WRITINGS FROM LIZ'S BOOKBOX

Today's Prompt: "ESCAPE"


On my 60th birthday, my perceptive, imaginative friend, Liz Palladino, gave me a box that looked just like a book. You open the cover and it’s filled with writing prompts. Best gift ever. It’s inspired me to create a new Medium series called Writings from Liz’s BookBox. Gonna try and hit it every week till I get through the whole thing.


Escape. Wow. So many ways I’ve escaped in my life. Travel, booze, sex, TV, reading, lying. By far, my favorite escape route was always fantasy. Which inevitably led to some lying. One example stands out, from my childhood.


I was fairly popular in junior high, but never really girlfriend material. My best friend had long, thick, luscious, brown hair, and she had no trouble filling out an actual bra. I had nothing. Well, I didn’t have nothing. I had thin, short hair, Kleenex in my training bra, and a kickass imagination.


I knew I was never going to have a boyfriend of my own, though, so I created him. He went to a different school. We had a whole relationship for about three months.


Tom Jennings was in the eighth grade (I was in the seventh grade, so right there I manufactured massive amounts of cred). We met at a boring party my parents made me go to. He was their son and we ended up talking for hours. He played guitar —you guys should really hear him play — and we even shared a love of Joni Mitchell! In fact, we liked most of the same music. (I made sure we differed enough for plausibility.) Surfing was his passion, but he only got to indulge in it when his family went to their other home at Big Sur on holidays, so I never got to see that part of his life.


Our song was “Never My Love,” by the Association. We had danced to it once over the phone, even. He gave me an ID bracelet. For those of you who don’t know what that is, here’s picture of one, only mine had his name engraved on it. And yes, I bought it myself and wore it to school. (Desperate times call for desperate measures):




Four or five times during our three-month ‘relationship,’ I tried to set up occasions where I could introduce him to my friend(s). We’re going to go see Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Wanna join us? Or, He’s gonna be my date at the seventh grade dance! So excited for you to meet him! Or, Come to my birthday party. He’s gonna be there!


My challenge was to come up with ever better excuses for his absence. The first one was easy — he got bad grades on his report card and his Mom grounded him. Next time, his beloved aunt died suddenly in a car crash. Karen came over once so they could meet. She was my best friend. But he got food poisoning that day. I had a whole pretend conversation with his Mom while Karen looked at me with sympathetic eyes. I told Mrs. Jennings to please tell him to feel better soon and to drink lots of water.


There were notes and letters I wrote myself in a kind of stunted handwriting, using the minimalist, ‘cool guy’ lexicon of a sixties eighth grade surfer boy— throwing in the occasional obscure Byrds reference, something I’d say as I read it to my friends, “It’s from Turn, Turn, Turn. It’s too hard to explain.” I was thrilled when I ‘received’ these letters. Brought them to school, shared them like the treasured secrets they were with my besties in the girls’ bathroom.

And I was genuinely depressed when Tom and I fought and stopped talking to each other for a few days. (That’s the longest either one of us could last.)


Again, my imagination was in play, fashioning what the fight was about, trying to understand his point of view but not being able to get over how hurtful he’d been. My friends offered other possibilities. Maybe the relationship couldn’t work because of the different schools and all. Maybe there was another girl.


We went up and down like this for a while. Eventually, the thing ran its course. Yeah, there was another girl. It broke my heart. I played sad records in my bedroom, listening to “Alfie,” and “Ode to Billy Joe,” and, of course, the kicker: the theme song from “Valley of the Dolls.” Everyone tried to cheer me up. Especially Karen.


That’s when I really started feeling the ‘lie’ of it. I realized I had to tell her. At first, the escape into coolness had been amazing. This world I’d created, it had momentarily secured my spot at the top of twelve-year-old girlsworld. For sure, this ability to create a character, give him backstory and idiosyncrasies and motivations was one of the early signs that I’d eventually turn into a writer. But now my friend’s heart had gotten caught up in it, and that didn’t feel right.


When I told her the truth, she cried. I didn’t see that coming. I just thought she’d be amazed at my ability to pull it off. But I had betrayed her, had kept my inmost self from her all that time. I forgot that I’d taken advantage of her trust in me. I forgot how crappy it would feel once she understood what I’d done.


It’s fifty years later, so I don’t remember what happened after. I don’t know whether our best friendship survived it or not. But I’ve reconnected with her recently, and it felt wonderful and strange and just like old times and not. The intensity of what you create with your friends when you’re an early teenager is like no other time in your life. It dies hard.


Anyway, that’s the story of only one of my many, many escapes. My mind has never let me down in this regard. I have a rich storymaking machine in me.


That’s why meditation is such a perfect antidote. Like a gentle mother, it continually turns me back toward my Now. I’m off and running, and she catches me and holds me for a moment and says, What are you feeling right now? What are you thinking? What are you believing. Let’s sit together and look at it. Hold my hand, we’ll do this together. Just for a minute. We don’t have to change anything. Let’s just keep it company, ok? Just for right now.


I tell myself stories all day long to make me feel better. Meditation shines a light on that so I don’t mistake it for reality.


But then, in reality, I can tell you better stories…on purpose, and for fun.

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