Tag: memoir

Best Actress

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Marijuana. Mary Jane. Reefer. No matter what you choose to call it, I have never been able to smoke pot. What for some people seems to be a relaxed good time has always been for me a paranoid journey to the center of my mind, where I sit shivering in a cerebral corner, wondering if I’ll ever be able to think normally again.

In college, I reluctantly got stoned with the happy party people around me. Most of these attempts ended with me feeling lost, floating in the universe, indefinitely wondering whether or not I had to pee. Time crawled by thick as resin as I tried to decide if I looked as crazy on the outside as I felt on the inside. If I was lucky, I found a bed to pass out in, mercifully ending my hyper-analytical mental anguish.

It seems like a wonderful ride for most, so for years I tried to stay on the bucking bronco of marijuana before permanently passing the reins to the other space cowboys. Abstaining from pot, combined with my love of exercising and rising early, eventually conspired to make me the least rock and roll chick to ever play guitar in a band. I am decidedly not cool; I’ve made my peace with this fact.

Throughout high school, however, I was still trying to smoke the stuff. My older sister and I would sometimes hide behind one of the many outbuildings on our farm to do it. We’d sit in the grass, leaning against the hay barn; two teenage girls smiling into the summery blue Missouri sky, giggling about nothing and everything. When my parents took the family to Disneyland, she and I got stoned in the It’s a Small World ride. It was there I learned that hundreds of creepy animatronic children singing a repetitive song about the world closing in on me do nothing to ease my pot smoking paranoia. Noted.

On family vacation in Las Vegas that summer, my sister and I quickly tired of the little kid games inside of Circus Circus where we were staying. There were only so many stuffed animals a teenager wanted to win. Bored and seeking fresh entertainment, we left the pink ponies and casino to walk the streets of Sin City. Ducking into an alley, we decided to make our stroll more interesting by smoking a joint she had brought along. Standing next to a ten-foot-high concrete block fence for privacy, by the dirt road that ran between buildings on either side of us, we proceeded to smoke marijuana.

We’d taken a few tokes and I was just starting to feel blurry when a car turned quickly into the alley, about fifty feet away. I brought the joint down from my mouth and held it at my side. I was hoping that the person turning into the alley would think I was only smoking a cigarette, stupidly forgetting that as a non-smoker I looked awkward smoking anything I tried. As the dark blue car drove by and I clumsily passed the joint, we realized in our dulled awareness that it was an unmarked police vehicle. So of course we did the worst thing possible. We panicked.

“That was a cop!” she squeaked as he drove past.

Get rid of it. Get rid of it. Get rid of it,” I whisper-screamed at her.

She frantically tried to toss the joint over the wall next to us. It backed up to a neighborhood, so there was no convenient way around to retrieve the contraband. If we could just get it over the wall, it would be out of sight and virtually unreachable.

My sister has always been petite, and she was unable to throw it over the high fence. The joint bounced off of the wall, rolling futilely back toward us on the dusty ground. We jumped away in fear, as if it was a spider. I grabbed it out of the sand where it sat mocking me like a turd in a litter box and tried to clear the concrete wall again. I’m taller at 5’9″ with greater reach, and it went over this time.

This all happened in the span of a few seconds, so before we could feel relief to have ditched the incriminating evidence, we saw brake lights. No doubt tipped off by our frantic chicken-like scrabbling and obviously guilty behavior, the officer turned around and drove back in our direction while we watched in mute terror. There was nowhere to run, as we were trapped in an alley and didn’t know the area. We both turned our nothing-to-see-here knobs up to eleven, and then he was getting out of the car. Meanwhile, the pot we’d smoked was the kind that creeps up on you, and I was feeling exponentially freaked out by the second. I quickly realized an intimidating police officer was even more paranoia-inducing than soulless puppet children singing at me en masse. My world of hope was quickly becoming a world of fear.

“Did I just see you two girls smoking a joint?” the officer demanded.

It was do or die time. Time to sell it like I’d never sold it before. If we got busted by this cop for pot, there would be no end to the trouble we’d get in. We’d be grounded until I started college for this one, and rightly so. We’d fucked up, big time. I summoned every bit of acting ability I had in my dumb fifteen-year-old body, and tried to push the part of me growing fuzzy from the drugs to the back, working hard for a moment of ass-saving clarity. I put on my best shocked and appalled face at the mention of pot, because pot was awful, and oh my gosh, how could anyone think I’d been smoking pot?

“No officer! I would never smoke pot. But I was trying to smoke a cigarette,” I replied, shame dripping from my voice, eyes cast downward in good girl humiliation. “It was the first time I’ve ever tried it and I didn’t even like it. It was so gross!”

“It looked like a joint to me, whatever you threw over that wall, young lady. If I drive both of you around to the other side, are we gonna find marijuana? Do you think your parents are gonna enjoy having to come pick you up from jail today?”

Shit. If I didn’t pull this off, we were going to end up in a cell, the weak teenage bitches of hardened Las Vegas prostitutes. I silently hoped my prison mistress would at least have a heart of gold. In full self-preservation mode, I quickly realized that my best psychological tactic would be to act so distraught about being caught smoking a cigarette that the pot thing would be downplayed. If I seemed truly disgusted about the cigarette, he might believe me innocent of the worse crime.

“Oh no, please, don’t tell my parents I was smoking a cigarette! They’ll be so mad at me because they hate smoking! This was the first time I’ve ever tried it and I thought it was so nasty. I’m never gonna smoke a cigarette again, I swear it,” I pleaded.

He asked again that if he went to the dreaded other side of the wall, would there be marijuana waiting? I repeated the Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Tried a Cigarette monologue, as if he hadn’t mentioned pot at all. I was working it. Totally owning it. I had the big, tear-filled eyes and the quivering lip; I epitomized the scared young girl gone astray. I was a living, breathing After School Special, begging for a second chance. Before I knew it, even I believed my lies. I was the innocent babe trying those yucky gosh darned cigarettes for the first time. And please don’t tell my parents I was smoking a cigarette, yes cigarette, can I say cigarette one more time? Because it was a cigarette and totally not marijuana, you know. Cough-cigarette-cough.

It finally worked. I couldn’t believe it, but it worked. The officer admonished us one last time with some sort of you kids stay out of trouble speech, got in his car, and drove away. Chastened and shaking like rabbits unexpectedly released from a snare trap, we headed back to the hotel, officially ending our stint as teenage streetwalkers. We walked dazed and confused into the pink nightmare of Circus Circus. Sad clowns and desperate elderly gamblers were definitely preferable to horrified flop sweat and handcuffs.

I never really gave myself much credit for my actions that day, always assuming the cop took pity on me, or had bigger fish to fry. But recently my mom mentioned to me that my sister had told her about the incident. I’m old enough now that my mom has heard most of my naughty stories, and I can only be grounded by myself, so this didn’t bother me. What shocked me was that my sister said my performance for the officer was amazing. She was blown away by my acting ability, and gave me full props for getting us out of what might have been the only arrest of our lives.

She also told my mother, “After I saw Tawni lie so convincingly that day, I knew I could never trust her again!”

Oops.

 

 

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Miss Congeniality

Shortly after being deflowered by the senior on whom I’d had a crush my entire 9th grade year in a small Missouri high school, I moved to Arizona to live with my biological father for the first time since I was 7, when he and my mother divorced.

My boyfriend was going to college in Colorado, and I wasn’t getting along with my mother and stepfather, so it seemed like a fresh start might be a good thing.

The boyfriend called me on the phone and we wrote letters back and forth while I lived in Arizona, finally culminating in an invitation to spend a week with him and his family, skiing Copper Mountain. I’d never gone skiing before and had to buy the ski suit and a winter coat for the trip.

After letting me pay for my own plane ticket to Colorado, he tried to seduce me in a resort hot tub, and then later had me sit in his car so he could play a song that “explained what he was feeling.” He played The Who song with the refrain, “No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man… behind blue eyes.”

I sat in his black Honda CRX in confused silence, waiting to understand what the song meant, while he meaningfully sighed with his head in his hands. I didn’t understand that he was breaking up with me, and made him explain it. I didn’t know why he had been trying to fuck me in the hot tub if he was in love with another girl.

He finally had to spell it out, that he was the bad man, the sad man, behind his blue eyes. It was quite possibly the dorkiest way a girl has ever been dumped in the history of all dumpery, and I’ve hated that whiny song ever since. (Oh, poor you. Nobody knows what it’s like, how hard it is to be you, dumping me from behind your stupid Blue Eyes. I’m so sorry you’re sad.)

Luckily, his little sister was there, and only a grade below me in school. We immediately bonded, and she showed me pictures of the short, stocky girl with a huge gap between her front teeth for whom he was leaving me. He’d brought her picture along, and she ferreted it from his suitcase while he was out skiing. We made fun of her cheesy bikini pic.

Neither of us could make any sense of it, but I will forever love his sister for turning what should have been a nightmarish trip into an almost fun one. I was absolutely heartbroken, but she and I hung out and drank hot chocolate and boy-watched the rest of the trip. We forged a friendship far more valuable than the relationship I’d had with her brother.

I returned home to Arizona by plane, and proceeded to become clinically depressed. My usual A and B grades dropped, as I started sneaking alcohol and skipping school.

***

At some point that year, I flew home to visit my mother and stepfather in Missouri. I was allowed to go to a Shooting Star concert in Kansas City with my older sister and her boyfriend. My friend, the sister of the boy who’d dumped me at Copper Mountain was there with her boyfriend. He’d brought a friend along. A cute friend. A friend, they all told me, who had broken up with his girlfriend.

I’d known his girlfriend when I was moved to the small town in 6th grade. She did the thing where she turned bitchy and shitty to other girls (or at least to me) in the 7th and 8th grade. She was a somewhat popular, perky drill team-type, but I only remembered her as the girl who was nasty to me years before. I didn’t owe her anything.

Her ex-boyfriend was all over me, and we slept together. He was the second boy I ever slept with, and I flew back to Arizona to finish up the year.

My father later expressed his displeasure with my teenage rebellion via his fists, violently, repeatedly punching my face. A teacher reported my appearance, and Child Protective Services showed up at our house. It was determined I would move back to Missouri for my 11th grade year.

I didn’t want to go back, despite the beating that cost me my optic nerves and part of a front tooth, so my parents pretended I was coming back for a summer visit and had my biological father mail my belongings in boxes to Missouri.

I felt violated once again, knowing my father had been through my personal things to pack them, and violated by my mother and stepfather because they’d lied to me. I felt alone and completely unwanted by all of the adults in my life. “Here, you take her. We’re sick of her,” they all seemed to be saying.

***

The tiny not-quite-population-3000 town in which my Missouri high school was located had a Fall Fiesta every year, during which a Fall Fiesta Queen would be crowned.

These types of “who’s the prettiest?” contests repulse me, and I didn’t want to take part. The classes at school, however, voted to pick one girl to represent them. Guess who the 11th grade picked that year? Yep. Little old me. I was flattered, mortified, and confused, wondering if they’d picked me as some sort of elaborate prank. I’m not a tiny blonde beauty queen stereotype: I’m a tall red-haired awkward chick from way back.

I still don’t know why they picked me. I wasn’t popular. I was the class weirdo. It was probably funny to them to make me represent them in the stupid contest.

Not willing to spend money on a dress, my mom had me wear my confirmation gown- a white, high-necked, lace-infested creation that made me look like I’d just slid sidesaddle off the back of a horse in the 1800s. It was hideous and utterly wrong for a beauty pageant.

The girl whose boyfriend had broken up with her was in the contest. She was a brown-eyed, brown-haired, chipmunk-cheeked cheerleader in the right kind of shiny, slinky dress, and had found a business to sponsor her.

They’d gotten back together and she’d heard about our tryst. I’d avoided her at school, but now we were confined in close quarters, marching around like show ponies for the judges. She asked me to step outside and talk to her.

I know you slept with my boyfriend last year!” she said accusingly.

He told me you were broken up,” I replied.

No he didn’t!”

Yes, he did! And so did all of the friends we were hanging out with that night!”

Well we were together!”

Why would I know that? I didn’t even LIVE HERE. Why aren’t you mad at HIM? He’s the one who lied to everyone, apparently!”

She huffed back into the community center where we were being judged for our looks.

Of course she won Fall Fiesta Queen. Of course.

And I won Miss Congeniality. No shit.

I jokingly referred to the little silver necklace charm they gave me as my “you weren’t pretty enough to win, but gosh darn it, you’re friendly” award. It made me laugh that I so badly didn’t want to be in a gross beauty pageant, was forced to by the vote of my classmates, and then won the happy to be here award. Beautiful.

The girl ended up having a daughter with the guy I slept with during their Ross and Rachel break/not a break, and eventually separated permanently.

***

Oddly enough, I was reminded of this as I live-tweeted the bizarre moaning of a trainer lifting weights at my gym yesterday. She’s a stringy, spray-tan-orange woman over 60 (or extremely sun-damaged), and she trains other women while I ride the exercise bike. She loves neon colors, and this day was wearing shockingly hot pink shoes.

I was trying to read a novel on my Kindle Fire as I pedaled, but she was being so loud it was pulling me out of the story. We were the only two people in the small gym. I joked on Twitter that if I closed my eyes, I could pretend I was in a porn film, but I wasn’t really joking. It was making me uncomfortable.

Her first client of the day came in, a grey-haired, chatty woman, and thankfully she stopped lifting weights and groaning in her creepily sexual way.

Unfortunately, that was when the talking began. Still couldn’t focus on my book.

The women began to have a conversation about treadmills, the benefits of eating raw Manuka honey, and the client, in her southern accent, told a long story about how her brothers always beat her at Monopoly as a child, and she hated that game because they’d never let her quit, forcing her to play to the bitter end, but when she won Miss Congeniality in a beauty contest, her brothers said, “See? We were training you for your Miss Congeniality win by forcing you to stick with the Monopoly games.”

And this reminded me of winning Miss Congeniality so many years ago in the ugly white lace dress I wore for my Lutheran confirmation in the small town Missouri Fall Fiesta Queen pageant I never wanted to be in with the girl who hated me for sleeping with her boyfriend when he either lied to me, her, or both of us when they were or weren’t on a break and standing on a stage while she won prettiest and I won friendliest.

***

Someone on Twitter asked me if my winning Miss Congeniality/the odd gym interactions I was describing were “true story or Twitter fiction” so I wrote this true story out for her, because truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

And inspiration comes from the wackiest places, doesn’t it?