I was a broken child. Broken, because I lived in the path of someone dealing with the powerlessness of adolescence and sexual frustration. (But that's another story.) When you're broken, your boundaries and decision making processes become flawed and skewed and simply screwed up. Add that onto adolescence and you end up with a story like this.
My first 21 years were spent in a small town. It was known (I was told) as an I-5 drug hub. Though it's possible that was part of the 70's folklore of the time--when the adults were trying to figure out what was wrong with those danged kids.
And because it was a small town, the school campus was shared by kindergartners all the way up to seniors, only separated by a short exterior walkway. While moving from grade to grade, it was apparent to us what privileges were coming next. When we became 7th graders, we knew it would finally be our turn to be a part of the "Sweetheart Contest", THE annual fundraising event. Each grade, in high school and junior high, would elect a princess. The decision of who would be queen was determined by the class who raised the most money.
I remember the excitement our entire 7th grade class felt. We were finally old enough to participate! My friend Tammy's family had saved up an entire (floor to rafters) garage worth of empty beer bottles, still in their cases. Our group was allowed to carry the cases into one of the local taverns. Oh the thrill felt by those 13 year olds! After that, there were bake sales and another family had donated several loads of firewood to sell. We were in charge of splitting, loading and unloading. For a reason I've never been able to understand, a small group of us were left alone at the wood lot. I suppose it's possible we planned it. One member of our group pulled out a Mason jar of Everclear and naively we began to pass it around. Not only had we just barely become teens, but I'm sure it had been hours since we had eaten. Truly a recipe for disaster.
Tammy, Teresa and I, must have either decided to walk to Tammy's house or to walk off the effects of the alcohol. My next memory was of staggering along with Tammy and Teresa on the side of a country road in the dark. And that's when Tammy lost her footing and rolled down into a deep ditch. I crumbled to my knees--could this night get any worse?! Rather than scramble down in the dark to help a friend out of the ditch, Teresa and I, ran across the road to an Assembly of God church. I can still remember the feeling of the enormous letters on the church as we hung on, both of us praying loudly and urgently to please help us get out of this mess.
A neighbor (remember, this is a small town and there were only 4 TV channels for entertainment) must have witnessed this spectacle and called my parents. My father arrived. Tammy and I climbed into the back seat (not sure what happened to Teresa). Dad made eye contact with me via the rear view mirror and said my punishment was to watch what would happen when we took my friend Tammy home. Her mother had a reputation of being a hard woman, someone you never wanted to tangle with. I watched as Tammy reluctantly left the car and then threw herself at her mother's feet, grasping her ankles, pleading, sobbing, apologizing. Her mother never raised her voice, but the cold, cold, horrible words that came out of her mouth! It was a glimpse into the dark side of another family and it made me realize none of us can ever know what another person deals with.
Oh and the Sweetheart Contest? That was the final year. A small group of broken 7th graders, broke a small town school's tradition.