[This is part 3 in a series about shitty things I’ve done to people. You can read the original post here.]
My teenage years were rough.
Navigating my way through high school was difficult enough as I was in a magnet program I no longer had any interest in being in. Pressure to succeed from my parents was an additional burden. I seemed to repeatedly fall short of their expectations. Early on, I was apologetic about my failures, but around junior year, I stopped caring. I placed less importance on making them proud and invested in my own happiness. My happiness, however, involved skipping class in favor of going to thrift stores and getting bubble tea with friends. By the time I reached my senior year, I was a professional ghost, an apparition; one moment you would see me, but by the time the bell rang, I was long gone.
Senior year was the was the hardest year to get through. Apart from figuring out what college I wanted to attend (despite failing most of my classes), my rebellious streak was at an all-time high. I didn’t have conversations with my parents. Instead, I had screaming matches. There were rare occasions where these altercations would become physical, and usually it was me throwing the first punch. I know. I’m an asshole. Thankfully my 30 year old self has mellowed out significantly.
The battles were usually centered around wanting to go out and spend time with friends. I’m first generation American on my father’s side; he comes from a culture where girls don’t go out and they do as they’re told. But I’m American, and after witnessing the freedoms my white friends were able to take advantage of, I decided that I wanted that life, too. And as such, I became a liar of the grandest kind. I would make up elaborate stories to explain why I was out until 11 PM on a school night, or why I skipped class, or why I failed tests. Years later, my parents told me that they knew I was lying every time. They commended my creativity after the fact. The lies were grandiose.
By senior year, I had fallen into a friend group that liked to smoke cigarettes and drink beers at the playground after dark. It was fun to rebel in this way; it all felt very adult, lingering around liquor stores, asking grown men to buy me beer. Once in awhile, they’d oblige my request. When they asked for sexual compensation for the alcohol, I would run to my car and speed off, leaving them in the dust. The riskiness of it all was enthralling.
My parents put me in therapy around this time because they were concerned about my well-being. My father thought all girls should be seen and not heard, and seeing as how I was screaming and railing against his rules, he saw fit that I get help for such unbecoming behavior. The therapy sessions were interesting. I remember crying a lot and deflecting blame. It was dad’s fault that he couldn’t assimilate to American culture. It was dad’s fault that I was skipping class, because I couldn’t cope with his insurmountable expectations. He was the ultimate scapegoat. In truth, the pressure I felt from his expectations weighed heavily on my mind, and when I felt the first hint of failure, I gave up entirely. My teenage logic lead me to believe that I couldn’t fail if I didn’t try, and because I was a teenager, I thought I was the smartest in the room. I couldn’t possibly be wrong about this.
My therapist suggested, after a few months of talking to me, that we bring my father in for a joint session. I was resistant at first but later conceded, hoping that my therapist could talk some sense into him. My father showed equal resistance at first but later conceded as well, hoping my therapist would be able to talk some sense into me. We both had high hopes that we would see each other’s side. I wanted my dad to loosen his grip, while dad wanted me to do as I was told. I told my therapist to brace herself, because she was about to witness a shit show.
There were raised voices during this session, as expected, as well as tears and admission of feelings of guilt. My dad even opened up, which surprised me. He seemed so small, so vulnerable, that I actually sympathized with him. And when he began to tear up, opening up about his love for me, I couldn’t help but cry. It was the first time in a long time that I witnessed my dad express some genuinely sincere emotions.
After leaving the office, I was hopeful. I wanted to spend time with him, to talk to him more, to share more of myself. But when I suggested we go to Starbucks to get a coffee and talk, his demeanor abruptly changed. His usual harshness returned to his face, but this was a bit different. It felt more aggressive.
“Don’t you EVER make me go through that again! You hear me?” he screamed in the parking lot. “Waste of time,” he muttered, getting into the drivers seat. He barked at me to get in the car and we drove home in silence. That night I left the house through my bedroom window and met friends at the playground. I drank an entire bottle of Boone’s Farm strawberry wine, puked in a trashcan, and stumbled home, waking up the next day with a wicked hangover.
It was New Years Eve, 2003, and I desperately wanted to spend it with friends. One of my closest friends invited me to a party with an older crowd, and it was an invitation that I didn’t want to pass up. My dad and I were the only ones home that evening. I had been on my best behavior all day, and I felt that I deserved to go out. My father, however, didn’t want me to be on the road that night. “It’s unsafe,” he said, “People get killed by drunk drivers, especially on New Years Eve. You’re not going, final answer.”
“But dad! I’m just going to a friend’s house! We’re just going to watch movies and sleep!”
“You can do that on another night. I’m not going to discuss this any further!” At that point, I began screaming at him, accusing him of being oppressive and unreasonable. I told him all of my friends were going out, and I wanted to go out to. Their parents trust them enough, so why couldn’t he trust me! My diatribe lasted for several minutes. “You are my daughter, not your shitty friends, and you will NOT behave in this manner!” His response triggered something dark in me. I spewed hateful shit, personal attacks, and declared that I didn’t love him. Saying that was a first for me, and I was scared but overly righteous as the words left my mouth.
His face changed at this point. He looked away from me, his breathing labored, stuttering about not feeling well. He patted his chest, above his heart, and grew very silent.
“I’m having a heart attack,” he said. I immediately asked him if he wanted me to call an ambulance. He said no, that he was fine. I insisted that if he was in pain, he should go to the hospital. He clutched his chest, looking away from me, and insisted he was okay.
I began to question his symptoms and called him out on his theatrics, offended that he was trying to manipulate me by having a fake heart attack.
“You’re not having a heart attack! You’re faking it! YOU’RE FAKING A FUCKING HEART ATTACK SO I DON’T GO OUT. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
I examined his face. He was lying and I could tell, just as he could tell when I was lying. I grabbed my things and as I headed for the door, he said, “If you leave this house, you’re not coming back” in a very low voice. He was still clutching his chest, still breathing heavily.
“Fuck you.” I shouted. And with that, I left.
That night, I drank and rum and coke out of a pint glass that was more rum than coke, I smoked weed for the first time, and I proceeded to puke on myself and black out. I woke up around 8 in the morning, barely remembering what happened the night before. With everyone still asleep, I made a quiet, swift exit. I smelled like garbage and my hair was matted with dried vomit.
When I arrived home, my dad was standing in the driveway, smoking a cigarette. I parked the car and barreled towards the door, wanting to shower and go back to sleep. He didn’t say a word that morning, and the silence continued for a week and a half.
My father later admitted that he felt betrayed by my actions, how I chose reckless behavior with friends over him. I told him that I was insulted that he would stoop so low as to fake a heart attack to get me to stay home. Ultimately, he was hurt. I made a decision that night, and that decision involved turning my back on him.
We don’t talk about my teenage years now. In fact, he’s mentally rewritten them, as he often says they were great. I laugh, I shrug, and I agree with him, not wanting to shatter his illusion. I still remember how he looked that night, and it’s a look I can’t shake no matter how hard I try.