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Life Warrior

Everyone is looking for someone to blame. Not me.

Photo by Danielle Levitt

Everyone is looking for someone to blame. Not me. I’ve had plenty of fucked-up shit happen in my life and I’m not looking for anyone to account for it. I have no hunger for vindication, no thirst for explanation. When the great orangutan of life reaches back and flings a handful of poo at me, I stand tall. Splattered but not shaken (which is also how I take my drinks).

You think you’ve felt pain? You think you’ve triumphed over misfortune? Check out the shit I’ve been through. Maybe you’ll think twice before you go crying to your shrink. When I was six years old, my parents divorced. It didn’t scar me. As a matter of fact, I count the day they broke the news among the happiest of my life. These two people—this lone example of partnership and union in the form of arrant hatred—were going to part ways. I literally danced for joy. I remember hearing, “Oh, she’s too young, she doesn’t understand.” I did. I had my very own babysitter while my parents worked. Her name was Mary and I called her “My Mary.” I don’t remember much except she was old and had a flat white bun on the top of her head. Now, here’s the thing. My Mary never let me go to the bathroom alone. She always squeezed in behind me. And she would only let me use one square of toilet paper. Nothing beyond that initial perforation. Exactly one square. “Because of the toilet paper shortage.” I never questioned it. I was five. It wasn’t until recently, while reiterating the story to a friend, that it occurred to me that no such shortage existed. Ew. Now, I could very well have decided right then to be emotionally scarred from that. I didn’t. Because I wasn’t. About seven years later, at thirteen, I got a little depressed (by that I mean “so paralyzed with despair I was unable to move”), mostly about the concept of mortality, the what’s the point of it all-ness, and this feeling I could only define as homesickness, even though I was home. My parents sent me to a shrink. I told him I was sad. He really seemed to understand. He had braces on his teeth. He gave me a bottle of pills with the instruction to take one any time I felt this way. I read the label. Xanax. I was intrigued by its futuristic name. I was eased by its video-game resonance. The following week my mother dropped me off, and I sat alone in the waiting room a long time. I waited and waited until, at long last, the hypnotist from upstairs (who, two years earlier, had made no less than fifty unsuccessful attempts to stop me from wetting the bed) came down. His eyes were red and full. We stared at each other for what felt like a solid minute. And then he burst. “DR. BINGHAM KILLED HIMSELF!” the mental health professional blurted at the thirteen-year-old mental patient. I didn’t know what to say. I felt numb (but that was the Xanax not talking.) Only one thought swam through my head: “He didn’t even wait to get the braces off.” Grounds for permanent damage? Not for Number One. It’s not that I didn’t care. I just didn’t blame myself. At eighteen, I got my first waitressing job at the Margaritaville Lounge in Bedford, NH. I bounced around, cleaning the popcorn machine and serving burritos and drinks. The owners were two red faced Boston-Irish guys, Tommy and Johnny. At the time, I looked up to them. I had no idea they were cokehead freaks or what coke even was, really. One night Tommy called me into his office. I was shaking from nerves, trying to figure out what I had done wrong. I walked in and was put at ease by his big broad smile.

Damaged goods: Little Sarah as Chastity Bono on Halloween, with her sisters Laura as Sonny and Susie as Cher; Sarah at 3-years-old with her dad; with sister Laura.

“How you likin’ workin’ heeah?” “It’s real great. Thanks.” “Everyone treatin’ yah gud?” “Yeah…” I couldn’t figure out the reason for his sudden need to have small talk with me. We chatted for several minutes before I noticed it—a bright pink penis to match his bulbous, hot pink face. My boss—the man who taught me to work the margarita machine—had been jerking off the whole time. I just about died. I told him I had to clean the popcorn machine and scurried out. Horrified? Yes. Repulsed? Absolutely. Traumatized? Not even slightly. At the end of that summer, I moved to New York City and got a job handing out flyers for a comedy club. Late one Saturday night I tried to stop a drunk teenager from punching a Chinese guy who was dressed as a chicken. The teenager punched me instead, square in the temple. As I lost consciousness, I knew my hard outer shell was getting harder, but with no impact whatsoever on my still-chewy center. I guess I may have suffered a bruise or two. Did I mention I was a chronic bedwetter? My dad, being a former bedwetter himself, projected the pain and humiliation he remembered onto me. And, although his projection was pretty accurate, his empathy made for some desperate measures. He had me sleep on this electric sheet: a medieval sheet of soft metal that, upon getting wet, would set off a horrifyingly loud alarm. It didn’t cure me of bedwetting; however it did cure me of that nasty sleeping at night habit. By the time I was fifteen, I stopped wetting the bed for good, not including the three times it happened the month I got fired from Saturday Night Live. I was 23, and I wish I could tell you I was sleeping alone. I wish I could tell you it was with the same guy each time. Alright. I’m scarred. But it’s the baggage we carry and the crap that chips away at us that gives us our shape. So I’m scarred from stuff—the stuffs of life. So what? What is a scar, anyway, but a beautiful tattoo.