I Used to Be Wild-- But Not Anymore
Do you ever lie awake at night mulling over a moment from your past?
Obsessing over it, night after night, dissecting every part of the memory in hopes of harvesting some kind of meaning?
I do that with this one:
I’m in middle school– I’m maybe 14 or 15 years old– I’m living in Virginia Beach and, at the time, I’m really good friends with these girls Catherine and Lindsey.
One night, all three of us are going to spend the night at Catherine’s house. Catherine’s family lives in a bungalow style home near the beach. It’s small, almost uncomfortably so, but it’s smallness is primarily due to the house being filled nearly wall-to-wall with things. Random things. Old TV’s and boxes of clothes, nail kits and fishing poles. Some would call it junk.
Once we get there, we hang out for a little bit in Catherine’s room. Then, I can’t remember exactly how, but Catherine and her parents get into a fight. It’s a typical fight between parents and teenagers– the kid won’t keep their room clean– but their relationship wasn’t typical. I didn’t understand it at the time, but Catherine’s parents struggled heavily with addiction issues. And when they were using, they could get very violent with her. They used to hit her in front of us frequently. This particular fight didn’t come to blows, but they did kick her (and by extension us) out of the house.
So, we did what any teenager would do in that situation. We grabbed a small, pink, collapsible princess tent and started walking towards the beach to sleep for the night.
Along the way, Catherine’s older boyfriend catches up with us. During the walk over, they decide they want some alone time in the tent– so me and Lindsey have to make ourselves scarce.
Lindsey and I just started wandering around the surrounding neighborhood. It’s the middle of the night– pitch black and quiet. We’re near Chix Beach and surrounded by these gorgeous, Spanish-style homes.
We’re walking down the middle of the street, admiring each of the homes when we notice a fire pit in a backyard. We cross the street to take a closer look through the slats in the fence. We’re talking with each other about how beautiful the fire is when the owner of the house, a middle aged, grey-haired man opens the gate and invites us in.
Lindsey walks straight into his backyard– but I am caught in the threshold. For some reason my body, instinctually, won’t let me move any further. I’m filled with panic while Lindsey chats idly with the man.
You can see who I would assume to be his wife, barely visible in the open sliding glass door. She’s holding raw meat on a tray.
The man asks us if we want to stay for steak. Lindsey says yes- I say no, grab her arm and pull her out of the yard.
As we’re walking down the street she yells at me for ruining her steak dinner.
Eventually we make our way back to the beach. It looks like Catherine and her boyfriend got into a fight- he’s not there anymore.
We all try squeezing into the tiny tent but it’s way too sandy inside– there’s no way we can sleep here tonight.
Lindsey suggests we try to sneak back into the house- Catherine and I agree.
As we walk back to Catherine’s house, Lindsey hums the Mission Impossible theme song as she comedically hops and crawls along the street. We all giggle.
We hop onto some kind of transformer box on the side of the house and wiggle through a small window in the bathroom, one by one.
Once inside, we sleep on the floor in her bedroom, trying our hardest not to make a single sound.
In the morning, her parents act like nothing happened.
As an adult looking back on this experience, I’m horrified. What was I thinking?
And this wasn’t a particularly unique experience. I would regularly– and naively– put myself in dangerous situations like this.
The first time I smoked weed was in the backseat of a stranger’s car– sitting in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant. I was there because Lindsey and I were friendly with the valet parking driver employed there.
He was a skinny, bald guy who had to have been in his mid-twenties. He would regularly invite Lindsey and I over to smoke weed in one of the fancy cars he had just parked (which’ll make you wonder what’s really happening with your car the next time you hand it off to one of those guys!).
He was never strange or inappropriate with us– but I’d say even the fact that a twenty-something year old dude wants to hang out and smoke with two fourteen year old girls is strange and inappropriate.
At the time, I didn’t think of myself as particularly wild– I was a weird kid. A loser and social outcast. I never went to parties and was overall a pretty mild, shy, self-conscious kid.
But in retrospect, I think that those feelings of social isolation pushed me towards more extreme situations– that paired with parents who never really cared where I was going or what I was up to, gave me unlimited access to wildness.
I think back on that girl, on me at fourteen years old and my heart races for her. Why was she getting in cars with strange men and going to their house? Why was she hanging out with a bunch of strangers doing drugs in the woods?
Why was no one watching me?