When I leave eighth grade, the world is magic. I think I am a big kid because I am going to high school in a couple of months. I hang out with my friends in parks, at Fourth of July parades, in swimming pools. My best guy friend Erik, who I’ve known since I was five and have now spent numerous summer days hanging out with, won’t talk to me the first day of school, and we never speak again. I consider writing him a thrashing letter and giving it to him in front of everyone in the lunch room and storming out dramatically, but it would just elicit criticism from his other friends, the cool kids that I guess had decided I wasn’t cool enough. I despise him, and even though I swear I will be less trusting, I never learn my lesson. Live Jesus in our hearts… forever.
All of my best friends are more experienced than me. They have kissed more boys, more girls. Lauren talks regularly about getting wasted. Lyle carries condoms in his backpack, like he’s going to need them at Catholic school. All of the boys smoke weed. Kate has a friend who is a drug dealer. Kate also has a friend who bites my neck in the middle of a movie one night and leaves a mark. I had never met him before. I have a guilty conscience that eats me alive the moment I even consider doing something that might be frowned upon, so I refrain from most of these things. I don’t kiss a boy until I’m sixteen. I won’t get drunk until I am eighteen and in college. I will be twenty before I ever have sex. I will turn out no worse for it. Being able to talk to to people in high school a few years ago about these things, people that wouldn’t recognize me on the street today, never seems like it would have been worth sacrificing myself. Let us remember… that we are in the Holy presence of God.
In high school, I pride myself on not being a know-it-all teenager. When I read the things I wrote about the decisions I made, the things I did, all I think is: “What a crock of bullshit.” I was the master of self-deceit. Pray for us.
My friend Callista, who I have known since kindergarten, brings a guy named Thomas to our winter formal freshman year. A bunch of us get a limo. It is silly and rowdy. We go to the dance, and I have a fairly miserable time, as I recall it. My date, another friend from grade school, ditches me the whole night. My other friends have found better dates, I guess, because I don’t really have anyone to hang out with. I make friends with Thomas, though. I remember being a bit intimidated by him; he was handsome in a strange way, I thought, but entirely over the top. Loud, occasionally a bit brash — but nice. Very nice, sweet, funny. I take to him immediately. We become friends, too. We text and talk on the phone sometimes. He invites me to go ice skating with his friends, and we drink a lot of strawberry lemonade at Island’s and I kind of freak out when he tries to hold my hand on the ice. I take a picture of us on his cell phone that I don’t remember taking, but that he says made his whole night. Even though I secretly like him, I am too sensible for being fifteen. I know there is something about him that is too much for me, even though I like having him as my friend. I have dreams that leave me confused, dreams about him and me. I never tell him, though. I never tell anyone. He stops pursuit easily enough, but the knowledge that it happened never leaves any of us. We are good friends, for a while. Eventually we lose touch. My friends tease me on occasion, even when I am 21 about how much he liked me. But I never tell anyone that at one time, I talked myself out of having a huge crush on him. It will be years before I understand why I felt I had to do that. And the glory forever.
Sometime after my best guy friend (Aaron) and best girl friend (Kate) break up with each other, I am at a party with a ton of friends. Aaron is there, she is not. We have all been swimming for hours, being total idiots, making soapy slip-n-sides and devouring pizza. As I recall it, I have just weaseled my way into conversation with my crush when Aaron gets a phone call. Minutes later, he is motioning frantically for me to follow him outside. Kate took an ecstasy pill because it had Eeyore on it. It was obviously cut with something more ominous, because she is hyperventilating so bad that I can’t even understand what she is trying to say that she’s seeing. I go home that night and make tea with my mom and sit at the dining room table and worry about her. Even Monday when we get to school, she still looks like absolute Hell. Her eyes are bloodshot, there are dark bags there — she hasn’t slept in days. A couple of friends and I talk to her the next week, to make sure she is okay. Within a few months, it’s like we never knew each other. As we forgive those who trespass against us.
I spent almost a year pining after my first crush before anything comes of it. He is hilariously funny, incredibly smart, and beautiful; his body gives away that he spends hours in the pool every day. He’s the kind of boyfriend that it takes a month before he has the guts to kiss me. I remember few things about that night: I remember how bright the moon was, like there was a spotlight on that street up in the hills. I remember actually going to leave before he decided to suck it up. And then I remember how soft his lips were, incredibly, impossibly soft. It was a chaste kiss, and I gushed about it the whole way home to my best friend Daniele on the phone. A year later, he will have still worked up little nerve. I am disappointed when he finally decides to put his tongue in my mouth a couple of months in; the kiss is slobbery and sloppy. Sometimes he can’t find his voice on car rides when we’re alone. My horse scares the shit out of him. He still can barely look me in the eye when he talks to me sometimes, although he does eventually tell me that he loves me. I know as I stand in his arms on the side street by his house, even as it comes out of my mouth, I know that I do not love him back. Six months or so later, about two years since I’ve been pining after the kid, I break up with him, and he cries. I miss him for about two days before I get over it. Give us this day our daily bread.
VII. I attend a lot of funerals. My friend Will’s mom dies. Travis’s dad has a stroke and becomes a vegetable. There are a few others. Aaron’s dad commits suicide brutally by jumping onto the freeway from an overpass. I stand dutifully at mass for Will’s mom, I offer Travis any help he needs, but with Aaron, I have no idea where to begin. I don’t see him for a couple of weeks, nobody really does, and when we go back our senior year for freshman orientation, I run at him and he picks me up he hugs me so hard. He’s smiling, but I have never seen someone’s eyes say something so different than their mouth is. Our father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.
VIII. Around the time I break up with my first boyfriend, Aaron breaks up with the girl he’s been dating for the last year. She was beautiful and nice and skinny and he liked to boast about their sex life. Even though there’s never been anything romantic between Aaron and I, it starts to become the general opinion of our very small school that we are the next “it” couple. People are positive before he even asks me out that we will get married. We get elected to Homecoming court, which just leads us to spend more time together for a few weeks. He asks me out with a really cute photo board. We date for a few weeks and he asks me to be his girlfriend at winter formal that year. I don’t recall a single meal we had together that didn’t make me feel violently ill. We go to a student television conference for a few days at Disneyland and ditch a workshop to make out in the back of his truck. He drives me to the manmade lake by his house and tells me that he loves me. It’s not the first time a boy has said it to me, and it’s not the first time that I know I don’t love him back the way he wants. By February, a day or two before my birthday (and three or four before Valentine’s day), we break up. I sob on the phone for hours as it happens, because I can’t flip the switch from best friends to more. He begs me not to, but the damage is done. I can’t live up to his beautiful nice skinny sexy ex-girlfriend, or at least I don’t think I can, so I don’t even try. Maybe I’m not ready to be tied down, maybe it’s me, maybe it’s him; I just know it’s not right. We say we will stay friends, but we drift apart. By summer, I rarely see him. He goes to school in another state, and when he comes home to visit that first fall, he’s been strung out on so many drugs he can barely put sentences together. I mourn more my first two months of college over him than I ever let myself before. It’s the most heartbroken I’ve been since that first day of freshman year of high school. But deliver us from evil.
IX. I am not the most popular girl in school. I don’t associate much with the ‘popular’ kids, past sitting in class with them and occasionally doing classwork with them because there aren’t a lot of us and it’s required. Everyone knows everyone, even if not everyone knows shit about anyone. But I am homecoming queen. The whole school votes and I make the cut. I think of the artistic boys I befriended in my television class, I think of the juniors that I am in charge of as Yearbook editor who leave everything for me to do, I think of all the people whose names I don’t know but who apparently know me. This is the strangest proof that you don’t have to be anything special to be adored; if you are yourself, if you are unapologetically you, people will recognize it, even if it’s not concious. People will love you, and when you go to In-N-Out in your formal dress after the homecoming game with your best friends, you will feel loved. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
X. Aaron has been planning, unbeknownst to me, to ask me out. Apparently his best friend Nick knows this, because Nick tapes a mixed CD and a note to the door handle of my truck the afternoon before Aaron’s plan is supposed to unfold. I find it and I am immediately irate because, even if I don’t know Aaron is about to ask me out the next day, I do know something is about to happen. My best friend fills in some blank spaces for me and it becomes immediately apparent that this was a slimy trick to get me before his best friend could. I am furious at him, but I am even more furious on Aaron's behalf, that his best friend since kindergarten would be so kniving and try to steal a girl from him. Even though Nick had been another one of my really good friends, I totally cut him off. I don’t talk to him for a year. We reconcile sometime my freshman year of college, but I refuse to be anything past civil until years later. We reconnect at another friend’s party, and I convince myself for approximately three weeks that he has changed. When he gets really drunk at a concert with me and my friend, though, he disappears, apparently hooks up with another girl, calls my friend a bitch in front of me, and then still thinks he stands a chance. I find out that he’s been fucking another girl the whole time he’s been trying to convince me how serious he is. I never kiss him, and I end up glad that I didn’t, because that means that I am still the girl he never got, and he deserves to have that over his head. He leaves for the navy and I don’t say goodbye. Forgive us our tresspasses.
XI. I go to parties with my friends and love my life. I have wonderful people around me, and I know it. I have boys I’ve known since I was five who think of me as a sister and I feel lucky for it. Everyone drinks and smokes a lot. I quietly refrain and play mom night after night, especially as we get older. I am never put off by it; it’s just my job, it’s my role, and that’s okay with me. I drive friends home or make sure they have blankets when they pass out on a couch. This is probably why a few short years later, I will be immediately and thoroughly annoyed by anyone who is a shit show when I am completely sober. And lead us not into temptation.
XII. After prom my senior year, we after-party at my friend Travis’s house. There’s alcohol and weed and a huge tent for us all to sleep in. Most people get shitfaced, high, or both. I barely sleep all night because Aaron is somewhere beside me in the tent, still in his tux, and he is shaking so hard from all the booze he drank that I just worry incessantly. In the morning, we go to get bagels together; some of the boys are still dressed in tuxes, the girls’ hair is still flawless, like we did it that morning, eyes makeup smudged, college sweatshirts over pajama pants. I am still using my pearled clutch. We are on top of the world, and I will never forget that freedom. Amen.
XIII. At Catholic school, we pray at least three times a day, more if there is a special event or mass sometime during the day. “Let us remember.. that we are in the Holy presence of God.” The teacher leads us through prayer, and girls in rolled up plaid skirts and boys with their shirts untucked offer intentions for family, friends, classmates. “Saint John Baptist de La Salle .. pray for us. Live Jesus in our hearts.. Forever.” I never see God in mass, though. I don’t witness his workings in the hallways all that often, I don’t have moments of divine epiphany in the plastic desk seats. The time I see God at school happens when I go to Tiajuana, Mexico for a week long immersion and service trip. I speak terrible Spanish. We all sleep on the tile floor of a house with one toilet and no hot water. We see poverty, devastation, and I am sore for days and days after we pave a small piece of ground for a school playground. I take pictures with my camera of the kids we read to. I take pictures of the border wall between the USA and Mexico, the way the posts dissolve into the sea until there is nothing separating anything, the crosses that mark all the lives lost of people trying to find themselves a better life somewhere on the other side of the fence. I see a picture of myself, larger than life on the wall of the cafeteria during an assembly, a little girl from the village smiling happily on my back, “The Adventure” by Angels and Airwaves playing in the background. In that moment, in that little girl’s eyes; that’s where I see God. For thine is the kingdom, and the power.