In our last lesson, we learned about the importance of being honest. Well, author Amy Ferris is someone who is extremely honest and does not hide from her mistakes. In fact, she believes they are what helped get to where she is today:
“I can't make your mistakes for you.”
I was fifteen, fifteen and a half, maybe, almost sixteen years old, and I was leaving home.
I had dropped out of High School. Jewish Girls from Middle Class families didn't drop out of high school. They had nervous breakdowns, or went on all day shopping sprees at Roosevelt Field, or would cut school and go to the park and make out with various boys, or go to the “one” movie theater and watch a movie over and over and over again, because in those days you could, you could sit in a movie theater, stay all day and you could also smoke cigarettes...
I was at a stage in my life where breathing felt like a chore. I was so miserable and unhappy and I felt so alone in the world. I was running with a bad crowd, and stealing dollars, lots and lots of dollars from my dad’s wallet and mom’s purse and drawers -- here and there, lots of here and there -- and buying hash and marijuana, and coke and lying about that, acting out all sorts of self-loathing behavior. I will spare you with the details, but suffice it to say that there was a time in my life where being bad and feeling bad just blended together into plain old BIG BAD BAD.
And so I quit high school, and decided to tag along to a commune with my friend who I made out with in the back seat of the car where we kissed so long and so hard our lips cracked and bled but I wasn’t his girlfriend and he wasn't my boyfriend.
My dad drove me to the airport so I could fly across the country and live on a commune with a boy who wasn't my boyfriend because he, this boy, "Didn't love me like that."
My dad left me at the gate -- while my knapsack was making it’s way to the plane by way of the conveyor belt - my pheasant skirt dragging on the floor, my hair curly and unruly. He handed me a couple of hundred dollars and said, “Please, our secret,” and I smiled and kissed him and hugged him so tight I could feel his heart breaking, “I can’t make your mistakes for you,” he whispered in my ear, and then he turned and walked away.
And the mistakes piled up one after another, year, after year after year.
There was the pregnancy. The one where I behaved like a needy, desperate young woman, using that pregnancy as a weapon: to try and get the man to love me, to want me. To want me, and the baby.
“Why don't we abort you and keep the baby?” He finally said.
I sat alone in the abortion clinic. Where another man – a middle-aged, short, heavy-set bespectacled man - said, "I will help you. Come with me.” And a half an hour later I was in a room with about ten other girls who had just had abortions and I can tell you right now with complete conviction that none of us felt good about what had just happened, none of us. And I would go so far as to bet none of us ended up with – or stayed with - the guy we had sex with, who got us pregnant.
Because none of us in that room, on that day, quite understood or believed at that stage in our lives how vital, and necessary it was to love the whole of ourselves, to honor our whole self. I was young and lonely and had absolutely no self-worth whatsoever. Self-esteem was so out of reach I would have fallen down if I tried to grab hold of it. I was desperately searching and hoping for love. That mistake – the desperation of wanting to be loved, later in life became a deep mission, the desire to become a woman of unlimited self-esteem. Wouldn’t trade that mistake for the world.
Then there was the boyfriend, the horrible, bad boyfriend. The one who I knew from the get go, from the moment I met him, that he was not right for me. He. Was. Not. Right. For. Me. I knew it, and I didn’t pay attention to my own instincts. The voice that said, “nah, don’t, he’s not good for you, this doesn’t feel right, don’t do this.” I did not pay attention to that voice. Nor did I did pay enough attention to his anger and his mood swings and his need to be right all the time, and his violent streak and the hole that remained punched in the wall, or the way that he humiliated me in public, or the very first time he threatened me, with his big hard hands wrapped around my throat.
His hands wrapped so hard he was choking me, “I could kill you” he said in a hushed scary voice.
I sat in my car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A few of my personal belongings scattered on the back seat, along with a black and blue mark stretching from my jaw-line to my clavicle, as I replayed the entire five years over and over and over and over again wishing more than anything I had paid attention to that voice – my voice - telling me DON’T, don’t do this. Why didn’t I listen? What didn’t I trust about myself, my own voice, why did I constantly turn down the volume?
That mistake - not paying attention to my own voice, my own life, later in life led me to a deep rooted passion, the desire for all women to speak up, to speak their truth, to be heard. Oh, no, I wouldn’t trade that mistake for anything.
And then there are the mistakes that bring us shame, the ones that make us weep in the dark, the ones that keep us at arms length. The ones that we marry. The ones that we try desperately to hide, the ones that have prescription numbers, the ones that are hidden away in cartons. The ones that we forgot. The ones that are thrown up in our face over and over and over again. The ones that come back to haunt us. The ones that feel so unbearable we think we’ll die. The ones that get you down on your knees. The ones you die with. The ones that make you feel not worthy, or deserving. The ones that keep us invisible.
A different airport.
A different city.
A different time.
My dad and I were sitting together at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Waiting, waiting, waiting at the gate for a plane to arrive from Atlanta, Georgia. We were sitting for hours. We had arrived at the airport very early, and the plane was four hours late. There were delays and headwinds, and storms, and all the god-awful pacing back and forth, back and forth, and checking his watch every five minutes - this was my dad’s all-time favorite past time, worrying, and then – finally – after circling the airport for another hour, the plane landed. Safely. Finally. Finally. And then my father exhaled, this big gigantic huge exhale. The kind of exhale that makes you wonder, how did they hold that in for so long? And then a few minutes later, along with other weary passengers – his carry-on baggage in one hand, and his “camera” hat in the other -- my husband got off the plane, and as he walked toward us, I remember thinking: What if – what if - my father had never said to me, I can’t make your mistakes for you?
All those mistakes, all those god awful, embarrassing, shameful, secretive mistakes that brought me closer to another person, that I swore I would never ever repeat, the ones that seemed to pop up every which where, the ones I couldn’t seem to live without – all those mistakes led me here.
Amy Ferris is an author, screenwriter, playwright and editor. She is co-editor (along with Hollye Dexter) of a new anthology, DANCING AT THE SHAME PROM (Seal Press, Fall 2012). Amy wrote the films, Funny Valentines (Julie Dash, Director), and Mr. Wonderful (Anthony Minghella, Director). Funny Valentines was nominated for numerous awards, including Best screenplay. Amy has contributed to many anthologies, He Said What?, The Drinking Diaries, The Buddha Next Door, and Exit Laughing to name a few. She co-created and co-edited the very first "all women's issue" of Living Buddhism Magazine in 2000. Amy's memoir, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions From A Midlife Crisis (Seal Press) is heading Off-Broadway, opening March 1st at CAP21 Theater Company in New York City (Krista Lyons, Ken Ferris & Amy Ferris co-authored the play).
Amy dropped out of High School, and never looked back. Well, maybe once or twice.
She lives in Pennsylvania with her gorgeous husband Ken, and their two cats, Bella & Lotus.