Ryan and I were having sushi in Wicker Park when he admitted that one of our mutual friends frequently referred to me as “The Debutante.”
I giggled but I really wasn’t sure why it was funny. And maybe it wasn’t supposed to be funny? “Huh? Because I’m such a snappy dresser?”
“No. I mean, you do dress well. But it’s because he thinks you are some kind of heiress or something.” He paused. “You come from some kind of fancy background, don’t you?”
I laughed so hard, that rice flew out of my nose and landed in his little dish of soy sauce.
I covered my face with a napkin to prevent the escape of any more stray food. I counted to ten while I regained my composure.
“Um. No. Actually I grew up in the country and my family was/is really poor. We drank a lot of powdered milk. And my mom got married and divorced a lot. We moved frequently, sometimes more than one time in a year. “
He was puzzled. “Why didn’t I know this? Isn’t that the kind of thing I should know?”
I didn’t really have an answer for this. At this point we had been dating for a year. He liked to talk about himself. This worked out well for me because a. I was his biggest fan and b. I really didn’t want anyone to know anything about me. There were too many sad and scary skeletons in my closet. Let one out, and suddenly they’re all coming out holding hands in an endless parade of Amanda’s tragedies and disappointments.
And furthermore, I was intuitive enough to know that Ryan would (and did) use any of these facts against me in an argument. The surefire path to victory in a You vs. Me fight is implying that my judgment or behavior has been adversely affected by something that bad that happened to me in the past. I’m too much of a lawyer to accept a mere insult. Cold hard data is required to make me flinch.
My first boyfriend Brad knew everything about me. He had me when I was too young and inexperienced to realize the value of a secure mental filing cabinet. And we lived together during a particularly wretched part of my life, when I spent hours and hours at therapy and my bedside table was filled with prescription bottles of substances meant to soothe my crazy mind. To his credit, he never used this information against me. He fought honorably. But I swear I could see pity in his eyes. He wanted to save me. I was not interested in salvation.
But Ryan, the father of my future child? He knew little. I never wanted to sully the image he had of me. Sure, my own foolish behavior and epic mistakes proved to him that I was far from perfect. I knew that was enough. There was no need to really lay it out for him. The last thing I wanted was his sympathy.
And so I became my own PR department. I honed my skills with each passing day. I learned to keep my mouth shut, even in the most drunken/drug-addled moments. Only a few people I truly, truly trusted learned anything important about me.
A few years ago, my boyfriend (at the time) tried to buy cocaine for me on my birthday. I was horrified. He was wasted beyond reason, swaying as I tried to set him straight on the sidewalk outside the bar.
“I don’t do coke. You know that, right?”
“My boyfriend died of a drug overdose. Dylan’s father. You know this, right?”
Just a look of confusion.
“I used to have a scary problem with drugs. I OD’d and almost died. I know that you know this.”
“I have a child. People with children can’t do hard drugs!”
Finally, he said something. “I really did not know any of that information.” Said in the the loosest slur.
I grabbed his hand and began the long walk to our apartment. I was too upset for a cab ride.
With each step, I questioned his statement. Obviously he knew about Dylan. I mean, the three of us had hung out countless times. And I was sure he must have asked about her father. I will never obscure the truth if someone is clever enough to ask outright. And drugs.
We had definitely talked about that many times. There had been social situations during which I had declined offers, and I had explained it to him later. We had laughed as we rode our bikes home.
But even so, I was questioning my memory. Maybe I had just thought about these things while he was talking. Maybe I had never said any of aloud. Maybe he really didn’t know anything about me.
Back to the here and now–I’ve been saving lots of stories–some are my own, some belong to my friends, others are anecdotes overheard on buses and airplanes. I am terrible with names, but I will never forget a story. And writing my book, having this blog, churning out short stories….it’s all part of piecing all of these little vignettes and ideas together. Yes, there is a lot of me on display. Things I never told any one.
Thoughts I would never say aloud. Creepy dreams and bad ideas. Imaginary justice and apologies never spoken.
I’m really grateful to everyone who has been reading. Especially those who have been kind enough to write me, even to say something like, “Yo, your blog was really fucked up today! Maybe you should be seeking professional help.”
I promise there will be much more.
P.S. Back to the beginning of the story–A few weeks later I pleasantly cornered the mutual friend in a bar and asked him why he called me “The Debutante.” He admitted that he had always imagined that I was some sort of wholesome debutante who went off to college, had an enlightening drug experience, and suddenly became all counter cultural. I broke up with my law student boyfriend to follow boys in bands. I cut off my hair and ditched my cashmere sweaters. I switched to an art major and pierced my nose. Summers were spent traveling to out of the way countries, sleeping with rich kids from abroad.
This image was far too romantic for correction.