We All Need The Human Touch

It was easy to do.

It was easy to allow myself to slip down the slope of starstruck crush.   I knew it was happening and I allowed it.   Looking forward to listening to Rick Springfield’s music and gazing into his poster paper eyes for the meaning of life was a bright spot in those early fall days of 1983.   My little transistor radio from fourth grade had been replaced with a multifunctional clock radio, which I had embellished with glittery stickers in the way that only teenage girls can do.  I positioned the dial to WHYT and was often rewarded with the synthesized tones of Rick Springfield’s “Human Touch”, which was popular in that moment.

The song’s refrain, “We’re all scared and isolated in the modern world,” was just one of many that reached out and grabbed me and let me feel like I wasn’t alone in the world.  If this great looking man with the fantastic California life could write words like that, then he must be some kind of special person.  He loved his mum, lamented the loss of his dad, and I was quite sure that this guy didn’t have a brother who punched holes in the walls.

I started buying the teenage magazines to learn more about him (remember, this was in the days before Wikipedia); I saved my lunch money to get more and more copies of Bop and Tiger Beat.  Even the ones I could afford weren’t enough, so I employed a sneaky system of pulling out articles about Rick from other magazines and slipping them into the ones I would purchase.  I would end up with six or seven colored pin ups and posters with the purchase of one magazine if I did well.

I had my Panasonic tape recorder that I’d gotten for my birthday in 5th grade, and I added Rick’s breakthrough  “Working Class Dog” to my tape collection.  That was the one with his #1 hit song on it, but I was drawn more to the ones that never hit the radio, like a song that talked about seeing the scared little girl inside the woman he was interested in.  I loved that so many songs talked about seeing beyond the outward exterior of a person.  In the glory of my early teenage awkwardness, I took it as a sign that if I ever did meet this guy (and frankly, I figured it was destined, since it was so obvious that we were perfect for each other), he would be able to see deep inside me and know that I was special.  I didn’t really believe it myself but I was sure he would bring all of that specialness out of me.  Sure of it.

So I set up my walls with my pin ups, kept my radio on the right station, made a shrine on my dresser of all of my favorite memorabilia, and walked down the road of unrequited crush.  For now, it filled the hole that was being created by angry family therapy sessions, longer and longer stretches between visits from my father, violent outbursts from my brother,  and my own insecure processing of all of it.   I felt good about Rick instead of bad about myself when I listened to his music, and at that point…I was willing to make the trade.  Ironically, the “Human Touch” was what I was withdrawing from as I headed deeper and deeper into my fantasy world of Rick Springfield.

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Try, Try Again

I was always looking for the quick fix.  Who isn’t, I guess.

Since I’d figured out that stealing stuff wasn’t going to make me cool or hip in the eyes of my peers (to be fair, I was swiping Smurf figurines and Barbie furniture as a seventh grader, instead of makeup and leg warmers), plus it was a little scary to be wondering If This Was The Time I’d Get Caught each time I did it, I decided there had to be something else I could do to fit in with the kids at school.  I wasn’t going to dumb myself down for attention; I liked being smart and the feeling of accomplishment I got from being right or first.  Besides, there were plenty of smart, cool kids.  A bunch of them were in classes with me.

I thought at first it had to be my family situation; everyone at school knew there was something going on with my brother, though they weren’t sure what.  We couldn’t be more different, more distant, and it was no secret he’d had that unexplained six week long absence the year before.  But there were plenty of kids whose parents weren’t together (maybe none of them had a gay father but it wasn’t like anyone actually knew that about me).  What WAS it about me that kept me on the outside looking in?

I decided it had to be my weight.  I’d always been on the thicker side of normal, but I did balloon into chubby preteen awkwardness around the time we’d moved.  Still, most of that was gone as my height finally started to kick in; I was still short, but not crazy short.  Even though I’d slimmed out some, the mindset of being the chubby girl with glasses was firmly with me, and I figured I’d solve the problem with contact lenses and a diet.

My mother wasn’t about to let me get contacts until her prescribed moment of readiness:  age 14.  I was stuck with the glasses for a while yet, but I could do something about the weight.  Weight was all we talked about at home anyway; my mother had gained a fair amount of weight since her divorce, and my sister wasn’t stick thin either.  Lean Cuisines and microwaves were starting to be popular, as was the Grapefruit Diet and the Cabbage Soup Diet.

I had an easier solution:  anorexia.  I read books about it, watched after school specials and figured that I’d just try it on for size until I could get my weight to a place where I could be wearing 1/2s instead of 5/6s.  And let me say that I KNOW that this is being written very lightly, and understand that I don’t take anorexia lightly; I know it is a real disorder that is serious and affects many.  I get that.  I do.

That being said, I was a complete and utter failure at it.  I couldn’t make it happen.   I really did have the perfect setup for it; there was very little supervision for me at home, no regular meal times, no one paying attention to my eating habits whatsoever.  I could have totally slipped through the cracks and had a real problem.   I got so HUNGRY, I couldn’t stand it.   I hated the feeling, I couldn’t fight against it.  I tried drinking water to stave it off, I tried eating just one small bit of something to stave it off.  Nothing worked.   I ended up eating and eating to fill the emptiness that I’d created, literally as much as figuratively.

Then I figured, I’d try bulimia on for size.  (Same caveat as before, I know it’s real and I’m not being flip).  Except that I have really, really small hands, and never could reach down far enough in my throat to trigger the gag reflex.  So then I tried my toothbrush.  I still couldn’t make it happen.  Finally, I figured out that ipecac syrup was vomit inducing, so I tried that.  But again, I couldn’t stand it.  I couldn’t stand the feeling that came from the syrup and my stomach churning before the vomit happened.  I was a hopeless loser at bulimia, too.

I finally gave up.  I gave in to the fact that I was going to be a little heavier than my friends, and lived with it.  I wasn’t happy and my self esteem hovered just above the waterline for most of my 8th grade year, but I accepted that I wasn’t going to lose weight.  Instead, later that year, I started writing about a fictional character who was able to succeed in losing weight because of anorexia.  In the story, not only did she become thin, but everyone noticed and felt horrible for not realizing how miserable she was.

My story was similar, except for that I didn’t lose weight, and no one noticed.

Gateway Earrings

I loved that we lived near a small shopping center.

I could walk there.  I would walk up behind the rows and rows of townhomes, about a half a mile, until I got to the fence that blocked the railroad tracks from our community.  I always thought the fence was kind of a joke; maybe you couldn’t see the trains coming through, but you certainly could hear them.  I got used to the sound of train whistles day in and day out, but then again, I lived a ways away from where they went through.

There was a hole in the fence that blocked the rails from the condos.   Teenagers were constantly pulling out a board or two from it so that we could cross the tracks to end up behind the shopping center.  This was a short cut and and infinitely faster than going on the roads that led to the stores.  Sometimes there would be teens congregated by the tracks, smoking or “hanging out”.   But most of the time I could slide easily through the gaping slats of the fence, down the hill, across the tracks and into the parking lot behind the shopping center.  Sometimes I would stop and wait to see the trains go by, but most of the time they were far away and I was too interested in getting to the shops.

Our shopping center had a grocery store, a drug store, a bagel shop, a toy store, a book store and down at the very end, a small movie theatre.  I loved going into the bagel shop and having a fresh baked bagel; I’d never even heard of them before we moved here.  I loved spending hours in the book shop trying to decide which book I was going to get next with my allowance.  I loved staring at the toys in the toy store, even though I should have been old enough to not be interested in them.  But I probably spent the most time in the drug store, because they sold absolutely everything from magazines to vinyl records to Christmas trees to hand soap.

One day, my girlfriend walked out of the drug store without paying for a tube of lip stick.  She laughed and laughed about how easy it was and how she did this all the time.  I looked at her with wide eyes; that was STEALING.  But look at all of the things she had that she didn’t have to pay for, the voice in my head immediately piped up.  I started asking around and it seemed nearly everyone I knew had stolen something once or twice, though for some it was apparently a well ingrained habit.  My only experience with thievery was when I pocketed the lifesavers at the party store my dad took me to when he needed more beer.  He made me go back to the store with them and apologize when he discovered that I’d taken them, and the lesson stuck.

But my mother and father weren’t around much these days, and lovely things that I didn’t have the money for started to look appealing.  Maybe the kids at school would think I was prettier if I had that one perfect shade of lipstick.  Or they’d think I was cooler if I could add to my Smurf collection beyond Papa Smurf and Smurfette.

So I did it.  I gently placed a pair of earrings in my palm and walked around the store with it until I could slide the package up my sleeve.  I walked out of the store with it still held there, totally inconspicuous behind the knit sweater  I was wearing.   I kept walking until I got behind the shopping center and then pulled out the small, plastic wafer that held the two dangling earrings.

I should have felt guilty.  I should have felt badly.  I should have felt like I’d just made a huge mistake.  But I didn’t feel any of those things.  Instead, I felt powerful.  I felt like I’d just tapped into some great secret that could make my life better, that would give me access to things that would make me happy.

I put in the earrings and smiled the whole way back home.

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