SHELTER

One might not immediately think of me as someone who is painfully sheltered from the world. Maybe I’m not. As a teenager, though, I certainly was. What was I sheltered from? Just about everything, I think. In my sophomore year, an acquaintance told me that Katie and Steve had been having sex, and my response was utter disbelief. I argued the girl who had spread the information, saying that it must be a lie because nobody actually did that. I couldn’t imagine the circumstances that could have brought my classmates into a situation where having sex might have been plausible. My little brain couldn’t wrap itself around the idea of him taking off his underwear, and her taking off hers, and the two of them laying down somewhere, or maybe standing in a bathroom stall or leaning on a car in a deserted parking lot. I just could not see it. I can make a long list of all the ways I could imagine it happening nowadays, and accordingly there is maybe some new and current way that my imagination is now behind the times. Either that, or I managed to become less sheltered. But is it ever really possible to come all the way out from the shelter? Mustn’t I still be a little bit hidden under whatever thick mental blanket my parents raised me under?

I was doing a google image search on the word “doorway” today, and I came across the Modern Church of Satan website. I was forced to ask myself: how much do I really want to know about modern-day satanism? I don’t believe in evil, so the thought of looking further into the site didn’t have any necessarily spooky connotations. I do, however, believe that there are a lot of things in the world that I don’t need to see. So I surfed it pretty delicately, because one time I googled “stripper” and got this horrendous close-up view of some decrepit private parts shown from the backside, and definitely don’t ever want to be faced with that again. I started to type the words “modern church of satan” into my navigator window, but then I got this feeling that maybe typing those words into my browser was somehow a bad idea. That may have been superstitious of me, I’m not sure yet.

By my senior year of highschool, I had become somewhat less sheltered, but only marginally. To my credit, I was making strides at trying to expose myself to things that I didn’t know about. I joined the teen-crisis phone hotline, where we did extensive training about all the bad things that troubled youth might call wanting to talk about. Most of the calls we received were from kids who were looking to masturbate to a live voice. But I still didn’t totally believe in the reality of teenage sex. I attended a cast party for the musical that I performed in, in my freshman year, and the fact that kids were drinking at the party freaked me out so much that I never went to another party, or tried alcohol outside of the supervision of my parents until I was 18 years old. I mostly had sleepovers with my best friend and watched videos.

Our senior class had a retreat, which they called “Senior Encounter.” Seniors could choose to attend a one-night sleepaway which was organized by the school and held at a camp outside of the city. I think the idea was to set up an environment where kids could let down their guard with each other. Everyone said that Scott didn’t come because if he did he would probably end up crying in front of everyone, and he was too cool for that. I don’t remember anything about the structured elements of the retreat, or whether anybody cried. I remember hanging out in a cabin with some girls who I thought of as being popular, and who I found pretty intimidating. I remember telling them that my little brother and I took a live-drawing class at University of Washington where we drew a live nude model, and I remember they all screamed in disbelief. Most significantly, I remember that a friend of mine, we’ll call him Chris, told me that his friend Annie wanted to talk to me. I found this to be really surprising, because Annie was particularly popular and intimidating, and in four years of highschool we had never ended up in any classes together, and had never even talked to each other once. She was sporty, and very funny, and kind of tough. I didn’t think she even knew who I was. So, Chris said Annie wanted to hang out with me. I was flattered, I guess, and just went along with it. I think I took it kind of carefully, as I didn’t understand where the sudden interest was coming from. I didn’t know what I was navigating myself into.

I remember that Annie and I met up and went out for a walk. We wandered around the grounds of the camp, walking slowly through the parking lot and talking. We ended up staying out extremely late– at that point it certainly must have been the latest I had ever been awake and not inside of a building. Once we got back everyone was already asleep. While we were out I guess we just chatted about our lives. I remember that she told me about being on the all-city soccer team, and about how the coach of her team was a lesbian. The coach had a girlfriend. Annie said that the coach had made several comments to her about being gay, and she perceived that the coach was making hints about Annie being gay, and trying to let her know that being gay is okay. She returned to this subject a few times during the night. At another moment she told me what this guy Nathan who she was dating had done to her with his finger and I shrieked, “Oh my god why would anyone ever do that???!!!” She said, “I guess because he thought I would like it.” So, basically, we walked around in the night, talking about not all that much, and about that dude and his finger, and also about her gay soccer coach who had mentioned the possibility of gayness.

So here is the question: what the F did I think was going on here? From this place in my life, the present moment of adulthood, I have tried really hard to imagine what I must have been thinking on that night. I remember just listening, not even daring to ask myself; a) whether or not Annie might be gay, or b) why she was choosing to tell this to me, of all people. I was just really focused on trying to seem cool enough to be worthy of talking to. And, hilariously, it actually didn’t occur to me until about 2001 that maybe Annie had wanted to walk around in the dark with me because she had some idea that I might be in a similar boat. Back then, and even for years afterwards, I had NO IDEA that this might have been her intention. But from here, it makes so much sense that she could have been looking for someone to talk to about whether being with guys felt right, and whether being with girls was a possibility. And for some reason the way that I acted and looked must have made her think that I could be a sympathetic audience. And she actually did pick the right person! Except that I was too spaced out to realize it!!! At the moment I realized all this, I felt so cheated. There was my moment for late night highschool excitement, brushing right up against me and spreading out in the shape of a massive open nighttime, and I didn’t even realize that it was happening. I was so shell shocked and scared of being myself, that when a cool funny girl came up and peeked into my window, I couldn’t even manage to tell her I was in there. I didn’t have the guts to tell her anything true. I just froze, and tried to seem normal. And I don’t think she was looking for normal.

Somebody show me the other world where I get to go back there and try it again.

December 25, 2010

  1. christian lopez

    i’ve often felt that my sheltered childhood is inescapable. my mind plays with old memories, trying to get me to realize something. sometimes i’ll (unintentionally) roll a memory around for years and suddenly realize what a tool i was in the 10th grade. this does nothing for my already stunningly high social anxiety. i am so scared of still being that person that i can’t just think someone is having a good time with me. but it’s getting better. i’m learning to turn the volume down.

    hearing about your experiences makes it easier to live with mine.

    thank you.

  2. aubri

    Our 18-year-old lives sound incredibly parallel. Almost eerily so. I used to wish so badly that I could go back to that point in my life with the clarity (specifically regarding sexuality, but also being sheltered in general) that I have now – but I don’t so much anymore. Ever seen the movie “Sliding Doors”? Hopefully not. But if you’re a sucker for romantic comedies that happen to air on tv sometimes (come on, admit it) then it’s like you’re Gwyneth Paltrow and Annie is your train. Sure, you didn’t catch it (her), but what if you had? Who knows what could be different about your life now? I guess that is how I came to terms with my naivety through high school. That’s not to say that life is perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing – but – I’m happy with how I’ve grown and changed since then, and I think the process in between was incredibly important. Had I caught my “train” at 18 I have no idea where I would have ended up and who I would have ended up with, but I’ve stopped wishing to go back to something that I can’t change and I’ve started working towards things that I can.

    Well…

    That was way heavier than I intended and had one more “Sliding Doors” reference than planned (or should ever happen), but the moral of my non-story is try to not to worry too much about what your 18-year-old self should or shouldn’t have done or known. You’re where you are now because of it – for better or for worse. Don’t worry about Annie’s and uncertainties of the past – put that time and effort towards this very second that is happening right now.

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