In passing this weekend I caught a clip from a segment that the Good Morning America cast members must be taking turns doing, it was called: The Year That Changed My Life and that phrase really got me to thinking: if I had to pick a year that changed my life- at age 24 what would I pick? Now most of the time when someone poses these ground-breaking questions such as what was the happiest day of your life thus far or the worst- I really have no idea- but it only took me a few moments to decide on this one. The year that changed my life was the year of my junior year in high school: 2000-2001 and this is my story.
I was 16, platinum-peroxide blonde, and more tan than I had ever been in my life. My boyfriend since the beginning of high school had dumped me ruthlessly just before the start of summer for a mousy soon-to-be freshman and my ego had taken a major nose dive. To compensate I bleached my dark brown, lightened to strawberry blonde hair -all the way to Marilyn Monroe proportions, spent the summer working at a local water park as a concession stand girl (at the start of the summer I was still 15 and though I longed to be a lifeguard like my friend Jen- my early August birthday robbed me of the chance) and got my self heavily involved with overdosing on the over-the-counter drug Coricidan Cough and Cold and snorting Aderol from time to time. Oh, and did I mention I shoplifted the Coricidan and probably thousands of dollars worth of the crap that teenage girls think they need too? I was a bad ass candy coated in a perfectly prissy exterior and no one suspected a thing- My outward appearance was the only alibi I needed to get out of trouble with parents, employers, and cops- "she's soooo cute and friendly, she couldn't possibly be any trouble" they would think. One time I honest-to-God begged my way out of being arrested for stealing a $10 t-shirt in Virginia Beach by claiming I had read an article in Seventeen magazine about teen theft and I wanted to see if I could get away with it. I was given a slap on the writst and told to go back to my towel and tan.
Looking back- it was ridiculous- I was ridiculous. I was popping handfuls of pills every night with my friend Jen, working all day in the hot summer sun, and feeling like I was the Queen of the Universe. I can tell you even now though- I wasn't addicted to the pills- or even the shop lifting- how it all ended is still proof enough of that- when it was over- it was just over. I was merely doing these things to pass the time, add some excitement to my life and prove that I was more than a cheerleader, a girlfriend, a daughter, a singer, an actress, or a miss priss- I don't know why I thought that doing things that could kill me would give me the edge that I needed- but I did. I was smug at what a "troubled" princess I was and I was just waiting for someone to rescue me. But it was a some"one" that rescued me.
My junior year started and I basked in the compliments of how different I looked as a Barbie Blonde, how well dressed I was (in all my stolen clothes), How beautiful my tan was. I was in honors classes, a cheerleader, in choir,band, and drama, I was nominated for the homecoming court- my grades were good, I was dating the boy I had been secretly in love with while dating the ass hole who had dumped me and in my mind I was flawless. Generally this is when the mighty fall. And yes, I fell. See, though I felt like a pampered princess in my own self indulgent mind -I was far from a spoiled rich girl. I was just the opposite in fact. My mom had worked a series of low-paying jobs for years after being laid off from her job with the postal service of nearly 20 years. Paired with her poor judgment when it came to the little money she did have, we soon found ourselves staring at an eviction notice- the second one in less than 2 years.
With no money to use to find another place and no good job to keep mom from remaining in our home town- she delivered the news that would shake my world to the core. We would be moving in with my sister and her family- in Tennessee and we were going just 2 days after my junior year homecoming. I was devastated and I spent the few remaining weeks writing tearful goodbye letters to all my friends and favorite teachers, cheering at games, and making out with the dream boyfriend. We drove away without much fanfare on a Monday evening and I cried myself to sleep in the car on the way down. Today, a five hour move doesn't sound so bad- but to a 16-year-old it might as well have been China that we were moving to. We settled into my sister's house with her husband and five-year-old son and I tried to resume a normal teenage life- but it was nearly impossible. Kids at my new school were nice to me- but no one cared that much about being my friend- it was like my worst fear realized they all had friends and groups and I was the outcast and in the heart of the bible belt, in the same city that housed the Church of God Headquarters of America and a Christian University I was surrounded by preacher's kids and missionaries- not to mention that my own brother-in-law too was a minister of music and with my mom working all the time and me left under my sister's care and discretion I was forced to attend church every time my sister and brother-in-law did- Sunday morning, night, Tuesday for choir practice, Wednesday- and did I mention that we had to get there an hour early for each service? I went from an Easter and Christmas church goer to a full on "bible beater" in the blink of an eye and I was miserable. Not to mention that I felt like a hypocrite- there I was the baby sister of the most ritous woman in the church (and not ritous in a bad way she's always was and still is an awesome woman of God--- if you beleive in that sort of thing) roped into being in the teen church choir and singing all my praises to God- while I wore outfits of stolen clothes and still vividly remembered what it felt like to get high off of cold medicine. Plus I didn't feel like praising God- it was he who allowed my life to go up in smoke. My dreams of graduating with my friends, being homecoming queen senior year and continuing up the ladder to social royalty were dead and I was pissed. Pissed at my family, pissed at myself for not thinking of a way to keep it all from happening, and pissed at God.
Oh- and just to add a little physical insult to injry- I had also had a mishap with some hair dye and had accidentally dyed my platinum, shoulder length hair, grayish blonde- I spent 5 hours in the hair salon having it fixed and came out with chin length brown hair. In losing that last piece of myself-I felt like I had lost my entire identity.
Two months after we moved down- my sister dropped the bombshell that my bro-in-law had been offered a position in Tampa, Fl and that he was going to take it. They were moving and we weren't expected to come along. My sister offered to help us find a place near where there house was but my mom felt that if we were going to have pay rent and be on our own again so soon that we were better off back at home- so we packed our bags and a U-Haul truck and I was so happy to be Ohio-bound again.
It wasn't as simple as that though. Mom's money problems weren't gone and we still faced the issue of not having any place to live or the money to find a place. So we came back to Ohio and crashed at my grandfather's apartment about 45 minutes from where we had lived my whole life. This was the lowest point. For nearly two months we lived in my grandpa's 2 bedroom apartment. After he sold his house he went for the bare minimum of posessions. He had one arm chair in his living room and a table and chairs set with two chairs. In his bedroom there was one full size bed and in the guest bedroom there was...nothing. So for nearly two months my mom slept in his arm chair and I slept on a foam mat on the floor of the guest bedroom. I wasn't in school because Mom wanted me to wait so that I could return to my old school. The trouble was- we couldn't find a place to rent anywhere near there that she could afford- truth be told, with no job she couldn't afford anything. So day after day we stayed on at grandpa's. I was so afraid that I would get held back a year for missing so much school and I cried everyday thinking about my friends graduating and moving on to college and me still behind all because of the poor choices that someone else (my mother) had made. I began to see my mother as weak. She had sunk into a minor depression and found it hard to do the things that needed to be done to better our situation. I'm sure that I made it no easier with all my 16 year-old heartless accusations but at the time it was my mechanism for coping. I wrote in my diary everyday- sometimes twice a day about how miserable I was and wrote tortured poetry. I still to this day have never felt more alone then I did in those few months. My friends from home sympathized with me but continued to live their American Highschooler lives. Complete with basketball games, pep rallies, and dances. I finagled myself invites to their major events from boys who were my friends by making out with them afterwords- but the truth was- I wasn't interested in them I just wanted to be there - where I felt I was supposed to be- but I never got there.
In February 4 months after we moved to Tennessee my grandfather agreed to fund an apartment for mom and me so long as we stayed in his town- the town where he had lived his entire life and where my mother grew up. It was an offer she couldn't refuse. We found a place just a few streets away in the crowded little college town and I enrolled immediately in the high school from which my own mother graduated in 1963. I was prepared for another round of misery from another new school- when much to my surprise I found a brand new place to call home.
Whew! All this reminiscing is taking much longer than I thought that it would- so I've decided to divide this post into a couple of parts. In the next part I'll talk about how all of these events led to changing my life- for the better and how sometimes it takes a terrible storm to give you the most beautiful rainbow!
Miss Amber Lane
Tonight I'm Feeling: Nostalgic, Proud, Relieved
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