"Dear Abby, I am 17. My boyfriend of 2 1/2 years recently broke up with me... he's no longer in love with me and wants to date others. I can't eat, sleep, or concentrate, and the thought of seeing him with another girl makes me physically sick. Help me, please. Signed, Brokenhearted Teen."
Abby replies, "...it hurts only for a while. Chalk it up to experience and a part of growing up."
Abby's response is exactly what I needed to hear at that age too. If only I'd known that the life I was living as a teen was "only a part of growing up," and not an end unto itself.
At sixteen, I had a new "date" of some sort pretty much every other week, and many of those were actually of no interest to me as people. I simply did not stop them from pursuing me, and the time I spent with them was somehow sufficient to make me feel valued, if only briefly. The rest of the time I was as brutal to the people around me as I was to myself when I was alone, wondering what good I could possibly be outside of those moments as an object of desire. The actual boyfriends I had culminated in relationships of between two and eleven months, and many resulted in the aforementioned emotional brutality inflicted upon one party or the other.
Let's take, for instance, my boyfriend Greg. He wasn't particularly handsome, but he was tall with unruly dark, curly hair and eyes that slitted up dangerously when he grinned. His popularity stemmed more from his proud youthful bravado and sheer recklessness than from any sort of charm. Although we went to different high schools, I knew who he was before I even met him. It should have tipped me off that mentioning his name to most any girl I knew resulted in exclamations of his notoriety in some way, mostly some broken heart or other. But as teenagers we either ignore perfectly sound evidence like that, or see it as an exciting indication of the person's fame, something glamorous to revel in by association.
Greg and I dated for a few months, and it was looking pretty serious. We even exchanged class rings, a trite action I can only imagine we had each seen in the movies or something. But increasingly, I was hearing from other people about Greg's girlfriend Wendy, which was baffling to me because obviously I was Greg's girlfriend. Further inquiry informed me that she was his girlfriend before me, and that they were still seeing each other. She went to the same school as he did, and so they spent all day together doing god-knows-what.
I drove to Greg's house one evening to confront him about Wendy. With classically tragic timing, I jumped out of my car just in time to see her charge out his front door. She was an impish, plainly-dressed girl with wiry black hair. In a way she resembled Greg, actually; but how could he want such a girl? Here I was, tall and blonde and glamorous, a perfect match to his dark and dangerous persona.
Wendy and I passed on the path to the front door, glaring at each other, fists clenched. Later I played that moment over and over in my memory, refining the viciousness with which I punched her in the face, or grabbed her hair and threw her to the concrete driveway.
The actual event was passive, although my stomach rippled with adrenaline and my throat was tight and dry with a frozen stream of obscenities and tears. I broke up with him that night, tossing (with a sad little "clink") his class ring on the concrete driveway which had been spared Wendy's skull.
Greg's best friend Basim called me a few days later to offer his condolences and share in my indignation at having been deceived. At first I thought it was sort of odd that he suddenly cared so much; but he was charming and easygoing, and drove a brand-new ice-blue Firebird. He would come by my bedroom window at night, through which I would escape with him on therapeutic rides with the t-tops off, the forbidden nighttime wind mixing with the warmth of the heater and Basim's exotic cologne.
Soon enough I found myself unsuccessfully fighting off Basim's sexual advances, which occurred in sundry uncomfortable and unpalatable locations around the city. He was this frightening but comforting combination of domineering and amicable, and I was utterly unequipped to see his intentions. I grew very attached to him, to feeling wanted by him and to the luxuries he offered -- the car, a gold necklace, and emotional security. After a few months he dumped me extremely unceremoniously, saying simply (in that amicable, easygoing way), "I'm tired of you."
I was in agony for a week or so, and one night after hours of sobbing in bed, I jumped up and ran the mile to his house in the dark streets of my little hometown, only to find him, and his car, gone. I had been had by two best friends, passed from one to the other as casually as a bag of chips in front of the TV set.
If I had only known then how much more life there would be, and how far it would extend outside the sphere of my life then. We talk of living life in the "now," but that only works if "now" isn't wretched. I wasn't interested in the past and couldn't see the future; that left me with only the "now," which was a place where I felt abused and useless and extremely angry.
During this dark period I remember one particular phone call from my Dad. I escaped my Mom and the room and my life for a moment to talk with him in the coat closet by the front door, stretching the curly phone cord around the corner and into the muffled unlit space.
"Dad," I whispered, choking back tears, "I hate life. Everything seems wrong. I just cry all the time, I don't know what else to do."
"Sweetie," he said softly but with strength of conviction -- a sound I needed to hear so badly -- "This isn't all there is. Life changes all the time."
"Really?", I frowned. "It's just always horrible. I'm always depressed."
"That's how it is now," he continued. "There's a saying, 'the only certain thing in life is change'."
Over the dim horizon in my mind, where I had always seen The Future represented as a soft-edged black circle diminishing like a vortex, there appeared a sort of empty white box. A possible "unknown" of something new and different, unlike that which I knew. I had never even considered the possibility. In a stuffy coat closet in Camarillo, California, half my life ago, my future took on a new look.
They say the more you know, the more you know you don't know. I didn't know shit, and pretty much that's what I got out of life. The best thing about growing up (followed by having my own apartment, and being free of acne) is knowing, finally, that hardly any event warrants the kind of emotional weight assigned by a teenager. No matter what has happened in the past, there is more to come in the future -- and it could be anything at all, you never know. It's all just part of growing up.
I'll let you know when I'm done.