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One Perfectionist's Revenge
My Charmed Start
I was born into perfection, it seemed. All around me were perfect people with perfect public personas. Picture the year 1956 in burgeoning Westside Los Angeles, then a place of hope and sensibility. All was quite orderly back then in Los Angeles, right down to our African American maid, who exited the morning bus with the other women each morning. My mother had been a model back in the 30's, a perky co-ed from USC, my father, an up-and-coming defense attorney.
Mother threw galas, otherwise known as Cocktail Parties, with regularity, and I remember the women in particular who attended these events fancily dressed in organza, perhaps, or satin. Never to be outdone, Mother was always in designer gowns. She was elegant, my mother, and when I was old enough to make an appearance, she dressed me in velvet and lace. I was well aware of the social graces from a young age, and applied them without question.
On the Other Hand...
My father's side of the family lived close by, and did not condone such activities. They were the more studious types. Now, my aunts and uncles were not exactly ugly, but they were certainly left wanting in the looks department. Perhaps that's why many of my aunts were of the 'maiden' variety. My father's sister, in particular, was probably what one would think of these days as a 'battleaxe.' We all called her 'Tante,' a German term for aunt, and she was of short stature, stout, and quite intimidating.
It just so happened that Tante was also the principal of a Los Angeles junior high school, and I cringe to think of those 7th and 8th graders. She had been a Suffragette earlier in the century, and didn't take anything from anyone. She was a PhD, and proud of it, determined to pass on her legacy to the next generation. Tante was also my after-school arithmetic tutor, what with mother off at the Club and father at the office. This was a losing battle for my determined aunt; I may have sat still during these sessions, but I still detest mathematics with a passion.
With such beauty and success all around me, I began the often torturous challenge of self-assessment. I was my mother's daughter, certainly, but always 'just short' when it came to feminine good looks. I had just enough of my father in me that people would describe me as kind of pretty. Oh, well. Hard on an adolescent, I suppose, but I have survived with self-esteem intact. As Tante continued to tutor me, I bucked and bristled at each of these sessions, learning, perhaps, just what I did not want to be.
The mistake my family made in trying to bestow their concepts of ladylike behavior and education was sending me to an all girl's boarding school. Rather than dooming me to such a horrible fate as a public junior high school, I was sent 400 miles from home to live for 4 years. Admittedly I initially was a pitiful and wounded young child, but it didn't take long to learn 'the ropes.' We young ladies were not. Maybe young, but that was about it. In the dormitories, we learned quickly how to deceive the housemothers on patrol, stealing their hearing aids and such. The lessons I learned had nothing to do with education, they were all about trickery. And survival. During the 70's, society was certainly changing, and my class began experimenting with drugs. On our daily trip to the local shopping center, a friend of mine convinced me to smoke a joint, extolling the fact that the cops would never notice if we were casual. She was apparently right.
Then came the LSD, the mescaline, the hashish. Those were days full of fantasy and hopefulness, gleefully being cosmic while safe from the outside world.
I suppose my revenge would have to be in my refusal to be anything my family had planned for me. I was never a socialite, never got a PhD, and became a drug addict. Now, that I was fairly perfect at, though I don't believe that particular role was what my family had in mind. In all their attempts to make me submit to their ways, I was bound and determined to do things my way, all through my life.
I no longer drink or take drugs, which is a miracle to me, and I wish these family members had lived to see me sober. But even without using, I remain fiercely true to, and happy with, my gloriously imperfect self.