Zat was zen and zis is now

I’ve sinned a lot, I’m mean a lot
But I’m like sweet seventeen a lot
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered – am I

Twenty-three years ago, I was the standing girl in the picture. I loved Monet. I didn’t understand Pollock. I loved Alanis. I didn’t understand Ziggy. I wore Clinique on my face and ckOne everywhere else. I had a mint green baby backpack from The Gap and it was quite possibly my favorite possession. Do you see where this is going?

Alex (the seated girl in the picture) was the French exchange student. I pitied her because the only thing worse than living in a backwoods French town is moving to a backwoods American town on the border of Mexico. No one in our town spoke French. And she was so shocked by the big move that whatever English she knew was lost in the trauma of moving to Nogales. Believe me, you’d be at a loss for words too if you found out you were moving to my hometown as a 16-year old.

Alex, to me, was cosmopolitan. She was a great artist and she had this long, waterfall hair that she could swoop up into a fashionable updo at a moment’s notice. And she has this gorgeous Gallic nose.

I spoke a little French, so we got paired together. And things were great. She made me feel cosmopolitan by association. Everywhere I went she did too. I tried to take her out as much as possible. While she lived on this great cowboy estate with tons of history and a movie theater (Nogales being the fun getaway for early Hollywood stars), she also lived with a misanthropic woman, her pesky daughter, and her malicious mother. And the place was off the industrial international highway. No one, and I mean no one, was going to hang out with this girl if I didn’t. And I was a social pariah at school. The poor girl.

I couldn’t deal with the responsibility though. I had needs junior year and I wanted to meet them. Mostly that meant losing my virginity…to my next door neighbor. That meant pawning Alex off on Dino when I could and resenting Alex and Dino when I couldn’t. Maybe I was a jerk or maybe I just wasn’t ready to be a mother to a French teenager at 16. Probably a column a/column b situation.

Steven and I went to the prom together that year. Michael had made plans to go with Marlene and so I decided to go with someone who was photogenic and tall to get back at him. Again, me using people when it was convenient. I was a bit of a sociopath. Don’t worry, Steven and I are still in love, but my intentions weren’t always honest. And that was before the summer when I learned I was hot and could manipulate not just gay boys but straight ones as well. I was veritably insufferable senior year.

Now that I’m 40, I don’t really question my intentions. Since I have autonomy over my life, there’s very little I want that I can’t get by myself. The most I’ll accept is drinks from friends and a ticket to a rock concert from a date.

But I still feel a bit gross about how ambitious and self-centered I was when I was young. I abandoned a girl who was stuck in a foreign part of the world for selfish reasons. It didn’t help that I was crazy entitled or that I was so very unhappy that I would have dropped my most beloved blood relative for a trivial hedonistic pursuit.

If you poll ten random people from high school and ask them about me, the first response will be, “Who?” The second will be, “She was such a bitch.” I got first runner up for ‘most likely to succeed,’ ‘smartest’ and ‘snobbiest’ senior year. And what bothered me at the time, besides the fact that I didn’t even know there was a poll being taken, was that I didn’t win all three of those categories.

I was a more than half a monster.

At least I realize it, I guess. And I know it came from a need to survive. There are times in my life now, when I discover I have the upper hand, be it a tell or some information I figure out that the other person wouldn’t want me to know, and I get the strongest urge to exploit it. I’m like a human lie detector. And I’m so intuitive that my inductive reasoning skills are on par with Sherlock Holmes. It’s not the same power as being a manipulative hot teen girl. But it’s just as intoxicating. Only now I know better. So I have to do better. I can use those skills to protect myself from those who would do me harm. But I can’t be going out and looking for trouble with them. That would be a misuse of gifts.

Speaking of which, and somewhat unrelated, I have to stop being attracted to playboy foreign types with access to everything. I thought I was going out with a South Asian structural engineer from Jersey and I ended up on a date with a Pakistani pretty boy whose dad pays for his Mercedes. Good thing he was a super nerd under all the brat trappings. It was endearing.

But, of course, I respond to bad boy vibes. I think I was conditioned this way. There’s a power trip involved and I can’t say no. The last two guys I went out with were a very, very very cute British kid who turned out to be all thumbs and way too sweet and an Israeli kid who’s just finished hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. He was so boring I fell asleep while he was talking. I can’t with nice guys who tell me sweet things. It just feels easy and gross. Give me a guy who’ll make me feel awful, on the other hand, and I’ll buy season tickets. I’m the absolute worst.

In other news, I’m digging my haircut. It just took a while to get used to not having bangs. I know, I’m still superficial. Tell the kids from high school. They’ll be happy to know.

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