Somehow I managed to get through the rest of the school year. I remember only one thing about it: not winning the theatre prize at the June awards assembly. I was devastated. I had been involved in theatre since sixth grade and that year I had won the theatre club’s best actress awards for two plays in which I had leading roles: House of Blue Leaves and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Maybe it was arrogant of me, but I fully expected to win the school prize. However, it went jointly to the newcomer who had played the Marilyn Monroe role in Bus Stop, the play for which I was Assistant Director, and a popular Senior whose only involvement all year had been a single scene in Blue Leaves. I took this as definitive proof that I was not really part of the crowd: that I had been tolerated because of my talent but was not about to be acknowledged by the Players’ Board, which was dominated by rich kids whose parents contributed a lot of money to the program. I expected that now they had found another girl with a modicum of talent I wouldn’t be cast again, and time proved me right.
It seems a funny thing to be so upset by now, but once again my stomach is churning at the memory of being cast out. At least, my perception of being cast out is just as strong today as it was then. My parents had always assured me that I was so smart and talented I could do anything I wanted, but I knew at sixteen that brains and talent had little to do with success. I knew you had to be right in some indefinable way that I failed to achieve.
Part of it was a lack of confidence that I suffer to this day. Though my parents assured me of my worth in words, they did very little to actually support me in my dreams and desires. In fact, sometimes they actually interfered with them. When I was supposed to be practicing my music, my father would come into the room and turn on the television so that I had to stop. Then I got an earful for not practicing. When I took up guitar and played in my room, I had to be very quiet so as not to disturb anyone with that “noise,” as if my music had no worth. My writing was always spoken of as “something you can do in your spare time,” not a thing around which I might actually build a career. And my interest in it was almost an embarrassment.
One time when I was trying to talk to my mother about the relative merits of metered and rhymed poetry and free verse, she actually interrupted me in mid-sentence to tell me to take out the garbage. With stuff like that going on, how was I supposed to feel that anything I did or anything I had to say had value? And yet when I brought it up, the response was inevitably, “Oh, Katie, of course you have value”—in an irritated tone that told me my concerns were worthless as well.
Whatever. I got through the school year somehow.
That year, my closest friend, Vicki, graduated and she and one of her downtown friends from Cass Tech, Kerry, threw a huge graduation party at Kerry’s house. I was ecstatic to be allowed to go; my parents really didn’t approve of Vicki, who essentially had run wild since her mother had died the year before and who had done a term in the psychiatric unit of Harper Hospital when Kerry and her sister discovered Vicki was cutting on herself. Every time I tried to tell my mother about my feelings after that, she accused me of copying Vicki to get attention. As if your child wanting attention was something she should be ashamed of and should not be indulged under any circumstances.
I can see how by my mother’s standard’s Vicki was, in fact, a bad influence on me. She lived downtown in a gloriously messy apartment with her younger brother and a father who let her do just about anything she wanted. She had her own car and her own credit card; she wasn’t a virgin and she’d smoked dope and I thought she was wonderful. She had so much more freedom than I did, in that sterile house with two aging parents who never did anything worth mentioning and got upset when I tried to. Besides, she understood some part of what it was like to be me. One time she said that of all of our friends, I probably had more “right” to be messed up than any of them. I never did find out what she meant by that or why she said it, but it stuck in my mind.
Vicki and Kerry’s graduation party was the first mixed, unchaperoned party I’d ever been to, so I took great pains with my preparations. Since grade school, I’d been called an ugly dog, but I was hoping that among people who didn’t know me as well the words wouldn’t stick. True, some of the boys present were from our school, but they were the nicer ones. And the greater part were from Cass Tech. I set my cap for one of these almost the instant I walked into Kerry’s crowded living room: a tall, scruffy Adonis with a strip of denim wound around his head to keep his long brown hair out of his eyes. I couldn’t tell you why I was attracted to him from the moment I saw him. It was just one of those things.
I had no idea how to attract a boy’s attention. My circle had always disdained the usual male/female dance that takes place in high school, partly because we saw ourselves as intellectually above all that and partly—maybe mainly—because there were no boys in our school worth going to all that trouble for. I’d been attracted to one or two, but when they didn’t seem to notice me, I’d given up, always remembering that I was unattractive and lumpy and that no boy in his right mind would want to be seen with me. So I plunked myself down on the floor near the scruffy Adonis and just sat there, listening and watching.
Pretty soon this kind of cute, dark-haired boy plopped down next to me and introduced himself as Bob, and I learned something about how to handle boys: let them talk. So I found out that Bob was the scruffy Adonis’s (his name was Randy) best friend and that Randy went to Cass, but Bob went to Grosse Pointe South, and that they knew each other because they both crewed on the same sailboat in the Mackinaw Island races.
I feel right now that I am spending an unnatural amount of time on this party, but in reality I do think it marked some kind of turning point in my life.
Bob and I talked for a while—about what, I don’t remember—and then he asked me if I wanted to go into the backyard, where a bunch of people were congregating. So before long I found myself sitting in a circle on the grass between Bob and Randy. Vicki was there, and Kerry, and another girl named Laura and another boy named Luke and a few others, including a girl Bob was trying to put the make on; I think her name was Sheri. And I felt both really great and really out of place, because I saw all those people as so much more experienced and sophisticated than me.
Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album was playing on the stereo in the house, and the conversation turned to insanity. And Randy said, “I don’t understand those people who raze themselves up,” and Vicki and I exchanged a glance.
The next thing I remember is, Laura pulled out a pipe and lit it and it started going around the circle. It went around clockwise, which meant that it came to me from Bob, who was sitting on my right. And I was thinking all the time, “Will I or won’t I?” But when Bob passed me the pipe, I swear I saw this look of challenge in his eyes, like, “Are you going to grow up, little girl?” So I took a drag. (Later I found out that my impression of Bob’s challenge was completely wrong, because he had thought I was stoned already.) Then I passed the pipe to Randy and thought about how his lips had been where mine had just been, which is fairly dumb, but it’s the kind of thing girls think at these times, even troubled girls like me.
The pot didn’t do a thing for me, by the way. I mean, I didn’t feel any different or anything. And it never really did make me feel different until much later in my life, and then what it did was bad so I stopped using it.
After that, we all took a walk around Lafayette Park. Then, when we got back to Kerry’s house she said it was late and she was going to bed, but that we could stay and party if we wanted to. We decided we didn’t want to, so we all left. Vicki drove me home. And before he got into his car, Randy invited me to his graduation party, which was happening the next weekend. And he kissed me! It was the first time I’d ever kissed a boy, except for Fred Cantor, who played opposite me in Blue Leaves.
So of course now I was totally infatuated with Randy, and Vicki and I spent the entirety of the next week planning out what I was going to do about it at his party. But there’s nothing to say about that except nothing really worked out as we had planned. Well, I still liked Randy and I was pretty certain by the end of the party that he liked me. But also, by the end of the party, I had somehow given Bob my phone number and promised to go on a date with him. He glommed onto me when Sheri didn’t show up, and so I spent the whole party staring longingly at Randy with Bob’s arm around me because I didn’t know how to extricate myself gracefully. Really, the whole thing played out like Midsummer Night’s Dream, Part 2. I liked Randy and Randy liked me, but Bob liked me, too. Vicki decided she liked Bob, and that guy Luke, who I never saw again after, liked Vicki. It was a mess, but in a way it was also good because it was the first time in my life that I had ever felt like a normal girl having normal experiences. Still, it was hard to absorb being liked by not one but two boys, and found attractive after years of hearing that I was a horrible hag.