I just wanted to fit in.
All 15-year-olds just want to fit in. They skulk around like those fish on the ocean floor who can alter their skin color to match the rocks. That was me - trying to blend like my survival depended on it.
But Mrs. Doubtfire was still in theaters, breaking all kinds of box-office records and 20th Century Fox was putting two-page ads in The Hollywood Reporter thanking everyone for buying a movie ticket. Blending was getting harder to do. But L.A. was my life now and I needed to figure out how to be part of that Hollywood crowd. A club on the Sunset Strip seemed like a good place to learn.
We didn’t even want to drink. My friend Christine had a crush on the singer of the opening band. Her sister had been in a movie with him, and our entire intention for the evening was to jump up and down in front of the stage and scream.
The place was dark and throbbing with coolness. People oozed cool and rubbed it all over their already cool friends. People moved around the place so comfortably that it seemed like it was their living room. I used all the acting skills at my disposal in an attempt to copy those people -- and knew I was failing miserably.
Just before the band was due to go on stage, Christine and I headed to the bathroom to preen. She dug through an extensive bag of tools, expertly applying and lining and touching up. I didn’t wear makeup and having no preening abilities of my own, I glanced around the dim, grungy bathroom. I noticed a condom machine hanging on the wall. It was apparently “for our convenience.” I nudged Christine and snickered.
Both of us had sadly undeveloped chests and few social skills beyond giggling - the machine hardly intended us as its target audience in need of such a convenience.
Nevertheless, flavored condoms were intriguing. The machine’s label reported that they came in three thrilling flavors: piña colada, chocolate and strawberry shortcake. I didn’t drink and was allergic to chocolate, so the strawberry shortcake was the clear winner. Christine and I had a lengthy debate about whether the chocolate condoms were made with real chocolate and if they would induce an allergic reaction.
I thought it would be a horrible time to find out.
She thought I was an idiot.
She started rifling through her purse and pulled out some linty quarters.
"Here. Get two."
"Wait, why are we buying these?" I asked.
She snorted at me and handed me the change.
As I loaded the machine with Christine's quarters, she leaned on the bathroom door. This was a scene best kept between the two of us. As our 50 cents went into the machine, slick pink and green packages slid out. They looked cheery. Fun. Yet, I was still scared to touch them. My heart beat quickly.
Christine appeared savvier, though I don’t think she really was. She was just one of those people who always appeared to know what she was doing. Whether on a film set or in a club bathroom holding a piña colada flavored condom, she always seemed as if she has been through it a million times. She was a stark contrast to me - it didn't matter what I was doing, I always looked like I was about to get yelled at.
She ripped open the packaging with her teeth, a move she must have seen in a movie. I approached the wrapper more tentatively, pulling on either side like it was a bag of Doritos. We removed the smooth creatures from their packaging. We unrolled them. We concluded that they probably looked kind of like penises...if penises were florescent, semi-translucent, covered in a strange powder and stinking of sweet chemicals.
“Ready?” Christine asked. I certainly was not but I was standing in a bathroom holding a condom, what could I say?
“Okay. Lick it!” Christine demanded and we each raised the limp rubber to our tongues.
At that moment, the door swung open, catapulting Christine from her guard post and a Goth girl, bedazzled with safety pins, blasted into the bathroom. Christine and I panicked, threw our condoms into the trash and ran the hell out of there.
Taking refuge in a dark corner with humiliated tears flooding my eyes, I cursed Christine for not guarding the door properly and letting us be the freaks who got caught licking flaccid condoms in a bathroom. She also had tears in her eyes, but hers were caused by stomach-cramping laughter. She smoothed out my hair and attempted to comfort me.
"Don't worry about it, Lis. Besides, you are not going to need one of those for a long, LONG time."
Before I could respond with something like "Shut up" - she grabbed my hand, ran to the stage and screamed for the cute lead singer like nothing had happened.
There were many enviable people in that club, owners of designer handbags, prestigious addresses and powerful careers, but I only wanted what Christine had. Her lightness was admirable and something I could never quite locate within myself. My friend's skin fit her just fine and she never seemed to care too much about outside opinions. Her ease in this world was like a foreign language that seemed impossible to master. I borrowed some of her sparkly MAC lip gloss and hoped something deeper would rub off on me.
That night, I thought the worst thing that could ever happen was getting caught by a Goth. But four years later, Christine got sick. We didn't know what was wrong, but I sat with her in the hospital and massaged her aching hands. We played The Cranberries on an endless loop. We talked about going to get frozen yogurt as soon as she was released from the hospital.
But she never was.
The lupus moved quickly, and she passed away when we were 19.
I'll spend the rest of my life trying to capture her lightness. Admittedly, whenever I think of that Sunset club, I can still taste strawberry condom dust and palpable shame in the back of my throat. But whenever I feel myself trying desperately to blend with the cool people, I always feel Christine smoothing out my hair as she laughs at me.
"Don't worry about it, Lis."