Lightning in a Jar: Go Ask Alice

“One pill makes you smaller, and one pill makes you tall,

and the one’s that mother gives you don’t do anything at all,

Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall.”

– Lyrics to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit


Most mornings, I’d awaken with a pungent taste on my tongue. The taste of loneliness, frustration and an overwhelming ache that made it hard to swallow. And, I couldn’t help but think, this is what a ravaged heart feels like.alice03a

I was still hurt and angry with Jake, and jealous of his insipid girlfriend, Miss Pinched Face. I’d pour through all the notes he’d ever written to me, and the letters, too, in search of clues as to why he broke up with me, yet found none. And, I wasn’t too pleased with myself for getting involved with George, but couldn’t figure out how to get out of it without telling him the truth. That I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than spend another moment with him. Let’s just say, any feeling I had for him flat lined somewhere between our first date and curfew, which for once I was grateful to have. After all, the original intent I had for the relationship had been made null and void the moment I realized Jake didn’t care.

Jake didn’t give a hoot, and the sour taste kept spreading across my tongue, inching down my throat, like an acidic spider crawling down into my stomach, and into a black, vacuous pit.

Nothing could assuage me except for one thing. A tiny, almost innocuous twinge that soon became a burgeoning desire to rebel. For the first time I found myself caught between adolescent rebellion and, as The Who called it, teenage wasteland. In other words, I felt a need to push the limits. No more Miss Goody Two Shoes. Instead, I wanted to be reckless and fancy free.

All my life, I’d been a good girl. I knew the drill. Respect your elders, ask for their blessing, and above all, obey your parents. I knew that if I broke any of the cardinal rules, my father would be brutally unforgiving. I had been told what to do, and what to say. I was, more or less, the obedient daughter, and fully aware that none of my friends had to deal with parents as strict and traditional as mine. A source of embarrassment and humiliation on more than one occasion.

How I yearned to wear long scarves like Isadora Duncan and drive at high speeds in sports cars with the top down, while the silky fabric billowed behind me in the wind. What I’d give to belt out torch songs, accompanied by a virtuoso jazz pianist, and feel the haunting melody and lyrics overcome me with sorrow. Or, dance madly like Zelda Fitzgerald and drink gin from a flask. Sit at the Algonquin Roundtable, drinking and smoking with the rest of them, regaling everyone with stories as pithy as Dorothy Parker’s. I wanted to live hard and play even harder. Be daring, while shocking people by my behavior. And, I wanted to–no!–make that, I needed to get high!

During this time, being high became a natural state for me. Just about every weekend, word would get out that someone was having a party and it was always someone whose parents were out of town. Seemed that here in the suburbs, parents were always going on vacation or weekend getaways, leaving their children to fend for themselves. (Save for mine, that is.) These parties proved to be a teen paradise—plenty of booze, pills and pot. Plenty of room to zone out in while listening to The Who, the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, and making out. Anything your little heart desired. Go ask Alice, and in a way, Alice was me.

Drugs were a part of the culture, available to me freely and abundantly. Even at school. Once I got so high, that a friend, whom had shared his weed with me, out on the school grounds, had to escort me to my social studies class, and help me into my seat. I could barely sit upright, and yet my teacher never noticed. I was unraveling, listening to the music pounding through my head. Tommy, can you hear me? People are strange…It’s only teenage wasteland…Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall…We’re all wasted!

The bitter taste kept growing like a cancer inside me, and my rebellion continued to manifest itself in a number of ways. Like playing hooky. The first time with Aliana, a senior who had moved here from Turkey. Sneaking her mother’s car out of the garage one school day morning, we made our way from Long Island into the city and onto the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey, just so she could surprise her boyfriend who was already a freshman in college. I might add that neither of us had a driver’s license, though Aliana did have a learner’s permit. It took us the entire school day to get there and back and we had a few harrowing close calls when we were sure we’d be pulled over and arrested, but we never got caught, not even by our parents.

Another time, I was already at school when three of us slipped out and headed to the local movie house to catch a matinee, Secret Ceremony, starring Mia Farrow and Elizabeth Taylor. Though I got away with it, I have never again been able to bring myself to see that film again. Guilt can be as unforgiving as parents.

And, then I remembered James. Just the day before, he pulled me out of study period, and inadvertently distracted me from the destructive course I was on.

His appearance in study hall had taken me by surprise. Even more astonishing to me was how easily I followed him out. Gladly, willingly. I wanted to ask where we were going, but remained silent, listening instead to the joyful ache in my heart to have him so close. With boundless energy, we began to race down the hill, toward the back of the school, past the tennis court, to the field below. And then we stopped, in a spot, shielded by shrubs and out of sight of the school. I was out of breath and so was he.

This was a bolder James, who clearly had skipped out of class and taken me out of mine. Who was still holding my hand, allowing a smoldering sensation to grow between us.

“Give me a chance,” he sputtered between breaths. His grip on my hand tightened and I felt myself swoon.

Breathe. Above us, a flock of sparrows cut a swath across the cloudless sky, and I could feel the sun, vibrant and fresh on my face. Taking in the scent of the leaves, the grass and the blue violets around us, I willed myself to remember this moment.

How funny life is, I found myself thinking. For weeks, I’d been avoiding James, hoping that whatever this was between us would pass. But it hadn’t, had it? And now, here I was, seeing him with renewed eyes. Beautiful, constant James.

James, so young, who’d been here for me all along.

“I wish.” He paused, staring intently, hopefully, into my eyes.

“I wish,” he repeated gently, leaning in, “That you’d give me a chance.” His lips barely brushing against my ear. His breath sweet and warm on my cheek. And, for the first time, I realized that I had run out of reasons not to give in to him.

In the distance, I could hear the school bell ring, announcing the last period of the day.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

38 thoughts on “Lightning in a Jar: Go Ask Alice

  1. The music of that time period was SO amazing – can’t imagine looking back with nostalgia on the lyric brilliance of Rihanna. Tommy is still one of my favorite movies/rock operas, and I’ve even seen it as a play. Who were we, and who did we love, the most important question of all, and that ache when they didn’t love us back!

  2. I loved that song and the melody is playing in my head. We must be about the same age. Aren’t you glad that all that angst is in the past? By the way, did you keep a diary? I did and I don’t think the world is ready for it. I’m not even sure I’m ready for it. Yikes!

    • Renee, I kept a diary for about a year, but all I wrote in it were things like, “Went bowling today.” “Had a pop quiz in science,” etc. Boring stuff. It wasn’t until I enrolled in a Creative Writing class in 10th or 11th grade that I discovered a passion for writing. But by then I was writing just short stories and poems. Oh, and I wrote a play, too.

  3. I think it is wonderful that you are able to share your story with others for two reasons. a) it’s therapy, no matter how you slice it! and b) it’s always nice to know that there are other people who made the same mistakes and decisions, and had the same thoughts and worries. Great post!

  4. Please say it is James that saves you from yourself. It has to be. I was so caught up by this part of the story that I almost forgot about your rebellion. Took me back to everything I did, wanting to assert my independence… I got away with most things but that guilt was awful. My parents were traditional and diplomats. I had to behave. I mean really behave. I wanted to sneak out at night and be with my boyfriend. I thought he was everything, I was going to marry him eventually. Um, what did I know back then. I wish you and I could have met back then. We would have surely talked. I can’t wait to see where the next chapter takes you. I am so glad I finally caught up.

    • MM, thank you for reading my story. I wish our younger selves had met, though me thinks you and I are of different generations. How fascinating, btw, that your parents were diplomats. You should write about that sometime. What it was like to live in a diplomatic household. I had a friend one year in high school whose father was a diplomat from South Africa. She only went to my school for one year, and before she left she had a proper garden party and invited a bunch of us girls to their home (which was a very nice mansion). But what I remember most was the menagerie of animals they kept in the house, some were very exotic and she gave us a tour. Fascinating. We were very sad when she left.

  5. Oh that long, strange trip down high school memory lane! Ever wonder if those mind-enhancing things we did really imprinted it all in memory? I can be brought back in a heartbeat to certain moments with the mere mention of the Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, and, yes, Elizabeth Taylor. And certain songs will forever evoke joyful (or painful) moments with certain boys.

    • No matter what, Deborah, I loved the music of the day. It was all so good, don’t you think? Best moment? Getting to see John Lennon perform at the Garden. Talk about mind blowing.

  6. Monica, such wonderful writing, my friend! Again, you’ve masterfully captured the pain and allowed it to bleed in this post. Like others have said, we’ve all had our rebel years. I for one, am glad to have had mine. I believe they’ve added to who I am, allowed me to see the folly of my ways, and learn from my mistakes. James sounds so dreamy! I am eagerly awaiting the next installment, chica! Hugs! 🙂

    • Bella, Thank you so much for your beautiful words. I hope you know how much I appreciate what you have to say and value your input. I do hope that the story is still relatable. As for the rebel years, sometimes I felt like a rebel without a cause. James was indeed dreamy. He was awesome. He looked like a baby then, but he had the most gorgeous eyes that melted into pools of kindness. How they drew me in!

  7. Monica, I so want to go back in time, take you by the hand, and show you that rebellion isn’t the answer! Trust me, I know. All that “in-your-face” attitude will get you is a world of hurt. I’m so glad you’re writing about it, unloading the good and the bad. Confession, as they say, is good for the soul! That said, what a fascinating installment! I can hardly wait to read more — and find out whether your rebelliousness will entrap poor innocent James! (See how easy it is to jump to conclusions and make him the victim?!)

    • Debbie, do you remember how in the Wizard of Oz, when, at the end of the film, Dorothy asks the good witch why she didn’t tell her in the first place that all she had to do was click her heels three times in order to go home? Glinda said to Dorothy, you had to learn it for yourself. Well, that, in a way, is me. I had to learn it for myself.

  8. On the edge of my seat reading this, Monica. I’ve missed a few installments, but your writing gets better and better. Oh how I don’t want that good girl to fall. Save her, James! (I know it didn’t unfold that way, but still …) Loving this.

    • Thank you so much, Lisa. I was a bit nervous about posting this particular story, so I wanted to make sure it was written and conveyed in the best way possible. I really poured my heart into the writing and rewrote it a gazillion times, so I appreciate your comment that it’s getting better and better. Thank you!

  9. I love the quote in “Huckleberry Finn” about guilt: “So we poked along back home, and I warn’t feeling so brash as I was before, but kind of ornery, and humble, and to blame, somehow—though I hadn’t done nothing. But that’s always the way; it don’t make no difference whether you do right or wrong, a person’s conscience ain’t got no sense, and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn’t know no more than a person’s conscience does I would pison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person’s insides, and yet ain’t no good, nohow. Tom Sawyer he says the same.”

  10. I’ve been unplugged for a while and it was great to get back to your story to find out what I missed. But how frustrating that now I have to wait for the next installment. I’m so hopeful for James and young Monica. Fingers crossed for them.

    • Jodi, thank you for your comment about the bell and for not focusing on my behavior. Not my proudest moment. Thankfully, it’s all behind me. Interesting, though, that you think he should be the one to save me. What really happened may surprise you.

  11. ooo…I wanted to go back and shake you, talk you back to the land of the living and hand you over to your parents. Not cool, huh? And I also, wanted to invite you over, talk it out in one long overnight and end it with one big hug saying “Just be who you are, this is not you.” Wonderful writing capturing a lot of pain. I remember a painful breakup…it took years for me to get over it and then I met my husband. I think you have a YA novella in the making here.

  12. Excellent instalment Monica.

    Yes guilt gan be terrible worse when it’s about something you got away with, it can often be a more effective punishment than almost anything else.

    As for young James things can be right in front of you sometimes and you don’t realise it.

    Good writing Monica it’s almost as though we were there observing but unable to change the course of what’s happening.

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