When I was twenty years old.

When I was twenty years old, I sort of lost my mind for a while.  I was in Madrid, a couple of months into a year long study abroad trip, living with two absent roommates in an apartment building from the eighteenth century right on the edge of the Plaza Mayor.  I had a musty basement bedroom full of as many memories from home that I could stuff into a hundred dollars worth of overweight baggage fees.  I went to class three days a week at a public university, a shy American girl lost in big classrooms full of confident, cocky Spaniards, and I spent the rest of my time wandering alone in a crazy city full of people speaking a language I still didn’t quite have a grasp on.

In order to understand what happens next in this story, you must first understand the person I was when the story began.  I was the perfect kid:  a good student, well spoken and responsible, no drinking or drugs (aside from cigarettes, which my parents tolerated because we are Greek).  I was the conservative girl selling hoochie clothes at the Guess store in Santa Monica, and I was dating a nice Israeli boy who drove a BMW and sold women’s shoes at Nordstrom’s.  I even came out to Greek-American society at the local Philoptochos chapter’s occasional debutante ball.  And then I moved to Spain.

My year in Spain started with eight weeks of intensive language study by day and intense drinking by night in Cádiz, although this was nothing all that new for me, not much different from how I spent every summer in Greece.  I found my first short-lived Spanish boyfriend, and found a couple of American girls to party with who were also headed for Madrid at the end of the summer.  When August came, my two new girlfriends and I shipped off to the capital and found that beautiful historic building to live in, but once removed from beachside bars we discovered we had less in common that we initially had believed.  They went their way and I went mine.

For the first time in my life I was alone.  I had no one checking up on me, no one suggesting what I should or shouldn’t do, I had no rules.  I found a new group of American friends to hang out with.  I learned how to roll my own joints and I started skipping class so I could practice this new skill instead.  I started going out to a different kind of club, more techno than flamenco, more spliffs than sangria.  I took ecstasy for the first time, and the second and the third.

Expert Spliff

I met another American girl, also in Madrid on study abroad, and we started doing everything together.  She lived in a duplex apartment at the gates to Retiro Park with sunlight that sparkled through the second floor windows all morning and all afternoon and a handsome but tiny roommate from Galicia.  Together we devised quite a routine for passing our days – watching Al salir de clase in the afternoons, smoking spliff after spliff, alternating back and forth between Spanish and American dinner guests.  I was there so often they finally asked me to move in, which I managed to do with no more than a week’s notice to my Plaza Mayor basement and one very full taxi ride across town.

I spent that Christmas vacation in Greece with my mom.  I hadn’t seen her since June and in the meantime I had lost twenty pounds, replaced my high-heeled boots with beat up New Balance running shoes, and dyed my hair a ridiculous shade of red.  During the whole trip I was inappropriately open with her, confessing to things that a daughter should never discuss with her mother, about losing my virginity, about how much I hated the person I used to be and about all of the horrible things that people had done to me when I used to be that person, though I suppose these were red flags only in retrospect.

In January I met a new boyfriend and from here it was a fast downward spiral.  By the time my mother saw me again I weighed a measly hundred pounds, had gotten my first facial piercing and had stopped wearing makeup or brushing my hair.  I had taken just about every drug that might appear on a common recreationals list and I was considering not going back to LA to finish my degree.  My parents took my passport and my credit card, gave me one week to say my goodbyes, and then put me on a flight out of there.

Summer Post Spain

We spent the summer in Greece.  We saw family in Athens and went to a few islands.  I partied with my cousins and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.  I texted frantically all the time with whomever I could get a hold of in Spain, but already I could feel that life fading away.

In the fall I was back in LA, alone again, and I was worse than ever.  I lived in a big 1940s apartment on Hollywood Blvd.  My parents gave me money for rent and food and that was the extent of my contact with them.  For anything else I needed (drug money, so to speak) I worked part-time at a salon.  I didn’t make a lot of money, but soon enough I had found the underground techno scene and somehow didn’t need a lot of money to do a lot of drugs.  My partying and drug use went from recreational to very serious business, and I only managed to finish college with a degree because my parent-appointed psychoanalyst plead with my professors for passing grades.  I celebrated my graduation by moving out of my apartment and spending my cash gifts on weed.  I spent that summer at clubs or parties five or six nights a week, dating DJs, and sharing my friend’s sofa with his pitbull every night.

It took me a long time to regain my equilibrium after these two years.  After that debaucherous summer in LA I moved back to Spain, where my ex-boyfriend and I tried unsuccessfully to salvage what we thought had been the greatest love story of all time.  From there I fled to Greece to recover physically and emotionally from the toll these experiences had taken.  A year or so later I moved back to LA to begin building a new life in an old city.

I don’t have any contact now with anyone from that time of my life, not from Spain and not from LA.  My ex-boyfriend sent me an email after I was married, but I never responded.  I used to be friends with some of my LA club buddies on Facebook (when I still had Facebook), but I never responded to any of their messages either.  I think a part of me is embarrassed to show them what I’ve become, a suburban mom who works long hours under florescent lights at a not very well known university.  I wear fitted trousers and an appropriate amount of makeup.  In short, I am a sellout.

As bad as my behavior from this period may sound (and your level of horror will likely depend on how much punk rock you listened to while growing up), when I was in the midst of it I thought my life was the best thing in the world.  At the time, I wasn’t just experiencing delayed adolescence or rebelling against my parents and their values, I was really truly convinced that the real world sucked, that all of these things we were supposed to aspire to in life – a good job, a nice house, fancy clothes, a big tv – were just distractions from the truth, which was that governments were corrupt, American values had gone rotten, and corporate culture was sucking the last dredges of life and creativity out of our souls.

And I still believe all of this.  But I also now have a child.  And as much as I would like to give it all up and pursue the lifestyle of a subversive techno bohemian, at my core I am still that good kid that I started out as all those years ago, and I want my daughter to be a good kid too.  So when those stirrings of revolt start rumbling through my chest every now and then, I look at my daughter and I think, shit’s fucked up and bullshit, but thank goodness she doesn’t have to know that just yet.  Thank goodness I’ll be able to keep her clean and keep her safe, and thank goodness when she does find her own path, I’ll be able to say to her, I was there too, once, and I can help you find a better way. 

Techno Che

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4 thoughts on “When I was twenty years old.

    1. What a struggle it is, right? I spend all this time writing about my old self and daydreaming about how much fun my life used to be, but I would do just about anything to keep my daughter from ever doing the things I did… I don’t know how my own parents ever survived it!

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  1. Beautiful, Anna! I can relate in many ways: I was not into the same scene as you, and my children are now older (19, 17, 13, 10), but I see them finding their way and try to be supportive but not judgemental, offer guidance without coercion, and know that they will find their own way.

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    1. It sounds like you’ve found the right balance of guidance and independence for your kids. I want to think that by having lived it all myself I’ll be more able to understand what she encounters and approach it with some level of calm, but I think that having lived it I know all too well the trouble that can be found if you go looking in the right places. I hope that when the time comes I’ll be able to find that equanimity, instead of just freaking out that my daughter might end up in a techno club one night if I don’t keep tabs on her at all times!

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