When I was 17 there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to burn in the sun or how to use euros; I had never swam in the ocean.
I was part of a big family and we were poor. Because my parents didn’t have a job, they couldn’t afford to take seven children on vacation.
So in the summer of 2008, when I heard everyone at school talking about a music festival in Spain, I jumped at the chance to go. I had “moved” earlier that year – that was the understatement I used often, rather than saying I had become homeless and estranged from my parents.
My life was full of revolving doors, going from one seedy hostel to another. Rather than enjoying my teenage years, I had to be my own parent: I had to pay rent (yes, even in homeless shelters), cook my own meals, and attend my own parents’ parties.
Now I could harness all that independence and turn it into my superpower: a vacation I could spend without supervision, without parents berating me for wearing dresses that were too short, lecturing me about the value of money, or warning me about it. the possibility of getting pregnant just by being around boys.
I bought my ticket and spent the next few weeks getting ready, which in teenage lore meant doing incredibly mean things to my body. I was lying in compromising positions while a woman tore out my pubic hair; I shaved my stomach; I skipped meals and ate only fruit, worrying about what I would look like in a bikini next to the flat-bellied girls at school.
At the festival, Caris, Suzy and I spent our days drinking sangria from cartons, living on supermarket snacks, and finding that I could indeed burn myself. We would wake up each day with little sleep (one of our cheap tents had collapsed so three of us were crammed into a two person tent), miraculously no hangovers and all over again.
Towards the end of our trip we were walking down the street when a guy a few years older than us put his chair in the middle of the aisle. “Sorry, you can’t pass,” he said, freckles dancing under his green eyes. He wore a cheeky smile that exposed a loose tooth. Cute, I thought. Obviously, I assumed it wasn’t me that interested him.
A few hours later, as we entered the arena, he lifted me onto his lanky shoulders. I was so full of butterflies that my skin tingled. When Kings of Leon canceled due to high winds, people started throwing cups of urine in protest. We ran to the showers to wash it off, rushing into our bikinis, trying to catch the water that was blown by the wind in all the wrong directions.
Eventually it was time to head back to the campsite, our new friend in tow, but before I could deal with the anxiety that was mounting in my stomach about how to say no to sex, I was confronted with Suzy standing at the entrance. from our common tent. She seemed ready to make a deal.
“You have 30 minutes,” she said. I felt like we had barely been inside for 10 minutes when I saw his shadow again, hovering outside the tent, hands on hips. A row of screams followed.
“Why don’t you get mad and spend the rest of the weekend in a tent with a bunch of guys you don’t even know?” Suzy shot me.
“Maybe you would be able to do the same if you weren’t so boring,” I replied, before storming off in an outfit I had made in the dark.
Suzy and I said horrible things to each other, but I left the tent with my boyfriend for the night, a little stoned from the thrill of it all. It was the first time that I felt truly empowered, desirable and free. So I pushed the reality back into my head and reveled in being young on a hot summer night in Spain – and having the most fun of my life.
The next morning, I returned with trepidation, but Suzy was there, waiting. We cried, we apologized, we hugged and laughed at everything that had happened. While I don’t miss the times when the arguments were volatile, raw, and explosive, I can look back and appreciate that our friendship has stood up to these tests.
At the time, the argument was the worst part of the evening. In retrospect, I think it was one of the best – not because I love theater, but because it taught me that relationships should generally be great, but that there will be horrible moments in them as well. If you can overcome them, you are ready for life.
After all the time I had spent this year feeling sorry for myself over my parents’ estrangement, that night reminded me that I had more than enough family.