They say no one ever quite forgets their first love. Maybe because long after it ends, our first love holds some type of power over us. A haunting, bittersweet grip on our psyches, pulling us back to what was —what could never be again. But why? Why should this one lodge in our brains be any different than the others? Even when the others were longer, better, more right? Probably because nothing is quite as intense as our first. For me, it was Friday, October 20, 2006. I was 17 years-old about to meet mine. Close to everyone I knew had a boyfriend. Except for me. I always felt like a permanent third wheel. But all of that was about to change. At the time, my high school best friend, Hannah was dating this guy, Lee. Technically, he was a freshman at some local community college. Formally, a high school senior, Lee was always a year ahead. But now that his grade was out, mine was officially in. I couldn't believe it was finally my last year at Cherry Hill East. It's like, I knew we'd eventually get here. But it always felt so far away. I didn't think the time would actually come. It's weird thinking about that now. And rather hard to explain. I'm sure you know what I mean. Anyway, Lee and I were friends. All of us were. My group —about eight gal pals and I used to hang out together on random drunken-fun school nights —basically, all of my junior year. Weekends too, of course. Lee had been trying to set me up with one of his friends. But so far, none were up to par. I wouldn’t call myself picky. It's just, back then, I was still a virgin —something most girls weren't. It was senior year, after all. And a lot of people I knew had lost it years ago. I guess I've always been a late bloomer. Because I had just started getting boobs —something I longed for as long as I can remember. Now, I was not by any means a prude. But as non-traditional as I've always been, I kind of wanted my first time to be with someone special. And it seemed like that someone was also very far away. There was this one guy. But he was only nice to me behind closed doors. I knew my first could not be with him. He was from the other side of town. An innate bad boy. A player for sure. But for some reason, he seemed to like me. Because we had been on and off for the past three years. And since you know I was still a virgin, you also know we clearly never slept together. That made me think he liked me for me. But you'll later learn, it wasn't so black and white. Nothing ever is. And at the time, I hadn't heard from Troy (his name) in a few weeks. And so, Lee promised he'd find me, someone, better. Thus far, he wasn't having much luck. He kept saying I was too pretty for most of the guys he knew. But he wasn't about to give up and I was more determined than ever. So one night, a week before Halloween, Hannah and I are at Lee's parent's house. That's when this guy, Lee's friend Zander comes by. Apparently, this kid had his license taken away (too many DUI's). Lee also said he had to get a new cell phone —basically every other week because he'd get rage drunk and throw it against a wall. So yeah, keep that in mind. Because Lee didn't think I'd want another bad boy. Except at the time, I didn't know what I wanted. I remember saying, "I'll know when I know." And this is how it goes.
This is weird. I never thought I'd be saying this. I never thought I'd have to write this. But here I am. Because being a twenty-something has been a part of me and my identity for so long. I swear it feels like I'm saying goodbye to an old friend I’ll never see again. I can't help but be a little sad. Way too nostalgic. And definitely grateful for all of my experiences. Because I'm a totally different person at 29 than I was at 20. I guess you could say, "That's growing up." Because I'm more me than I've ever been. I like to think of myself as vulnerable, open and real. I think I've accepted most of my imperfections. Because today, I wear that shit with pride. I used to try to hide it —making it seem like I was this happy girl all the fucking time. And let me tell you, it was exhausting. So yeah, because of that and everything I went through, I'm free. But it's still weird. Because it seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago all at the same time. In a way, it's like another me (even though it's not). I bet for most that's probably true. For me, I've spent the last 10 years trying to figure out —not only what I like and what I don't like, but also, who I really am as a person and what life means to me. It was hard. It still is. I had some pretty dark and shitty days —most I’d like to forget. It's just, I can't deny that I learned a lot. Because all that is somehow apart of the puzzle that has created who I am today. And the girl I am isn't who I thought I'd be. But I think that's a good thing. Still, I find it extraordinarily challenging to welcome my 30's —partly because I look like I'm 22. And yeah, that's awesome (don't get me wrong), but it comes at a price of never quite believing I am the age I am. Because I'm usually treated like I'm so much younger. That said, it’s hard to accept that I'm leaving a particular decade —when the majority of people I encounter, think of me as just entering the age I was 10 years ago. Damn. That hurts to say out loud. So as I think back to how things used to be, I can't help but reminisce about twenty-something me. This is what you need to know.
I was never the type to chase a guy. Things with Aiden were going pretty well. So, I didn't really have too. But then, things took a turn. Not yet though. There was still some time in-between. But when it all came to a head, it's like; how did I not see this coming? Because we were getting high nearly every other day. But I was getting away with it, which made it all seem OK. As if me not getting caught justified our addict behavior. It didn't. I see that now. I was in over my head. But I couldn't understand that back then. Even if I did —because I'm pretty sure that's the case, I wouldn't let myself go there. I remember living with this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. My anxiety hit like a permanent hot flash. The truth struck like a chain of explosives. Was today the day? The day my mom would decide to drug test me? That was yet to be determined. Because I wasn't sure how long I could keep everything up. It's just, I knew I couldn't call it quits either. Like I said, in over my head. Because once I started, I quite literally couldn’t stop, which is around the time I lost control. Because that's just it. I had the will to do good but not the power. I mean, how can you stay sober when the guy you're seeing always wants to get high? Because relationships are hard enough. They carry enough shit on their own. But when you add in maintaining your sobriety while trying to maintain a healthy relationship —well, it's nearly impossible for you to do both. So that's where I was at. And this is how it all went down.
It was nearly 3 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep. I’d toss and turn and remanence. Unwillingly. I had gotten pretty good at this whole insomniac thing. For once though, I didn’t want to be good. But I was trying. I was trying a lot of things. I was trying to forget, trying to forgive, and trying my best to move on. It’s just, sometimes, your best isn’t enough. I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. But like I said, I was trying. So yeah. I wish I could tell you after I escaped things went back to normal. I wish I could tell you I woke up every morning with a new found motivation to get things right. And I wish I could say that I wasn’t still reeling the loss of everything in between. Because that would be a lie. I mean, I was free. That was true. I was living with my dad and his roommate’s family in Naples, Florida. I was safe. I was sober. But it was far from over. This is how it goes.
Oh, if I could go back in time. Oh, the things I'd tell my younger self. Only recently have I really come into my own. I used to be this wet blanket. A people-pleaser with no voice. I'd apologize for everything. I'd say sorry for saying sorry. I'd agree —even if I didn't for fear of rejection. Not anymore though. I don't know when it all clicked. But when it did, it did. And now, I want to share some things I've learned over the last decade. About myself. About life. About everything. Because nothing is what it seems. Nothing really goes according to plan. I had this picture in my head of who I thought I was. Who I thought I'd be. Of what life would turn out like. Why do we put such high expectations on ourselves? And why can't we be content with what we have instead of spending the precious moments we do being sad about something we made up in our heads that we thought we needed? Most of the time, the universe has a way of straightening things out far better than we ever could. So, from 20-something to nearly 30, this is what I've learned.
They say it's not what you have, it's who you have. For the record, I agree. Except when you have nothing and you feel like nothing; it's not that simple. Who did I have? Me? Back then? I had my mom. So, I didn't actually have nothing. I guess it was more so feeling like nothing since we just packed the last 16 years of my life up in a bunch of boxes and called it a day. No. The day is not over. But it was. I mean, my mom and I weren't moving by choice. We were moving because we had too. I knew she wasn't going to let us be anything but OK, it's just I didn't feel OK. I was scared, pissed off and dark. So my mom says to look at it like a fresh start, which is exactly what I did or at least, what I was trying to do.
You know that saying, not all who wander are lost? Well, sometimes those wandering really are lost. In this case, me. I was. Not in the actual sense though, more like metaphorically speaking. Except, I literally lived in the woods. The Woods II to be exact, which happened to be the name of my new neighborhood. My mom and I just got some awful news —the only house I ever lived in was now in foreclosure. We were getting kicked out. And so, we found a two-bedroom apartment on the other side of town. It was still a decent place but it wasn’t home. I did my best. Even though most nights, I cried myself to sleep. I'm pretty sure, my mom did too. It's just, we didn't want to let go of country club drive and we definitely weren't ready to move on (literally and figuratively). Except, sometimes, you just don’t have a choice.
I remember when we said goodbye. He was so mad at me. I was a little mad at me too —for letting things get so screwed up. I definitely led him on all summer just like he said. I was an official college graduate; diploma in hand, ready for the next chapter to begin. One path brought me down south —South Florida to be exact. My family relocated there from New Jersey a few years prior and they just so happened to hate my drug-dealing boyfriend (except back then, they didn't even know he sold). I say this because the other led me west with him, Brad. Which story was I going to tell? I didn't know yet. All I knew then was that I had to make a decision. So, here it goes.
Regardless of the politics, it was still hard. In short, I hated being home. It was a shocking reminder of how messed up my family life had become and I didn’t want to deal with that or feel any of these feelings. I mean, what teenager would anyway? I remember wishing I was anywhere, but here —be careful what you wish for. At the time, I was a freshman in high school. I lived in an affluent suburb of South Jersey and up until this point, everything was fairly "normal" —except, a few somethings were about to go really wrong. It would later be revealed that my once perfect existence was really all smoke and mirrors. But let's start at the beginning.