When we are born, our lives have already been molded in the eyes of our parents. Our talents, our hobbies, have already been subtly predetermined, whether it is in the form of a gentle nudge towards Little League Baseball, or Toddler-Age Ballet classes or a viola as a Christmas gift. But there's no way to predict what a child will do, or how they will grow up. Not accurately, at least.
I rock gently in the swing set, my sneakers scraping the floor. They're embarrassing sometimes, my shoes, because they're old man sneakers. My parents are viciously against materialism, so shoes that belong in a hospital are the best I can do. My pants are too short, and my bony ankles protrude from their short hem - my parents also do not believe in custom tailoring. "It shouldn’t matter how your clothes look," Mom says, and then continues to ramble about how it is what is on the inside that matters.
I'm almost seventeen, so you would think I wouldn't be sitting on a swing set, watching giggling little children scrambling across the playground, but I have little else to do. Everyone in school thinks I'm weird - off my rocker, loony, a little out of it - because my clothes are out of style and my pencils are always shaved down to the hilt. I don't have a car, or a girlfriend, or a cell phone, and I'm sure half the parents here think I'm some sort of pedophile.
I am kicking off the ground, hogging the swing with my lanky body, when the girl sits down beside me. She is the embodiment of everything my parents hate, and I wish I had half the life she clearly does. Her clothes are black – jeans and a leather shirt. Her arms are covered by sleeves of tattoos, dark and swirling over her pale skin, and her ears glint with multiple studs. I try not to stare, but I am awkward around people from lack of socialization. It’s obvious that I can’t be friends with a girl like this.
But something about her draws me in – her brown hair, styled into a pixie cut, or her eyes, framed by hollowed out 3D glasses – hipster style. Maybe it’s the blood red lipstick on her mouth, smudged slightly in the corner. She smiles at me, and I look away quickly.
“’Sup?” she says, and I swallow hard.
“Nothing. I’m Alex,” I tell her, and she laughs.
“Me too. Alex.” She sticks out her hand and I tentatively reach out to shake it. Her nails are painted dark blue, and her fingers are sickly white. “Where do you go to school?”
“TeaneckHigh School,” I say, kicking the dirt and she nods, looking up at the sky, squinting.
“Me too. High school is a hell hole.” I laugh, shaking my head, wondering if she is an outcast just like I am. Surely she can’t be – she has the freedom to dress how she likes, own what she likes. I have to wear my father’s hand me down clothes and have my mother cut my hair with scissors and a glass bowl.
“Look, Alex,” she says, examining her nails before looking at me. “My friends are having a bonfire down at the beach tonight, you should come.” I stare at her. No one has ever invited me to something like this, and I am giddy just thinking about joining them.
“Really? Where on the beach?” Alex laughs at me.
“You’ll be able to tell from the insane amount of smoke.”
“Oh. Do you smoke?” I ask and she rolls her eyes. I’ve never been around smoking or alcohol, let alone done it myself.
“No! Does it look like I want to die young?” Something about this girl – Alex – is undeniably sexy, and that’s coming from someone who has a supreme amount of people watching skills. “I’ll see you tonight?” she says, jumping off the swing and into the pile of woodchips at our feet. I nod, and she heads off away from the park.
I tell my parents I am going to the library that evening, and I am surprised they believe me. They are very much against parties – what with all the dressing up and alcohol and focus on appearance – so telling them the truth was out of the question.
It is a short walk to the beach, just ten minutes, and the heat was penetrating despite the darkness. Alex had been right – it is easy to see the bonfire from where I am. There is smoke swirling up into the starry sky, and I can see Alex, sitting on a log of wood and leaning against a bulky guy with tattoos on his shoulder.
I wave to her when she sees me, and she pats the spot next to her. I sit beside her, taking in the glowing faces of the people around me, the shadows licking at their skin. They all look vaguely familiar, which leads me to believe I go to school with them. Alex introduces me to everyone, and they nod at me, uninterested. It smells like drugs, although I’m not totally sure what drugs are meant to smell like. Someone passes me a small flask, and when I take a sip, it burns going down my throat and I cough erratically.
“It’s vodka, Alex,” Alex says, and I take another sip. “Keep drinking.” I stare at her. All my life, I’ve been taught not to do things like this. Not just by my parents but by my teachers and counselors and family members. All my life, I’ve been taught that rebelling is bad.
No one ever tells us that those who teach you not to rebel have done it themselves.
I watch as the guy on Alex’s right side squeezes her knee, and I wish it was me.
The evening passes slowly, like a slow burning flame, and I keep taking sips from the flask as it is passed to me. Alex’s face becomes blurry, and I feel her hand on my cheek. Then, she kisses me. It shakes me from the alcohol induced haze momentarily.
I pull myself away from her, and stare into her unfocused eyes.
“I should go,” I say, standing up shakily. I have never done things like this, never gone against my parents deliberately, and I feel sick to my stomach because of it. Or, maybe, it’s just the alcohol. Alex shrugs at me, and I stumble around the log, loosing my footing and falling into the sand. I roll over onto my back and stare up at the stars. They come and go from my focus, but I’ve seen them enough to know what they’re supposed to look like.
Sometimes, we break our moulds because it’s painful to be someone you’re not.
I wake up to the sun setting on the horizon, shinning brightly against my closed eyelids. I force them open and try to stand, instantly heaving up my stomach onto the sand. I see Alex and a few of the others passed out on the logs and I stare at them angrily.
I stumble over to Alex and shake her awake. She groans in response.
“What the hell, Alex? Don’t you know not to wake a hung-over mess?” I ignore her.
“Why the hell did you have to do this to me?” I yell, ignoring the throbbing in my head because of it. “I was fine until you came along and invited me into your crazy world!” Alex’s eyes go dark.
“This is the real world, Alex. Get used to it. No one is here to hold your hand. We make mistakes, and we deal with them. No one to blame but yourself, bud.” She lays her head back down and shuts her eyes. I stare at her pale face, thinking that she isn’t half as sexy now, hung over, as she was yesterday at the park.
I turn toward the water, knowing my parents are probably worried about me. I look out over the endless ocean, over the infinite waves. I don’t want to be made from a mould. I want to make my own mould, as cheesy as that sounds. I eye Alex again. I wonder what kind of mold her parents had for her, and if she followed it. What if she did, and the way she is, is the way her parent’s expected her to be?
“No,” Alex murmurs, quickly staggering around the burnt out fire and shaking everyone awake. “Hey, wake up, you idiots! The cops!” Looking down the beach, I can just make out the police uniforms and the blinking lights on their cars. Everyone groggily gets to their feet and heads off in the opposite direction, down the beach. Alex goes too, but stops after a few strides.
“Alex!” she yells to me. “Run!”
So, I run.
Today, I broke my mold. Tomorrow, I will break it again, until it is a completely shattered mess around me.