Continued from previous post…
Even though it was only a few blocks from your father’s house, the next day you both drove his car to the coast. The Missing Persons song on the radio was accurate: Nobody walks in LA. Surely, the beach would provide a better experience than the previous evening. After all, this was sunny California! Girls would be everywhere. You’d have your pick. After trudging across a massive expanse of empty and hot sand, you dropped your towels a short distance from a group of teens playing volleyball. Their hair nearly white from the sun, they seemed like exotic creatures. You dared not approach. You lit up a joint, hoping maybe one of them would notice and invite you over. Didn’t happen. You decided to go for a swim, feeling foolish when you discovered how cold the ocean actually was. Nobody swam. Nobody walked. You didn’t understand California at all.
The whole trip was like that. You felt naïve and alone. Jesse’s up and down moods made it worse. You had hoped the West Coast was where you’d finally fit in, where everything would click. By the week’s end you couldn’t wait to go back to a frozen Chicago, the devil you knew.
You would return to LA many times, first to visit your father, and then for work, shooting commercials. Even then, with a great job and an expense account, a room at the Beverly Hills Hotel, you still felt inadequate and uncomfortable.
Refusing to accept such miserable feelings you chased the life you weren’t having. By then you were drinking and snorting cocaine. Many nights you sat in your opulent room, doing lines and watching pornographic movies on cable. Sometimes you’d go to the hotel bar and get loaded, fantasizing about the bombshells and starlets you would meet there. This too, never happened. Even the expensive hookers left you alone. What the hell were you doing so wrong?
The teen-dream photograph beguiles you today because everything about it belied the truth then. In fact, you had trouble sleeping. You got drunk and high almost every night, and hung out with a crowd your father had correctly labeled as losers. You looked like a winner in that photograph. Yet, under the studly veneer was rotting milquetoast.
Ironically, as a child it had been the other way around: you were a smart inquisitive kid trapped in a soft, unappealing body. Getting both aspects right has been a lifelong struggle. Unable to reconcile the two you began dividing yourself. You were either the smart kid who enjoyed learning or the defiant teenager who got high all the time. The chasm grew wider with each passing month. By senior year in high school, you were two different people, with distinct and offsetting personalities: the double life of an alcoholic.
This was not to say you didn’t enjoy life or were depressed. You did and you weren’t. But you would constantly appease one personality at the expense of the other. Neither side ever developed completely or properly.
Though you eventually would lose the weight that insecure fat kid was always close by, rendering you sensitive and shy. The vulnerability was not lost on your peers, who found myriad ways to exclude you or take advantage. When you finally started getting noticed by girls, nothing ever clicked. You were as scared to be with them as turned on. They could tell, you just knew it. Oh, how you wanted them to think you were cool. But you had no idea what they wanted from you.
You could hold your own in school, got good grades, impressing your teachers. But to your peers it was a different story. Your long hair and concert tee shirts said one thing your report cards another. The smart kids could smell the cigarettes and marijuana on your denim jacket and deemed you a stoner, seldom inviting you to their parties. God forbid you showed interest in your education to the burnouts.
And so it went. Desperately trying to belong to one group or the other, never finding your place in either. You were like one of those hapless characters in Dr. Seuss’s story, The Sneetches. Were you a star belly or a plain belly? You had no idea.
You were not allowed to attend high school graduation because you’d been caught wearing shorts on the last day of school. You weren’t the only senior to have defied this rule but were unique in telling the Principal to fuck off when he busted you. Deeply upset, your mother viewed the ban as further proof of your increasingly reckless behavior. For your father it came as a relief of sorts; he wouldn’t have to drop anything more important in order to attend.