Under The Influence

Despite the openhearted kindness and warm hospitality extended to me by Sandy and also Liam, all of my thoughts were dominated by Dean’s words to me. My sleep was restless that night. I was clinging on to a hope, a wish, and was afraid that it could be slipping away.

On Friday morning, my slumber was disturbed by yet another heated feud downstairs. My dad was going back to work today. I guess he was first to notice the two cartons of milk in the refrigerator. Mom and Dad both signalling their dissatisfaction because the brand of milk was different than the one Mom usually bought. It didn’t help that there was not one wrong carton of milk, but two.

It suddenly crossed my mind that those damn milk cartons might end up causing a lot of trouble for me. Mom was bound to ask why I had brought back some strange brand. Plus, she had given me a $5 dollar bill. She would have been expecting some change. I had none, I just had her original bill. What was I going to tell her? If I risked the honest option, returning her money and crediting Sandy’s generosity, I was sure to make Mom angry. So what else could I do but deceive her? That was not a prospect I relished.

Dad left for work not long after seven o’clock. Not long afterwards I heard Mom climbing the stairs and letting out sighs of frustration. There was every reason for Mom to be tired after several busy days. When I mustered up the courage to open my bedroom door it was clear that she was designating that day as her washing day. I quickly volunteered to carry the laundry basket down the stairs. When she accepted my offer I became hopeful that I may be in her favour. But as soon as I placed the washing basket next to the washing machine, Mom almost thrust one of the milk cartons into my face, “What is this?”

I took a moment to think about my reply, “I’m sorry Mom, that’s all they had.”

Mom pursed her lips together and placed a hand on her hip, “And what possessed you to buy two cartons?”

I looked down at the floor searching for some inspired explanation. Doubtful that it would pass Mom’s scrutiny I offered a paltry lie, “They had a special offer and I thought it would be better value for money.”

Mom let out a noise somewhere between a tut and a “humph”. She shook her head, “You can’t just do what you are told, can you? Are you incapable of listening Annabelle?”

I had been listening for years and I was broken, just broken. Mom did not comprehend how overbearing her rebukes were. I had no ability to form any kind of response when she told me off. I was dumfounded at the injustice. The crushing hurt had brewed within me and led me to embarking on a terrible path to relieve my pain. At the age of fourteen, my arms and legs were covered with scars, and my parents and teachers had no idea how trapped I was in a cycle that I could not control. It was whenever I was confronted with a dispiriting, discouraging, dismal put-down that the urge to seek a release from that piercing ache took over.

Even today, I look back in shock at what I was doing. It was awful. Now I can see that adding to my self condemning thoughts was guilt about my avenue to deal with emotional heartbreak. I want to weep when I think about the fourteen year old who was gripped by this disturbing compulsion. Of course I wish I could go back in time and protect her and empower her to deal with emotional distress. But back then, I was on my own.

I told Dean though. I didn’t tell him everything, but about a month after Christmas I was still tormented by the lie I had told my mom. The five dollar bill reminded me of my sin. Abraham Lincoln seemed to glare at me in severe judgement.

It kept on playing on my mind. Dean had noticed I had been more quiet than usual, and eventually he probed enough for me to give way to tears. I did not tell him what my mom had said, I just communicated the remorse that I was wrestling with. When he asked me why I had not told my mom the truth about where the milk cartons had come from and returned her money, I confessed that if she knew who I had spent that day with the outcome would have been much worse. I was not prepared to risk losing my friends, so although I had no wish to be deceptive, I felt I had to hide the truth from my parents.

When I unburdened my conscience, confessing my deceit and stating how terrible I felt that I had kept the money Mom had given to me, Dean looked at me in absolute astonishment. He clearly thought I had lost my marbles to be feeling so awful about just five dollars. It seems laughable now. But at the time it was a huge ordeal to me.

Incredibly, Dean remembered my admission of regret and the reason behind it. It was the first of many occasions when he would see how scared I was to displease my parents and reap their disdain or condemnation. Later, Dean would see for himself how close-minded my parents could be. It provoked anger within him and he ended up writing off my parents as “kooks”. That whole milk-gate situation back when I was fourteen – well, it lingered in Dean’s memory long enough for him to think up the lyrics for the title track of their album “Hole In Your Soul”. Do you remember the following verse….

Nothing as heavy as a guilty conscience in your pocket
Leave it there over night and it will burn a deeper hole
Leave it there for long enough and it can even kill
This insane fear that your mother will explode like a rocket
Is poisoning your happiness and darkening your soul
You're torturing yourself over a five dollar bill

Yeah, that song captured how I felt about lying over those two cartons of milk. I still cannot think about the chorus lines about how excessive guilt drills into your core and leaves a hole in your soul – it hits a very raw nerve within me. Dean had no idea at the time just how insightful his words were. Gradually he was learning about me. Nobody else knew me like Dean did, not for many years.

Of course, my errors and misdemeanours paled into insignificance compared to the behaviour of Dean himself and his associates. It was no wonder that he had already felt some concern over the influence that he and his friends could have on me. There was one person in particular who had the potential to shape me perhaps more than anybody else – Lauren.

I first met Lauren and Rick during the first Saturday of January – it would have been the fifth of the month I guess. Rick did not have to say anything to dominate the room. It was clear that Dean, Liam and Greg looked up to him. I noticed that Greg seemed to be talking quietly to Rick before they began practicing and although I think Rick was listening, he only nodded slightly in response. While Greg was singing, it was Rick’s reaction he seemed to be watching.

Dean was right – Rick completely ignored my presence. He expressed no interest in who I was and why I was perching on the sofa watching in awe. It would be a long time before Rick began to acknowledge me, and that was purely because of Lauren’s growing attachment to me. I learnt a lot about Rick from Sandy, much more that Dean ever told me. Rick’s father had played guitar with one of the biggest heavy metal rock bands of the eighties. Rick had two older brothers who also played guitar, his oldest brother Kline was in a band that found a cult audience amongst a college-age audience.

Of course, I had never heard of them, but when I googled them it was easy to find some of their recordings and scheduled performances. Their music sounded very angry and hostile to me, full of cursing and offensive terms. What did I know at fourteen about what college students wanted to listen to?

Rick had grown up around musicians and guitars and it really was all he had ever known. Parties, drinking, cocaine, women, tattoos, motorbikes and the occasional fight either with one of his brothers or someone who had crossed him, it was all in a day’s work for Rick. When I met him, he was twenty-four years of age, and had already played with several other bands that had since dissolved. It was Dean’s Uncle Gary (who had played live with his father) that had introduced Rick to his nephew. Rick, like others, had spotted Dean’s talent and was keen to nurture his confidence and ambition. The other members of the band seemed to aspire to the self-assuredness and effortless commanding air that Rick manifest. Sandy was clearly smitten with him. The other guys wanted to be as respected as him. I was scared of him.

The day I met Rick I met his girlfriend Lauren. The band had already been through two songs when Lauren entered the garage. She walked past Rick and softly ran the flat of her hand up his chest as she turned. He swiftly responded by gripping her behind. Lauren then headed towards the sofa where I sat. An expression of confusion on seeing me registered. As she sat on the other side of the sofa and threw her legs up onto the cushions, I detected the cigarette smoke on her hair and clothes. Lauren did not say anything to me at first, but while I watched the band, I believe she was watching me. After around fifteen minutes, she crouched forwards and traversed the sofa on her hands and knees, leaning right over my lap and reaching for a bottle of beer from the crate next to the sofa. After opening it, she handed the bottle to me.

Liam stopped playing and crossed the garage in a couple of strides. He took the bottle out of my hand and put it in Lauren’s. He then picked up a can of 7UP and offered it to me. I took it. There were no words during this significant exchange. The others seemed irritated that Liam had stopped playing so suddenly. While they started the song again, I glanced at Lauren. She was grinning at me.

She was beautiful, well, I thought so. I had no idea back then of how much cosmetics could transform someone’s appearance. Lauren knew how to use make-up. I would learn that she was very pretty though even without make-up and due to years of dance lessons, she had a figure that was enticingly feminine. To Rick she was perfect. Lauren was devoted to Rick, and allowed him to order her around. But apart from Rick, Lauren had respect for nobody. You just had to hope that she liked you.

As it turned out, Lauren did end up liking me. Being liked by someone, it sometimes results in becoming very impressionable and easily swayed by their influence. Although Lauren shocked me many times, and I never felt entirely at ease with her, her affection for me prompted me to adore her. I was so glad to have a female friend. Lauren would advise me on all sorts of subjects Dean had no clue about – cosmetics and hair products, clothes, lingerie, and eventually she introduced me to subjects that would force me out of my childish ignorance – Lauren was behind the transformation that took place during the next year that followed.

Dean observed the outward metamorphosis, however it was his priority to shield the inner me that he had did not want to suffer corruption. Yet I suspect that he liked some of the changes he witnessed. Lauren certainly was key to me abandoning the sports bras Mom had bought me when it was clear I needed some sort of support. Just after I turned fifteen, Lauren convinced both me and Dean to allow her to take me to Harlem where Rick rented a tiny apartment. She took me to Victoria’s Secret and bought me some bras that seemed to completely change my shape.

That was just the start of Lauren’s mission to tailor me in accord with her ideals. I did come under her influence, but my conscience would never have allowed me to be a faithful disciple of Lauren. Dean may have sometimes been baffled by the ingrained tendency to suffer excess guilt, but for a long time it served as a protective restraint. Never commit the crime that you are being punished for – I read that somewhere. My parents may have been heavy-handed in their criticism, but I was never going to prove deserving of that degree of disapprobation. So Dean was never really at risk of losing the me that had won his attention and steadfast attachment.