When I was sitting on the couch at 2:30 this morning, feeding Alex, my mind drifted back to my high school days in Palo Alto. It seems like a lifetime ago, and … ugh, it was. I’m more than twice as old as I was when my mother and I moved out there the summer before my junior year in high school.
In some ways it was an unfortunate couple of years. I had been very happy back at my small, private school in Washington, D.C., and it was a big change to suddenly be at a huge public high school in California, with all the typical cliques you might imagine. I spent my two years there wishing I had been able to better infiltrate the “in” crowd, which a little surprisingly consisted of the kids who would all be heading off to Stanford, Berkeley and the Ivy League schools. Those were the same people I had been friends with in D.C. (although at my school by 11th grade we were pretty much done with the “popular” group nonsense as everyone had known each other for so long), but here I only managed to sort of hover around the periphery. Instead, my high school fate was sealed the first day of class, when I walked into the administrative offices and met another new girl.
Stephanie came from a background pretty different from my own. Her mother had hair like Brigitte Nielsen’s, sported inch-long fake nails, and supported herself by sharing an apartment with her overweight, pasty boyfriend who sold Amway products and wore a lot of brown polyester. In contrast, my mother had been a model in New York before later practicing law in Paris and then joining what would become the most renowned law firm in Silicon Valley. Nonetheless, we were both new to town and had not made any other friends yet, and so we latched on to each other.
Stephanie had an elaborate makeup routine that I found fascinating to watch. She wore foundation and powder, and she curled both her eyelashes and her bleached blonde hair. She and her mother had moved to Palo Alto from Texas, and she told me that’s just what girls did down there. I, on the other hand, wore nothing unless it was for our Saturday night sorties to underage, underground clubs in San Jose, when I obscured myself behind the palest ivory foundation, black-rimmed eyes, red lips and half a can of Aqua Net.
I’m not sure why, but I can’t really remember the ins and outs of our two years together; only a few snippets here and there. For example, we:
1. Bought vodka by my waving wanly at the liquor store clerk from the car while Stephanie told him her mom was sick in the car but had sent her in to buy booze;
2. Worked together at the bakery across the street from our high school. Sometimes she wouldn’t ring up what she sold and would pocket the money instead.
3. Went to a bonfire out on the beach at Half Moon Bay one night in summer. She drove as usual, since for some reason I didn’t get my license until I was 18. That night, I thought it was the coolest thing ever to be a teenager in California.
4. Went with our friends to our prom at some place called Cocoanut Grove in Santa Cruz, with an after party at the illustrious Glass Slipper Motel on El Camino.
You know, it’s not that there was anything that bad about my time in Palo Alto, or that Stephanie and I got up to anything worse than I would have with anyone else. It’s more that I wish I had made friends I would have liked to have kept in touch with. The friends I ended up making there were ones I made more through her than on my own; at least those I hung out with most. Now, when I go home to visit my mother, I have nobody to call.