The other day, I read this article, "A Tale of Two Sisters," in More Magazine, written by sisters, Joyce and Rona Maynard. Each wrote about why there has been distance, emotionally and geographically, between the sisters. That I couldn't relate to. I only wish I could see my sister, someone who I've enjoyed getting to know more and more over the phone - but we are separated. My sister's in the South East and I'm in the West. But I did relate to this: Joyce Maynard spoke about how the sisters' separation let them create new roles, new identities - rather than staying stuck in the roles they played in childhood - Joyce as the happy one;Rona as the sullen one.
I've sometimes wondered why I was so adamant to leave Northern California for Los Angeles - a place where I didn't have a job or know anyone. Yes, I wanted to experience warmer weather. Yes, I love the Southern California beaches . Sure, I grew up dreaming of life in the entertainment business. But what the Maynard sisters' article reminded me of is this: I wanted to leave behind the roles I had stepped into during my teen years.
While I grew up in San Francisco (except for the years traveling), I spent my entire teen years in Pacifica, California - a beachtown of approximately 40,000 people, about fifteen minutes south of San Francisco. It had one theater and two high schools - both schools I attended - and is surrounded by rolling green hills that tend to trap in the fog. It could be a nice place to live. But after San Francisco, it felt like living in slow motion. The language was different; instead of kids saying to each other, "I'm finna whoop yo' ass!" they'd say, "I call you down." And no one had an afro or listened to Funk. Heck, these Pacifica kids wore overalls and listened to Captain and Tennille!!!
In Pacifica, there were only a handful of groups to hang out with - 4-H Club, stoner crowd or surfer/jock group. While I would've loved a horse, I didn't find any interest in raising goats; I grew up in San Francisco where the adults were stoners...so, no interest there. I eventually squeezed myself into the cheerleader role... momentarily. None of us ever fits these high school roles completely or know who we are entirely; yet everyone else has an opinion about us. These are the titles I was given -
I was told I was a snob and stuck-up...I even had a group of girls spray paint "Slut!" on every locker I had. So, apparently, I was that too.
More common than those titles were - space cadet and air head. Even my US History teacher, who was also one of the coaches, called me "air head." He laughed and made jokes about me right along with the jocks in his class.
The truth was I was just a confused, under-confident, near-sighted kid who drifted off dreaming about everything I wish I could be doing beside sitting at school. And once people got to know me they realized I was just a goofball...which was a name I didn't mind at all.
I almost died a week before graduating from Terra Nova High. At about 1am on a Saturday morning, after I dropped my friends off at their homes, I drove my VW bug alone down a steep and windy road. I went to step on the brakes and the pedal went all the way to the floor without slowing at all. My brakes were completely out.
My car began shaking as it picked up speed. I pumped the brake pedal. I tried to down shift. I pulled up the hand brake, but the car kept going...so - sure that I was going to die - I thought of my options: hit the wall of the mountain; keep building speed down the road or go off the cliff. I was desperate. I even thought of jumping out. Then... there it was - hope: A fire hydrant. I rammed my car into it. The bottom of my car peeled back like an opened sardine can. But at least I stopped.
The next Monday at school I told my friends, half joking, that I was so desperate I thought of sticking my foot onto the ground to slow the car. I mean, come on!! I was desperate. Within hours, I couldn't walk down the hallway without someone yelling, "Hey, Wilma!!"... as in Flintstone, because the cartoon characters stopped their stone cars with their feet.
After graduation, I'd run into guys I used to date at the market. I'd wait on girls who thought I was a bitch as I worked at Rockaway Deli on Highway One. Friends would still laugh about the "Wilma" story.
So, yeah, the Southern California weather sounded nice. But leaving a town where I knew half the population and leaving behind all the labels I'd been given since Junior High sounded just as nice.
Years later, as a pregnant and married wife living in the San Fernando Valley, Cindy - one of my best friends from San Francisco, who I'd known since I was seven or eight - came to visit me. At the time, she was dating a comedian who lived in Hollywood.
During our visit Cindy said, "You'll never guess who I had dinner with the other night."
"Rob Schneider," she said.
He and I knew each other in high school. Hung around the same people. Saw Prince in "Purple Rain" as a group. Went to Hawaii, after graduating, as a group. We even butted heads during Terra Nova's Senior talent show. As the director, he wanted me to come to a rehearsal. No matter how adamant he was, I refused. I told him my reason, thinking then he'd understand the importance of my obligation.
"But, Rob, that's when I'm getting my hair permed!!"
Somehow he didn't understand. Anyway, after moving, I hadn't seen him in years.
Cindy continued. "Yeah, Warren and I had dinner with him and Dennis Miller at Canter's. After talking, I realized you and Rob both lived in Pacifica, so I said, 'Do you know Michele?' And he said, 'Oh, you mean... Wilma?'
Sometimes, no matter how many miles you travel, there are some things you can't leave behind.
*Photos from the Oceana High School 1980 yearbook. Someone caught me drifting off in photography class. And that was my favorite class.