He said, “I can’t make your mistakes for you.”
I was fifteen, fifteen and a half, maybe, almost sixteen years old, and I was leaving home. I was all packed and ready to go. He drove me to New York’s Kennedy Airport, where he would put me on a plane to fly me across the country so I could meet with my friend –- a boy — who would later break my heart into many tiny pieces; some remained crushed for years and years. My dad drove me from our home on Long Island, N.Y., where my mother stood in our doorframe, never once stepping out from behind the screen door, her hair in rollers, her lashes coated with mascara, and a cigarette dangling from her lips.
She stood, and for many, many minutes, not a word was spoken.
“Okay. Bye, Ma,” I said.
“Shiva. I’m sitting Shiva. You could’a just stabbed me, would’a been easier,” she responded.
I had dropped out of high school. Jewish girls from middle class families didn’t drop out of high school. They had nervous breakdowns, or went on all-day shopping sprees at Roosevelt Field, or cut school and go to the park and make out with various boys, or go to the same movie theater and watch a movie over and over and over again, because in those days you could. You could sit in a movie theater, stay all day, and you could also smoke cigarettes. But I can tell you with conviction that very few Jewish girls dropped out of high school.
Car trips always consisted of singing show tunes, or playing game shows. On this particular day, while driving to the airport, Fiddler on the Roof was the show my dad chose to sing; the complete score, starting from our home on Long Island to the airport in Jamaica, Queens. And I can tell you right now, as he drove me to that airport on that day, he was tense and scared and worried, holding my left hand with his right hand, while gripping the bottom of the steering wheel with his left hand.
I was at a stage in my fifteen-and-a-half-year life where breathing felt like a chore. I was so miserable and unhappy, and I felt so alone in the world. I was running with a bad crowd, and stealing money from my dad’s wallet and mom’s purse; and buying hash, and marijuana, and cocaine, while lying about that; lying about all of it. I was acting-out in all sorts of self-loathing ways. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that there was a time in my life where being bad and feeling bad just blended together into plain old Big BadAwful BAD.
And so, I quit high school, and decided to tag along to a commune with my friend who I made out with in the back seat of a car, where we kissed so long and so hard that our lips cracked and bled. But I wasn’t his girlfriend and he wasn’t my boyfriend. He said, “I don’t like you in that way. I like you plenty, but you know, not as a girlfriend. I don’t love you, I mean, I’m not, you know, in love with you.”
But no other girl was willing or wanted to go with him to Medford, Oregon, and so, I said “Yes.” Yes, I’ll go. I’ll quit high school, and I’ll stop straightening my hair, and stop shaving my legs and never ever go to Ohrbachs again.
He left me at the gate while my knapsack was making it’s way to the plane by way of the conveyor belt, my peasant skirt dragging on the floor, and my hair curly and unruly. He handed me a couple of hundred dollars and said, “Please, our secret.” I smiled and kissed him and hugged him so tight, I could feel his heart breaking, as he whispered in my ear, “I can’t make your mistakes for you.”
And my mistakes piled up one after another, year, after year, after year.
There was the pregnancy; the one where I behaved like a needy, desperate young woman; using that pregnancy as a weapon to try and get that man to love me, to want me — to want me and the baby. “Why don’t we abort you and keep the baby?” he finally said.
I sat alone in that abortion clinic where another man, a middle-aged, short, heavy-set bespectacled man said, “I will help you. Come with me.” And a half an hour later I was in a room with about ten other girls who had just had abortions and I can tell you right now with complete conviction that none of us felt good about what had just happened — none of us. And I would go so far as to bet that none of us ended up with, or stayed with, the guy we had sex with; the one who got us pregnant, because none of us in that room, on that day, quite understood or believed at that stage in our lives how vital, and necessary it was to love the whole of ourselves, and to honor our whole self. I was young and lonely and had absolutely no self-worth. Self-esteem was so out of reach for me, I would have fallen down if I tried to grab hold of it. I was desperately searching and hoping for love. My mistake.
The desperation of wanting to be loved became my mission later in life — to become a woman of unlimited self-esteem. I wouldn’t trade that mistake for the world…now.
Then there was the boyfriend, the horrible, bad boyfriend. The one who I knew from the get-go, from the moment I met him, that he was not right for me. He. Was. Not. Right. For. Me. I knew it, but I didn’t pay attention to my own instincts. There was a voice inside me that said, “Nah, don’t, he’s not good for you, this doesn’t feel right, don’t do this.” I did not pay attention to that voice. Nor did I did pay enough attention to his anger and his mood swings and his violent streak and the hole that remained punched in the wall, or the way that he humiliated me in public; or the very first time he threatened me, with his big hard hands wrapped around my throat. His hands wrapped so hard he was choking me. “I could kill you,” he said, in a hushed, scary voice.
As I sat in my car in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with a few of my personal belongings scattered on the back seat, along with a black and blue mark stretching from my jaw-line to my clavicle, I wished more than anything that I had paid attention to that voice, my voice, telling me ‘DON’T, don’t do this,’ Why didn’t I listen? Why didn’t I trust myself, my own voice? Why did I constantly turn down the volume?
That mistake — not paying attention to my own voice, my own life — later led me to a deep-rooted mission; the desire for all women to speak up, to speak their truth, to be heard. Oh, no, I wouldn’t trade that mistake for anything.
And then there are the mistakes that bring us shame; the ones that make us weep in the dark; the ones that keep us at arms length; the ones that we marry; the ones that we try desperately to hide; the ones that have prescription numbers; the ones that are hidden away in cartons, and the ones that we forgot. The ones that are thrown up in our face over and over and over again, and the ones that come back to haunt us. The ones that feel so unbearable we think we’ll die, and the ones that get you down on your knees. The one’s you die with, and the ones that make you feel not worthy, or deserving. The ones that keep us invisible.
All mistakes led me here, and it is here, right here, where I get to share my story, my life, my imperfections, my flaws and my foibles; my down and dirty. Yes, the stuff I shoved down so far it literally weighed me down. And here, right here, is where I get to share some courage — and from what I hear, and from where I’m sitting, in my view…courage is mighty contagious.
Courage is mighty contagious.
We, the Women People, are filled with unlimited, glorious, fierce and mighty courage.
author. writer. girl.
Women’s eNews Columnist Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. Every Friday, you will be invited into her world, where she will champion, encourage and inspire women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor — along with a heaping side of activism.