t understand what it was like.
I didn’t know what it was like to be a parent, anymore than a parent can really get what it’s like to be a 14 year-old. As much as we all love each other, we are continually on the front lines of our own battle.
It took me too long to get to the place I’m in now, I know, and I can’t erase the things I did along the way that hurt those around me, most especially my parents. I can’t go back and see how hard it must have been for my mother to leave the only place she’d ever known, 45 years in. But I can appreciate it now. I can’t thank my father for what he was doing for me in the moment that he was working on my mother’s famous little yellow convertible, but I can apologize for it now.
What’s important for me to express is that it wasn’t the move that changed me, or anything my parents did – it was just what needed to happen for me to get here. Where I love myself as best I can, my daughter as best I can, and of course, my parents, as best I can. None of that love is perfect – sometimes, in the face of a beautiful man, my voice gets deeper, my skin gets oily and I gain 10 pounds. Sometimes when I say WHAT in response to Anna asking me for the 50th time about something, I can see my tone cut into her like a knife, and sometimes, like last night, my frustration over something my mother says to me can blow up beyond reasonable proportion.
And what my parents have left me with is what the most important thing to do is, as a parent, which is love.