I was shaking but smiling. He made me think I was dying so he could bring me back to life. Older, yet younger, he was beautiful. I became grotesque. I thought this was love.
I have never had a friend whose parents stayed together after their 17th birthday. I come from classic W.A.S.P country: Lake Forest, Illinois. Home to venture capitalists with names like Steve, cheating on their wives named Susan with their perky new secretary, Courtney. Courtney, who sees past his receding hairline and makes Steve feel young again. Then there are the Susans, who snort coke in the morning so they can be on top of their game for their PTA meetings. Susans are typically recovering from their third revision breast augmentation in hopes of winning back Steve’s affection, whose face can’t move when she cries from the botox, who’s taking Xanax by night to numb the loss of her youth. Lake Forest is also home to sons and daughters who get their weekly 200 dollars worth of weed from the other side of the tracks where the Lake Forest bubble breaks. Parents can only leash their children in the bubble for so long. The kids get bored of the “sheltered” suburban life and begin to want more. They want pain, the pain they hear feels so good. They cross those tracks to adventure towards the taste of the pain. But once they flee, they can't forget what they have already seen. And it would be easier to stand on the tracks then to go back across them.
Suicide week: Lake Forests infamous annual teen suicide scandal. This week, which has now spread through the entire North Shore of Illinois, is the week where high schoolers decide to be flattened by Metra trains rather than spend another day in suburban hell.
I happen to know a Susan and a Steve, who have a beautiful home and a beautiful son named Alex going to Yale for Lacrosse in the fall. And unfortunately, they are separating because they grew apart but are still remaining the best of friends, and will still pose together in the annual Christmas card for all their friends and family to see. So, love is visible, right?
To answer that rhetorical question, no, love is not visible. Being raised in a place where love doesn't exist unless it is shown in an annual Christmas card, I was utterly clueless to this reality.
Middle school was an interesting time for me. I found out about my father’s affair that had been going on since I was two, and that I was conceived with an egg donor in the same week. Both were discovered by accident. I played the cello and the trumpet... at the same time. My relentless crush on Radek Gralak was thriving, and I missed out on that whole boobs deal.
The week I got my braces off during freshman year was the week I fell out of my cocoon like a beautiful butterfly who was never taught how to fly. In the one week since I had gotten my braces off, I quit my instruments, highlighted my hair, and went to my first high school football game. At that football game, I could hear the whispers swirling around the cold air, as I walked around in my first push up bra and Juicy jacket. “She looks so different!” “What the hell happened?” “Damn!”, and “She looks like a slut” I heard as I walked through the crowd to get a Sprite from the food stand. While I was getting my Sprite, a familiar face eyed me up and down and gave me a flirtatious smile. The face was Alex Wolf. Alex was two years older than me and had beautiful olive skin, white teeth, wore skinny jeans, knew how to skateboard, played lacrosse, and hung out with the kids from the other side of the tracks. No one had ever given me that smile.
“Hi, Alli!” He said to me.
It was like he had known me for years. Well, technically he did considering we went to school together since kindergarten. But, Alex Wolf had never spoken to me, Alex Wolf had never looked at me. I replied with a nervous hello. He began to work his magic on me. The velocity of the butterfly was intensifying.
Alex possessed a superficial charm so strong it drew people to him like a magnet. This charm got him whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it. All it took was a smile and a compliment and the world was his. My world soon became his.
Fast forward three months from the football game, the wind blowing in my hair, palms sweating, ears feeling the pressure of the bass of the subwoofers in the back seat of Alex’s 2013 Lexus while we were on the way to his house. I had never been in a boy’s car—I wasn't sure how to feel. I knew I was excited because I could tell my friends afterward and I snuggled with the fire hot feeling of attention that Alex poured on me. Alex led me to his basement by my shaking hand.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said to me.
He turned off the lights.
I had never smoked marijuana before. During my 5th grade segment on Drug prevention, I volunteered to star in a play showing the harsh reality of drug abuse. Alex smoked weed all the time, though. My mom had always instilled a paralyzing fear of drugs in me. At the time, my parents had proven to be imperfect and I decided to rebel. After a fight with my mom, Alex took me to his friend’s house on the other side of the tracks. I remember reading alarming texts from my mother, apologizing for hurting me so deeply, asking if I was safe. I wasn't safe. We walked into the garage in the sketchy house of Alex’s friend. I became engulfed in clouds of tinted green smoke. My eyes burned. The smell was familiar. I recalled it coming from my neighbor’s house every night and being told it was the nightly skunk. Guess it wasn't a skunk after all. Through the scorching smoke and strobe lights, I saw people laughing hysterically and people caught in a corpse like stares on the floor. I was terrified. I grasped Alex’s hand tightly as we were greeted by the owner of the house. A skinny man named Jalen with tattoos on his neck and gold teeth. Jalen had a terrifying twinkle in his eye. He offered Alex a hit and he accepted.
“Take one,” said Alex.
“It’s okay, my moms home,” I said nonchalantly.
“You don't talk to that bitch anyway,” he said looking at Jalen.
They both laughed. I thought to myself: “Only I could talk bad about my mom.” I looked at Alex disapprovingly and turned away. The warm attention he flowed through me turned to ice. He grabbed my arm tightly and forcefully led me to the car.
“You’re embarrassing me!” He screamed. The cold was starting to burn and my lungs became frostbitten as my throat swelled. “I can’t be with you if you’re scared of everything. Either you go in there and stop embarrassing me, or I’m taking you home.”
I did what I had to do.
Alex decided I would go to his house afterward. I sat in his bed as he scolded me for holding him back. I began to cry. Alex immediately changed his tone and sat on the bed next to me. He didn't make me feel better, but he made me stop crying. He had this control over me that dictated my every thought, every motor movement, my every emotion.
“You’re so beautiful when you’re not crying,” he said. I immediately forgot about the whole night and gave him a forgiving smile. Alex turned off the light.
Over time, my relationship with Alex replaced my crumbling relationship with my family. I was dead when I wasn't with Alex. I was in a dark tunnel and Alex was, what I thought, the light I was getting closer to, except he was a freight train coming to run me over. As long as I walked deeper into the tunnel, the train stayed its distance and I was safe. The train provided the light to lead me deeper into the dark. But one day, the thought of walking the other way crossed my mind and the concrete-minded train flattened me to a pulp. Mine and my mother’s relationship started to heal and my dependence on Alex began to weaken. He needed control and without this, he moved on. Freedom of choice was not familiar, and it was painful. I continued on empty for a couple months, but the pain of healing became too intense.
Alex moved on and found a new empty girl to control: Olivia. She was the spitting image of me. Blonde hair, fair skin, and hopeless eyes. The pain of him moving on was excruciating. It was worse than the time I fell off my friend’s roof in seventh grade and had every breath I had knocked out of me. It was indescribable. I called Alex and confessed to him how much I needed him, and was empty without him. The butterfly felt the impact of the ground on its wings and would do anything to stay alive. The control was again on his hands. Next thing I knew, I was back in Alex’s basement and I felt whole again. All I could think about was how much I hated my father’s whore, but how much like her I became. I was the Courtney and the Susan all in one. “You’re so beautiful,” Alex said. I was shaking but smiling. He electrocuted me back to life, but I was only dying faster. Older, yet younger, he was beautiful. I became grotesque. I thought this was love.