Dropping Out Of High School, Being Very Rebellious And Very Promiscuous Was My Lemon (Loads Of Lemons). Turning Each Of My Mistakes Into A Personal Mission Was And Is My Lemonade.
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I CAN’T MAKE YOUR MISTAKES FOR YOU.
He said: “I can’t make your mistakes for you.”
I was fifteen, fifteen and a half, maybe, almost sixteen years old, and I was leaving home.
I was all packed and ready.
He drove me to Kennedy Airport where he would put me on a plane that would fly me across the country so I could meet up with my friend – a boy -who would later break my heart in many teeny pieces. Some remaining crushed for years and years. My dad drove me from our home on Long Island, where my mother stood in our doorframe, never once stepping out from behind the screen door, her hair in rollers, her lashes coated with mascara, and a cigarette dangling from her lips.
She stood, and for many, many minutes, a word not spoken.
“Okay. Bye, Ma.”
And then: “Shiva. I’m sitting Shiva. You coulda just stabbed me, woulda been easier.”
I had dropped out of high school. Jewish girls from middle class families didn’t drop out of high school. They had nervous breakdowns, or went on all day shopping sprees at Roosevelt Field, or would cut school and go to the park and make out with various boys, or go to the “one” movie theater and watch a movie over and over and over again, because in those days you could. You could sit in a movie theater, stay all day and you could also smoke cigarettes. But I can tell you with conviction, that very few dropped out of high school
Car trips always consisted of singing show tunes, or playing game shows. On this particular day, driving to the airport, Fiddler on the Roof was the show my dad chose to sing, the complete score, from our home on Long Island to the airport in Jamaica, Queens.
Every single Sunday morning without fail my father would sit in his favorite recliner in our den, surrounded by shelves filled with books, playing his favorite musicals. He was a man who loved art and culture and theater and musicals and gambling and poker and his children and most definitely his wife. And I can tell you right now, as he drove me to that airport on that day, he was tense and scared and worried and held my left hand with his right hand, while he gripped the bottom of the steering wheel with his left hand.
I was at a stage in my fifteen-and-a-half-year life where breathing felt like a chore. I was so miserable and unhappy and I felt so alone in the world. I was running with a bad crowd, and stealing money from my dad’s wallet and mom’s purse, and and buying hash, and marijuana, and cocaine and lying about that. I was acting out all sorts of self-loathing behavior. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that there was a time in my life where being bad and feeling bad just blended together into plain old BIG BAD BAD.
And so I quit high school, and decided to tag along to a commune with my friend who I made out with in the back seat of the car where we kissed so long and so hard our lips cracked and bled. But I wasn’t his girlfriend and he wasn’t my boyfriend.
He said, “I don’t like you in that way. I like you plenty, but you know, not as a girlfriend. I don’t love you, I mean, I’m not, you know, in love with you.”
But no other girl was willing or wanted to go with him to Medford, Oregon, and so, I said yes. Yes, I’ll go. I’ll quit high school, and I’ll stop straightening my hair, and stop shaving my legs and never ever go to Ohrbachs again.
He left me at the gate while my knapsack was making it’s way to the plane by way of the conveyor belt, my peasant skirt dragging on the floor, my hair curly and unruly. He handed me a couple of hundred dollars and said “please, our secret,” and I smiled and kissed him and hugged him so tight I could feel his heart breaking, and he whispered in my ear, I CAN’T MAKE YOUR MISTAKES FOR YOU.
And the mistakes piled up one after another, year, after year after year.
There was the pregnancy. The one where I behaved like a needy, desperate young woman, using that pregnancy as a weapon: to try and get the man to love me, to want me. To want me and the baby.
“Why don’t we abort you and keep the baby?” He finally said.
I sat alone in the abortion clinic where another man, a middle-aged, short, heavy-set bespectacled man said, “I will help you. Come with me.” And a half an hour later I was in a room with about ten other girls who had just had abortions and I can tell you right now with complete conviction that none of us felt good about what had just happened, none of us. And I would go so far as to bet none of us ended up with, or stayed with, the guy we had sex with, the one who got us pregnant. Because none of us in that room, on that day, quite understood or believed at that stage in our lives how vital, and necessary it was to love the whole of ourselves, to honor our whole self. I was young and lonely and had absolutely no self-worth whatsoever. Self-esteem was so out of reach for me, I would have fallen down if I tried to grab hold of it. I was desperately searching and hoping for love.
That mistake: the desperation of wanting to be loved, later in life became a deep mission: the desire to become a woman of unlimited self-esteem.
I wouldn’t trade that mistake for the world now.
Then there was the boyfriend, the horrible, bad boyfriend. The one who I knew from the get go, from the moment I met him, that he was not right for me. He. Was. Not. Right. For. Me. I knew it, and I didn’t pay attention to my own instincts. There was a voice that said, “Nah, don’t, he’s not good for you, this doesn’t feel right, don’t do this.” I did not pay attention to that voice. Nor did I did pay enough attention to his anger and his mood swings and his violent streak and the hole that remained punched in the wall, or the way that he humiliated me in public, or the very first time he threatened me, with his big hard hands wrapped around my throat. His hands wrapped so hard he was choking me, “I could kill you,” he said in a hushed scary voice.
I sat in my car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A few of my personal belongings scattered on the back seat, along with a black and blue mark stretching from my jaw-line to my clavicle, wishing more than anything I had paid attention to that voice, my voice, telling me DON’T, don’t do this. Why didn’t I listen? What didn’t I trust about myself, my own voice, why did I constantly turn down the volume?
That mistake: not paying attention to my own voice, my own life, later led me to a deep-rooted passion: the desire for all women to speak up, to speak their truth, to be heard. Oh, no, I wouldn’t trade that mistake for anything.
And then there are the mistakes that bring us shame, the one’s that make us weep in the dark, the one’s that keep us at arms length. The one’s that we marry. The ones that we try desperately to hide, the ones that have prescription numbers, the one’s that are hidden away in cartons. The one’s that we forgot. The one’s that are thrown up in our face over and over and over again. The ones that come back to haunt us. The ones that feel so unbearable we think we’ll die. The ones that get you down on your knees. The one’s you die with. The ones that make you feel not worthy, or deserving. The ones that keep us invisible.
A different airport.
A different city.
A different time.
My dad and I were sitting together at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Waiting for a plane to arrive from Atlanta, Georgia. There were delays and headwinds, and storms, and then finally – finally – after circling the airport for another hour, the plane landed. Safely. Finally. And then my father exhaled, this big gigantic huge exhale. The kind of exhale that makes you wonder, how did he hold that in for so long? And then a few minutes later, along with other weary passengers, his carry-on baggage in one hand, and his “camera” hat in the other, my husband, my sexy, funny, quirky, oh so very kind and loving husband, got off the plane. And as he walked toward us, I remember thinking: What if, what if, my father had never said to me, I can’t make your mistakes for you?
Because all those mistakes led me here.
FOR MORE ABOUT AMY: www.marryinggeorgeclooney.com