For most of my life, I lived in a box. No, not a real box. I didn’t grow up on the street surrounded by cardboard and I wasn’t a member of a small family of mice or anything, though that would be an interesting story. I had made my own box, carefully stacked around me in rows, built up, year after year into a solid shape that hovered around me like an aura. Sharp corners, crisp lines and endless strings of words that I had applied to myself and they included a lot of shoulds and musts and don’t’s and can’ts. There isn’t an anonymous organization for this, but maybe I’m starting one right now. My name is Karen and I’m a rule-follower.
What rules? Oh, the ones I applied to myself. I never had a curfew in high school, mostly because my parents knew I would never sneak out, never drink and never lie about where I had been. And it wasn’t the parenting, though we had excellent parenting, because my sister did ALL of those things. I was just, as they say, a goody two-shoes. It carried over into college. Homework always in on time, so on time, that I graduated a year early. Stayed away from the pot smokers, not an easy feat in Los Angeles and didn’t drink, outside of one trip to Europe, where it was legal, until my 21st birthday. There has never in my life, been a little something called a one night stand.
I never looked the part of the goody two-shoes. My sister, Wendy, once wrote about me, in some personal essay writing she penned back in 1998 or 99. She never showed it to me herself, but I found the neatly typed pages years ago. A little bit of it goes like this.
"Karen is a nice, pretty girl...Sometimes I watch her when we’re at a bar together, and I just laugh inside my head. She becomes this completely different person than the one I argue with about morality. Like the way she dances…She can slide her hips to the beat of any song with ease and grace, but at the same time with the kind of raw sexuality rarely seen outside of the highest class strip clubs. She looks like a girl raring to go, one who’s been around the block quite a few times. But she is neither of these…Karen doesn’t put out. My sister is not sexy. She’s beautiful, but she is not sexy. She is extremely intelligent, but she is not hip…It’s like she’s a really hot dork trying to be cool.”
In my early college and post grad years, I remember starting to see friends or other students sporting bracelets, usually those woven ones, with the letters WWJD on them. It stood for What Would Jesus Do? According to Wikipedia, Christians “…used the phrase as a reminder of their belief in a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus through the actions of the adherents.” The bracelets were supposed to help you remember to be a better person, to make wise choices. Though I suspect some parents “gifted” them to their teens and young adults in a desperate attempt to keep them from drinking, smoking pot and having sex. Guilt is a powerful motivator.
It's often been guilt, or maybe a combination of guilt and fear, that’s kept me toe-ing the line for so many years. But I didn’t need a personal relationship with Jesus or a bracelet around my wrist with a jumble of letters to tell me what NOT to do. It was really the other way around.
“Okay,” she said. “I might go to the Golden Globes.” There was no sarcasm in her voice.
“Right. Let me know how that goes.” There was a lot of sarcasm in my voice.