Live Through This

Sneaking Around

Sometimes you can just push open a door and let yourself out.

The very first time I snuck out, I met this 15-year-old Polish boy, Stan, who lived just a few blocks away and, actually, only had a bike. He washed his hair with dog shampoo, wore dreads down to his shoulders, and lived for moments when people physically recoiled from the sight of him.

He told me he liked to bike all around town in the middle of the night and that he once took a brick and smashed in the driver’s-side window of the most expensive car he saw parked along the side of the road. “You can come with me sometime,” he said.

I didn’t know if what I wanted was to go with him specifically, or if I just wanted to go somewhere with someone, anyone. I wanted to meet these boys that my parents warned me against, boys that they claimed would drag me down the dark and swift road to teenage pregnancy and straight on into Junkie City, because that was the sheer power of bad influences.

Stan waited for me that first night. I jumped on his handlebars and put my hands over his hands while he pedaled us all across town.

“Fuck your parents,” he said. “Don’t fucking give them the time of day.” I wanted to say, “Wait, I actually kind of understand where they’re coming from.”

Later, lying on the grass with him, I knew that in an hour I would get up and ask him to take me home. I would sprint across the field to get to my house and I would shakily let myself in through the deck doors and sleep for an hour or two before waking up to go to school, and I would walk into my first-period class feeling just a tiny bit less angry and sad.

Other than Stan, most of the boys who were willing to wait until midnight to see me, who were willing to drive their cars at that hour to pick me up, who didn’t try to get my parents’ permission to see me, were not boys at all, but older men.

I knew these two college dropouts in their early 20s who were friends of friends of friends. They shared a two-bedroom apartment in town and got into fistfights over which one of them was the “true fucking king of Tony Hawk.” One of them constantly reassured me that he wasn’t dumb, just sick of the jerks and scumbags he met at community college, and that he was planning to apply to a couple of very competitive universities next year. The other was a self-taught “Buddhist” who was very interested in my “culture.”

“Do you want to watch me attempt some calligraphy?” he asked me. “I have a sick collection of bootlegged kung-fu movies, although you’ve probably seen a bunch of them. By the way, have you read the I Ching?”

I hadn’t read the I Ching, and I liked watching kung-fu movies about as much as I liked to pull pubic hairs out of the drain, but I never said anything. I wasn’t ready to escape from my escape.

It thrilled me to see two grown men who didn’t have their shit together, who weren’t doing much of anything with their lives. I felt like I was being courted and desired in this way that was both scary and manageable, because deep down I knew that I wasn’t going to live in this town forever. I knew I could return home before morning. As easy as it was to let myself out, I could also let myself back in.

I also knew a 28-year-old English doctoral candidate at Columbia University, and we would send each other long emails about our lives, and sometimes I would call him late at night and he would tell me that I was a genius and that I was the most extraordinary girl he had ever met and that he hated the popular kids who were cruel to me in middle school and that he had fantasized about beating the snot out of them to avenge my honor.

I met up with him once in his car, which he had driven all the way from Manhattan to Long Island. He apologized for being out of shape, and I apologized for being shy. I was afraid he would touch me, and I was also afraid he wouldn’t touch me. In the end, we just sat there, trying to re-create the electric sexual tension that hovered over our late-night telephone conversations. Maybe it was there for him, but for me, as soon as I made the choice to sneak out to see him in the flesh, the fantasy of our romance was shattered, never to be recovered.

For almost two years, from the start of my junior year until I went away to college, I kept it up. I snuck out to go on long drives with the friends of friends of my friend’s older brother. I snuck out to skinny-dip in the pool of a dude I met at the community center where I volunteered. I snuck out to the hotel room of a band that had traveled all the way from Louisville, Kentucky, to play a show at that same community center. The drummer laid his head on my knee, and the bassist made me a ring out of dead flowers and twine and gave me his handkerchief with a note that said “Alien princess from another world, take me to your land!” Sometimes I snuck out just to be alone, just to lie down on the grassy field behind my house, to listen to Sunny Day Real Estate on my CD player and wonder what it would feel like not to have to hide anything from anyone. The more I snuck out, the more I became convinced that I could get away with everything.

It’s true that I wasn’t ever caught, and it’s true that I never felt unsafe, but in the end, that stuff was just luck. In the end, I felt lonelier than ever, partitioning my life into segments. My parents didn’t know this midnight world, and the dudes I snuck out to see didn’t know what my life was like in the morning. These boys and men meant everything to me for the time they were in my life, but at some point, I needed my life to include other people, other kinds of interaction. I didn’t really want to deny my parents the privilege of knowing me. I wanted the privilege of being understood by others. And I really, really needed to get some sleep.

***

Was it hard for Feng to come back, because she saw how good it was out there? Or was it hard because she saw how bad it was?

I ran out every night, but I came back every night, too. Maybe my parents knew all along, and let me have my nights away. Maybe I underestimated their beneficence. I don’t know, but I do know this: my parents were not the ones who took away my paradise. I was. I pushed open that door so many times that the thrill of breaking free became the stuff of daily routine.

At some point, I knew I no longer wanted to go back to that parking lot. But I’m not sorry I let myself out. Once I realized that the pleasures of being wild and careless were just as flawed and fleeting as everything else on this earth, I continued on with my life, fearful that I had used up my quota for adventure, that I would be forever hardened by disillusionment. But it was not so. The love and the freedom and the heartbreak that were still in store for me, that are still in store for me, continue to pull me in the direction of all that is unknown. I feel as I’ve always felt—like I want to know everyone, and I want everyone to know me. ♦

* All names have been changed.

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25 Comments

  • katrinaexplainsitall July 11th, 2012 11:20 PM

    God, I really like this a lot, and I am bookmarking this so I can read this whenever I feel like running away from everything.

    http://www.katrinaspice.blogspot.com

  • Tay July 11th, 2012 11:21 PM

    Great article, as always

    • sophiethewitch October 3rd, 2012 3:04 AM

      Ditto. This article was just amazing.

      I always feel like I need to rebel in some way to break away from my parents and grow up, but they’re so reasonable there’s not much for me to rebel against. Except they don’t want me to get piercings yet, and I do. But is that really worth losing my parents’ trust?

  • Izra July 11th, 2012 11:22 PM

    This is my favorite post on Rookie. Thank you Jenny

  • jenaimarley July 11th, 2012 11:23 PM

    Thank you thank you thank you!
    This is so inspiring and relevant to me at the moment! I’m struggling with my parents (who I’ve always been open and honest with and who have seemed pretty open and cool about stuff too until I came to an age where I actually might “do things”). It’s really hard for me and sometimes I feel like their restrictions on me are just really ironic. But anyway, I am growing up and part of that is becoming someone who makes her own decisions and lives with the consequences.
    Thank you again.
    Love!

  • old hands July 11th, 2012 11:45 PM

    I learned how to run away from school really late. It was senior year in high school and there was this horrible goodbye pep-rally thing where all the seniors had to run out onto the gym floor and jump around and I really didn’t want to do it, at all. So when we were being herded to the gym, I edged to the back and kind of melted away. I could hear the cheers and drums from the gym and it was so loud, and then I opened the door and walked outside and it was so quiet. I think that was the best moment of my whole life. I really liked this article. It’s important to know you don’t have to do what they tell you to do. To have your own life, to have these experiences.

    • spatergator July 12th, 2012 4:11 PM

      that was a beautiful thing to read

  • ivoire July 11th, 2012 11:45 PM

    I would be terrified to sneak out and do all these things. In a way this minimizes my freedom. I DON’T HAVE AN INNER REBEL. Is that a good thing?

    • all-art-is-quite-useless July 13th, 2012 12:25 PM

      I’m the same… I would be terrified to be out at night with a strange boy.

  • Adrienne July 12th, 2012 12:01 AM

    Jenny, you are definitely one of my favorite authors on Rookie! My parents, also Chinese, insisted I learn the piano at an early age. They’re also drilling me on SAT practice… oh what fun. I don’t know why, but you’re article is inspiring to me to be bolder and maybe ask my parents for the night off.

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • La Fille July 12th, 2012 12:47 AM

    Jenny, what you said at the end about you (not your parents) taking away your paradise reminds me of a quote from Sylvia Plath: “It isn’t your room that’s a prison, it’s yourself.”

    But anyway, I identify with this. I normally live far away from my school and my friends, but when it’s 10:00 at night and my dad and step-mother are watching TV or sleeping, I tend to sneak out and look at the stars by myself: not because I want to upset them, but because I’m away from the material, the concrete, the artificial for once. You don’t have to worry about day-to-day life when it’s just you, the wet ground, and the black sky.

    I’ve enjoyed the company of people who are incredibly different from straight-laced, academic me, but I end up with a boundary of some kind that gets me to come back home: maybe I don’t want to do drugs so young, maybe I don’t want to be driven home by someone drunk.

    I’m still testing out my morals and my ethics, and given freedom, maybe that’s not really a bad thing.

    • Shanman July 12th, 2012 4:24 AM

      I just read The Bell Jar which is all about being your own prison. I love sylvia plath.

  • Ben July 12th, 2012 1:18 AM

    I really hated piano too. My parents made me do it for a while and I would have tantrums and throw stuff and I was like 12! But then they finally let me quit and I’m so happy I did!
    It snowed one night last winter and it hadn’t been snowing much at all so I went outside and walked around at night in the snow! It had like transformed my yard into a wonderland and I took some really cool flash photos! Then the next morning when I woke up it was melted away :( good thing I enjoyed it while I could! And eing out at night is so cool! It’s ver different and exiting!

  • Sea goddess July 12th, 2012 1:27 AM

    Ahh rookie i love how you somehow post something im relating to rightnow….i have on mind sneaking out to this party, where there’s gonna be lots of ppl and drinks…it’s the FIRST “wild” party id be going to…but im still unsure :/ Thankyou for posting this and making my thoughts clearer <3

  • LeatherStuddedFae July 12th, 2012 2:20 AM

    Jenny, your articles just never cease to amaze me. I could totally relate to this article. I’d probably print this and carry it around forever.

    My parents are just like yours and I wish I could be more like you. I wish I could have the courage to sneak out at night. What even makes it hard to do is that I live in an apartment with three bedrooms and my room is being shared with my two sisters. I have lived though my parents’ expectations for so long. And I hate it. No boyfriend until you finish college for puppy love is a waste of time. No going to concerts unless it’s the Jonas Brothers(I don’t even really like them =[ ) or if you have someone to go with you. Don’t be friends with the guy who tries to court you. Don’t take a cab. I’m not even allowed to cross the pedestrian! The list of stupid rules and restriction goes on.
    They do allow me to come late at night when I’m with my friends as long as I have nothing to do the next day but that seems to be just about it.

    And I very well damn know that my parents are doing the wrong thing. Controlling me with every power they have. It drives me crazy. But I also know that there are some things they do right.

    I learned to do the complete opposite of these rules and I regret nothing. All this time, I was dependent of their rules. With the help of a good best friend and breaking the rules, I became independent and I would feel free. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

    I’m not trying to rebel, I’m trying to find myself beyond the walls and doors that has locked me away.

    http://stylestuddedfairy.blogspot.com/

  • diny July 12th, 2012 9:02 AM

    i have dad who is so protective. i should be home before 7pm (i’m 20, and yes it is true). i always think that maybe it is so wonderful to have o rules. i can be out every time. but i do feel unsafe when i’m out of home. and somehow, i really like being on my room (i think my brain is start being in its ‘safest mode’ ever).

  • Lucille July 12th, 2012 10:57 AM

    You know how much I love that article, damn!
    http://fashion-babel.blogspot.com

  • piecesofserendipity July 12th, 2012 11:49 AM

    This article is unbelievably relevant to my life at the moment. I’m 16, and a few months ago I started sneaking out at night.
    My mum has always been really lenient. She lets me go to parties, and stay out, and generally trust me. But that doesn’t extend to letting me leave at 1:00am. So at like 12/1 I will sneak out as the house is quiet and meet up with people. There’s a group of us who meet up and hang around the skate parks, and public spaces until 6/7am.
    The night is so utterly peaceful it feels like I’m in my own desolate world. The streets that are busy in light are barren, and we can do whatever the hell we want. It’s freedom.
    The main difference between my experiences and yours is that these people were also my friends in the day time. It wasn’t as secretive (only my family didn’t know) but it meant I trusted them a lot more. Even as I was getting drunk/high on the skate parks in a rough estate, the guys could handle all the crap. We didn’t fear strangers in the night – the strangers in the night feared us.
    I guess what I saying is that I love my midnight escapades. You never know where you’ll end up. The stars are beautiful. My friends are brilliant and we are all so screw up and we love it. We are infinite, if only for a few hidden hours.

  • darksideoftherainbow July 12th, 2012 3:20 PM

    this was really excellent. it’s also so relevant to me right now. it’s true…you push and push so that you’re not bored with your life and soon all the pushing becomes routine and suddenly you’re bored again.

  • maddzwx July 12th, 2012 5:44 PM

    This is such a great article, one of the best I’ve read on Rookie (which is obviously saying a lot). Just wondering, though, on the first page, second to last paragraph, is that a typo? Is garden house supposed to be hose?

    • Rose July 12th, 2012 5:50 PM

      Fixed, thanks for the catch!

  • missmadness July 12th, 2012 9:08 PM

    This is so beautiful. A lot of my friends have similar experiences, which I find fascinating. When I turned 15 (old enough for trouble, in my parent’s opinion) they gave me four rules by which to govern my life:

    1. Don’t go to jail
    2. Don’t get pregnant
    3. Keep your grades up
    4. If you’re not going to be home when your dad gets up (usually 5am) call and leave a message.

    No curfews, no extraneous rules, just these. They kept me out of trouble for the most part, and made me think about long term consequences of short term actions (drinking in public=jail, staying out til 6am everynight=bad grades, etc.) It was pretty great.

  • manny July 13th, 2012 1:24 AM

    Man, this was an awesome article :)

    I’ve actually been reading Rookie for a couple of months now, but believe it or not – its pretty much this article that’s gotten me to ‘register and comment’.

    I’m 25 years old – Indian, and boy do I understand what you’ve had to go through. Honestly, I don’t think I even completely understood the extent to which I was just not being myself until I got to law school – which incidentally, is a pretty shady place to start that process of self realization.

    I love my folks – but increasingly, ever since I was 18 – I realized there were tons of things I just couldn’t see eye to eye with them. I think it takes a bunch of courage (and chocolate) to actually make a stand for yourself and re-claim your life. I agree that sometimes – you can choose to push that damn door and make things different. I also understand, that pushing that door can be such a pain – its a pretty damn heavy door.

    Maybe I’m a bit old to be reading Rookie, but hey – what the hell :) Loved the article

  • tobtob July 23rd, 2012 1:16 AM

    Thanks for this article! It’s really great. I snuck out for the first time last week, and it was so.. exhilarating!

  • Nishat August 9th, 2012 9:53 AM

    This was so, so beautifully written. I don’t think I can relate to it at all but I read through it all as if I could. I hope you’re doing something you love now, and you should tell your parents I said hi!