what else do you want to know? should i tell you about my uncle, who lived with us in our downstairs guest room, and slept well into the day with the doors shut in a king sized white bed? how he purportedly was having an affair with a married woman, and eventually ended up in the hospital because she may or may not have poisoned him to prevent him from leaving her? do you want to hear about the excitement with which me and my siblings each took a turn sleeping in that giant bed after he moved out, which helped distract from the pain of his absence from our household, and how the day after my turn had come and gone my mom pulled the bed away from the wall and discovered a nest of tarantellas living under there?
would you be interested to hear how i had a lazy eye and had to wear an eye patch to correct it, and how i convinced myself that my bad eye with the weak muscles actually gave me the power to see through walls? and how happy i was to be proscribed glasses by the eye doctor after a routine check up because my older sisters both wore glasses and i wanted to be cool just like them.
we learned the alphabet using felt animal puppets, each with a letter on their chest. we learned to read from "bob books" and our favorite game to play, myself, my older sisters, my younger brother and younger sister when they were born, was barbies. only our dolls weren't sweet, didn't focus on keeping house or composing elaborate outfits. our barbies were violent, jealous, possessive, and even adulterous, though none of us knew that word at the time. we held balls that were competitions between princesses for the validation of the one prince, and even though he always unfailingly selected my eldest sister as his bride, or chose somebody else only to desert that unfortunate one for his usual favorite shortly thereafter, i still always felt the same anxiety beforehand, of wanting to measure up to my sisters. maybe this time, today, would be my turn.
we also played "orphan train" and "little house on the prairie" and "survivor" and pretended to be mermaids or sharks or lava monsters and tried our hands at writing stories together. there was the time the golden child threw my barbie down a flight of stairs so that her head popped off, or the april fool's day when she lumbered monstrously slowly up the stairs, threatening as she went that once she reached our shared room she was going to skin all my precious stuffed animals like cruella deville and make a coat out of them.
but no: i know what you're really waiting to hear about. i've already alluded to the shape of the beast, so i might as well fill in the rest of its detail.
there were a few of us, seniors in high school, who had never drunk before. it was at the spring carnival, down a few flights of stairs, past the football field, on a huge grassy expanse, that we formulated our plan. i have to admit that i was all for it and very vocal about my enthusiasm. someone said, "what the hell, you only get one senior prom right?" and i had to agree. this was our golden opportunity. we told our parents we were sleeping over at the house of one girl whose mother didn't mind her drinking alcohol, and in our defense we did actually end up sleeping there. but we made a pit stop between prom and bed. at the home of a boy from our high school graduating class.
i'd never been to a real party before, but i could sense straight away that this one was probably what you'd call lame. however, i was extremely determined to make it a night to remember. i started with a smirnoff ice. then i played bear pong. then i watched bear pong and drank a few bears all on my own. then i was running up and down the stairs like a hamster on a hamster wheel, chugging vodka out of a deep sapphire bottle. i threw up violently before leaving the party, but did so in the toilet and at least told myself that i'd been discrete enough that nobody noticed i drank myself sick. i wanted everyone to think i could handle my liquor.
i was wary of getting a hangover, and how i was going to play it off so that my family didn't recognize my symptoms for the tell tale signs they were, but strangely i woke up the next morning feeling great. my skin felt soft and clean and healthy. i was slightly dehydrated, but other than that fantastic, and i started my day off with a work out just as if nothing that happened the night before.
that's what i should have done, allowed that night to fade away into the background like a pleasant dream. but i couldn't, maybe because i was inwardly crawling with guilt, or maybe because i knew subconsciously that this had been a defining moment of my life, that things couldn't stay the same from here on out. i'd grown up believing, albeit uneasily, that my family was the proverbial "city on a hilltop," a last stronghold of morality in an utterly depraved world. there was "us," my immediate family, and there was "them," all the rest of the world including extended relatives, and if "we" weren't careful and got too close to "them" then "they" would corrupt "us," drag "us" down with "them" on their way to the devil. this was all easier to swallow before i underwent the changes that came with turning eighteen. not that i ever accepted this doctrine unquestioningly. even when i was very young, listening to sermons from various Catholic priests or from my mother about separating the sheep from the goats or the wolves or whatever metaphor was currently in vogue, deep inside me i was plagued by the worry that i might not be a sheep. that at some point the shepherd would figure out he had a wolf amidst his flock, and he and they would turn and tear me apart. it's not a simple connection to explain, but the gist of it is that the party on prom night was for me yet another reason to suspect that "us" and "them" were completely arbitrary divisions drawn between groups of people who were actually all the same, and that some of the things that supposedly made "us" better than "them," like not drinking alcohol, might also be arbitrary, and what's more might not be things i wanted for myself. when had anyone ever asked me how i wanted the family values to read? i'd been signed up to follow them without my consent simply by virtue of being born my mother's child.
all of this tumbled about in my head, and like pebbles in a drier it did not do so silently. i talked about the party and getting drunk, trying to understand my confusion and asking for opinions on morality, incessantly. given that i attended the same conservative Catholic high school as several of my younger siblings, doing so was extremely stupid.
i remember sitting by the back gate of the high school, waiting for my mom to pull up. she was late, as usual, and the crowd around me had begun to thin out. i sat with my body contorted around my ankles, from the pock marked, irritated red skin of which i was seizing in my splintering fingernails and yanking out tiny black hairs. my mind was completely blank, an iron gate locked tight against the awareness that what i was doing, publicly, was disgusting and shameful, and was undoubtedly creating for me an unpleasant reputation. when the voice broke in, i snapped my head up and instantly hid my hands, as though doing so could wipe away my actions of a moment before.
"how was prom?" the voice was young, feminine, and cheery. it belonged to the smooth, heart shaped, somewhat flat nosed face of my carpool.
actually, my siblings and i carpooled with two sisters who were irish twins even though they were mexican. they were the daughters of my family's long time maid, who'd become incorporated by the mom into her very limited pool of trusted friends. as was the standard with my mom's friends, this woman owed my mom more than she could ever repay, in that she, despite her extremely modest income from cleaning houses, lived in a one point four million dollar home owned by my mom and sent her two daughters to a private school with a yearly tuition (paid by my mom) of eleven thousand dollars a head. the girls spent a great deal of time at our house, with or without their own mother to supervise, and in the name of tutoring them my mom did a significant portion of their homework, including writing their research papers and college application essays. these girls had bronze skin that looked like it was perpetually tanned, something my mother, who spent much of her youth in tanning beds and as a result at forty something years old had a hide like leather, appreciated. they also had glossy black hair and long eye lashes and high cheek bones and, most important of all, they were beautifully shaped. listening my mom praise their politeness and wonderful personalities and how pretty and skinny they were, i couldn't help but burn with the knowledge of their escapades such as hiding boyfriends in their closets and keeping secret cell phone when they weren't allowed to and hanging out with friends instead of studying for tests. i never gave my mom the details regarding which these girls had sworn me into secrecy when they took me into their confidence, but i did a few times let it slip in bitter tones that there was more to them than my mother knew.
their mother treated me with blatant contempt, so naturally i didn't tattle on them to her either. my siblings and i had never had a code of honor. we all told on each other for real or imaginary offenses in an endless battle to vie for advantage with my mom, sold each other out and threw each other under the bus so often and so habitually that i was keenly aware that i could never confess a secret to a brother or sister without expecting them to run straight to mom. but these girls did not live within the confines of our family values. i had kept their secrets, so when the younger of them questioned me, "did you go to a party after? did you get drunk?" i gave her the whole story with great enthusiasm. i was even foolish enough to hope, pitifully, that my carpools wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen in my company at school anymore, because i had shown them that i was a normal and a kid, too.
approximately one week later, when enough time had passed that i felt secure that i'd gotten away with my misadventure, i learned, spectacularly, just how wrong i had been.