The worst moment of my life was in high school.
Many people say that, but few of them mean it. We have been conditioned to exaggerate just how awful our time in high school was because being miserable in one’s teens is a reliable talking point – its countless appearances in popular culture gives it the illusion of being a shared experience. But I still like to count myself in the minority – the group of people whose low point was actually between the ages if 14 and 18. It’s arguable that reaching one’s bottom that early in life is a good thing, but I don’t feel like arguing. 18 was a horrible year.
I’m not sure where my father was on the evening of my senior prom, but I know he wasn’t in the house. It was just me and my mom. She sat across from me on the couch and we didn’t say a word to each other. Just a single floor lamps was on, and the harsh shadows gave all the furniture an incensed look. Their wooden fury surrounded me as we waited for the doorbell to ring.
“You know I don’t approve of this,” she said, breaking the silence.
“I know.” I stood up and went upstairs so she wouldn’t see me cry.
Had I stayed down in that dungeon — had I just held in my emotions for a little longer, my life would be completely different now. I wouldn’t be me. I would be someone else. Not necessarily better, but not necessarily me. This did not occur to me as I wept in front of my mirror, as I tried to fight the involuntary gasps that generally accompany such a violent cry. After washing my face and patting it dry, I walked back downstairs to my mother, still seated at the same place. Her legs crossed, palms on her knee.
“I don’t think he’s coming,” she said.
She stood, looked at me, and opened her mouth just enough for me to see that there were words trying to break free. I hoped for some of them to come out, but she locked them back inside and went into her bedroom. John never came, and I learned how it felt to be stood up.
It wasn’t until much later in my life that I found out I wasn’t.
While I sobbed in the bathroom, there was a knock at the door. Why he didn’t use the doorbell, I’ll never know, but he didn’t. He knocked. My mother heard and answered. While I sobbed in the bathroom, my mother sent John home. While I sobbed in the bathroom, she returned to the couch and crossed her legs and placed her palms on her knee. While I sobbed in the bathroom, my mother made my decisions for me.
Which is why, the next week at school, I flung myself at the first boy who paid me any attention. Had John and I gone to prom together, I never would have accepted Stanley’s advances. But I had a hole in my heart, and he had a Studebaker. Unfortunately, neither of us had a condom.
Five months later we were married. Four months after that, well, you know. My mother has since apologized for what she did – she blamed the way he was dressed.”I sent him away that night because he was dressed like a hood, and then he mouthed off to me. I told him to leave and not tot come back until he was wearing a tie,” she confessed when I was in my 50s.
We’re roommates now, my mother and I, and we share a home with two other women about my age. It’s a fine arrangement, but I can’t help but wonder how my life would have changed had she been honest with me that night in Brooklyn. Would I be here? A divorced substitute teacher living in Miami with her mother and two other women?
I don’t think so. I think I would be happier. I wish I were happier.