alternative girlfriend

It happened in my college dorm room while his friend was watching.

I hadn’t seen Peter since he’d broken up with me in the tenth grade. “Sorry. I just don’t love you anymore,” were the inducing words which sparked the rearrangement of my bedroom furniture, diet, and life. I wanted to get over him, and “over him” meant change. It always does.

While the big Love sting went down, I was part of an alternative high-school English community called SWS, School Within a School. “School Without Standards” to those unlucky few whose lottery numbers were too low to gain acceptance, and “School With Sofas” to the advanced placement English kids who upturned their noses at our program yet still loafed in our community lounge. In lieu of one period of traditional English class, I opted to participate in this three-period elective program where students enjoyed the opportunity to grade themselves, teach and choose courses of interest, and build interpersonal skills through human relations activities. It was like college without the Greek letters. There were two sets of classes, the Monday/Thursday and Tuesday/Friday sets, leaving Wednesdays free for community building retreats… aka, playing Ultimate Frisbee on the front lawn.

While not ordinarily pious about anything aside from sleep-away camp and cheese, I’ve made an SWS exception. My experiences in SWS were a triple-knotted strand of pearly life-defining moments that began with my first Writing From The Heart course.

My maudlin papers for the course (still boxed in a warehouse with the after-mentioned autobiography I am certain to ascertain sometime next week) chronicled the emotions of a teen coping with kaput love. “Soul,” “always,” and “life” bubbled to the first paragraph of my personal essays, where emotion, not grammar, was critiqued. There might have been mention of a mirror, some clouds, and dare I say it, a storm. But through writing, I changed. Or, at least I learned never to refer to love as “a turgid sea.”

As a tumultuous high school senior, I then taught Writing From The Heart from my parents’ house on Tuesday nights to a jumble of sophomores, juniors, and other seniors. I used a red pen and let it rip and circle ‘round syrupy and mawkish as students crunched chips around a coffee table. I’ve always hated the Hallmark in me; I’d be damned if I’d let it take residence in anyone else. (I now write daily in a red notebook with a red pen to remind myself of my red sweeping corrective circles.)

Simultaneously, I elected an autobiography course where I’d hole punch my sentimental stories, photos, and magazine blurbs into a binder. Now there was a record with visuals. Clearly my tenth grade slaughtered heart papers needed to be included to illustrate my progression from soft to sardonic. After all, I could expose a bit of underbelly, this autobiography was really just for me.

In college, the glossy autobiography served as my nostalgia bridge, living beneath my sophomoric bed with my tattered camp address book. It had been two years since I’d opened it. Now I was drunk, just returning home from the Amsterdam bar strip with my ex-boyfriend Peter and his friend. We had run into one another at Bourbon Street, a bar with sawdust floors, beaded woman, and an absurdly oversized sports screen. At first it was alarming, the way it always is when you run into an ex unexpectedly. You immediately remember the last time you saw one another and how you looked. I was definitely in a better place now. Thin and fashionable, I smiled warmly and touched his arm when he made me laugh. Soon alarming progressed to flirty reminiscing and settled upon my dorm room in the dark.

“You should have seen Peter when he was in high school.” Really, he was unaltered, save for the facial hair and freshmen fifteen, but it felt like the thing to say to Peter’s college friend, in town from Delaware.

“Steph, come on, you must have some photos of us, still.” I was certain I had, and I knew precisely where they were: miles away in my parents’ house, in a red shoe box labeled PETER atop my closet. Oh, but wait. The autobiography.

I sprinted to the bed in a giggle, then sprawled the carpeted floor for an excavation of a schmaltzy relic. Peter and his buddy hovered as I looked up with success and excitement in my eyes. With two hands, I passed Peter the autobiography, opened to his shrine. Then I watched as his smile dissolved to a thin tight line. His face turned a slight shade of eggplant. What? Did he read that I hated him and wanted him to suffer things that are worse than death?

It was worse.

Beside the Writing From The Heart paper was a sticky photography collage of magazine blurbs and photographs of Peter and me. Below a Polaroid of Peter was a magazine blurb reading, “his small penis doesn’t excite her.” He closed the book too late. His friend had seen. I hadn’t remembered! Oh dear God, how do you fix that?

"Well, um, we were much younger then."  Poor little Peter.




  1. My blog is an online version of that autobiography, and while it’s never my intention, sometimes people get hurt. It won’t prohibit me from putting it all out there; I’ve just learned to change the names to protect the guilty. And I don’t always reveal events in a timely manner, either… to protect the innocent. Oh, and I’ve also learned, there is a time and a place for Hallmark moments… just not in my writing.

  2. It is kind of funny though how you choose certain names and they often refer to something…like Peter, Ken"t", etc.

  3. This post shows how being melodramatic can come back to haunt the one who was melodramatic and hurt the one who was the cause of the drama. We are all victims and victimizers which can be quite a humbling realization. Maybe something is wrong with me, but I so much enjoy your writing and find all of it to have a "hallmark card" quality despite your protests to the contrary.

    I hope you find those old writings from the heart and share them with us–even if they are "hallmark" material. If you cannot find them, I can look for the ones I wrote when I was about your age, and maybe they can jog your memory even though they are likely to be quite different. There's nothing wrong with maudlin sentimentality in the right context even at our ages. I have saved the earliest ones and all the recent ones. Every significant encounter should be memorialized with unique expressions whose birth pangs are welcomed because later they help recreate the pleasant memories that light the darker moments of our lives.

    Anyway, for G_d's sake why can't you see the positive aspect to your experiences that you share in your posts? It's a rhetorical question with respect to you, but perhaps it's one that each of us, including me, should answer with respect to our own experiences. It's hard to imagine you still being hurt by Peter's rejection or him really being that upset about a sentiment that arose from perhaps understandable frustration and anger. You were both young, and you seemed to have had a pleasant encounter much later. I bet you both left the past in the past where it should belong even though it's unpleasant nature briefly and awkwardly emerged years later.

  4. You have a special understanding of the way people's minds work as well as a sense of compassion for those who are less fortunate than you. You have a knack for coming to the rescue of the people who think that no one understands them — which makes you seem like the light at the end of the tunnel (or the shelter from the storm) for your friends and family. Taking the time to connect with other people is worth your efforts — and the rewards for being of service are priceless.

  5. Some of these comments are misplaced. If there is such a great ability to connect with other people, then why is there such a selfcentred element to her prose? It seems to me that perhaps more time should be spent knowing fewer people and better. However, am just an observer.

  6. "selfcentred [sic]" ?? – The writings are about her experiences and are written first person. Stephanie's ability to "connect" is obvious if you read her stories. Although I am sure Stephanie has many endearing, meaningful relationships, I ask why should anyone place their relationship values on someone else?

  7. "poor little peter" <- HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA i hope peter or his friend dont read the blog.

  8. Damn….you got hit with the "Hallmark" label. Damn!

    However, those bastards writing that horseshite are making a good living.

    So…there you go.

  9. OOF! OUCH! Well, I recall writing an autobiography in college where I subjected my "evil ex" to a head-shaved, cult-joined future of ax murdering and contrition for not having treated me better. From which I, laughing with my husband Tom Cruise and my fabulous career as a famous poet, looked back and scoffed.

    Thus the revenge: never treat a writer badly. You will end up in infamy, even if your name is changed. But you will know yourself, I'm sure. :)

  10. there's something weird at the heart of a hot chick writing about heartbreak. it's just like a distant voice telling a previously unknown tale. for the rest of the world, hot chicks never fall in love. they never hurt. it's that high school mentality that never goes away. every time i meet someone really attractive, she's still the most popular girl in school. i always see them through those eyes.

  11. In fourth grade, the most popular boy in school was really mean to me when he found out I had a crush on him. He was quite cruel because I was a neeeerd.

    Later that year he got diarrhea and pooped everywhere at recess – in his pants. Then he became a complete social pariah all the way through middle school.

    Aaah Karma….

  12. Hugo, you are absolutely right in that people naturally assume that hot chicks cannot fall in love or be hurt. Lots of guys also assume that they are already taken (ladies don't take that word as meaning ownership). However, have you ever noticed that many hot chicks often are available because of that misconception? I'd bet that many guys don't approach Stephanie because of that. Granted, we all know that she will say that she is not hot…so let's just stop that right here and now.

    Really, what needs to happen is for people to realize that hot chicks are people too. They have needs, emotions, etc. just like everyone else.

  13. Yeah – it's funny how things like cruelty and explosive diarrhea stick with you over the years.


  14. Interesting Blog. Just curious, I also went to a SWS program. I grew up in Rockland County. did you?

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