Let’s face it everyone. I have never been a bad influence on anyone. I might have gone harder than most of the other characters I ran around with, but I didn’t just come up with these antics on my own, nor did I learn the stuff at home from drug addled parents like commercials in the 80s wanted you to believe. My parents were and continue to be wholly involved in my life, and then and now don’t tolerate shenanigans. They never let me go without punishment for the things I did wrong, and I did a lot of wrong when I was younger. The repercussions were well deserved. They would tell me not to do something and I would do it, like most kids do from time to time, and I would either learn my lesson resulting in scars I have to this day or receive a spanking. (For anyone born after the 90s, spanking was a form of punishment that your parents would dole out if you did something wrong.) There wasn’t a ‘time out’ or a ‘serious talk.’ You got spanked, you cried, you got grounded, you learned, life went on. There was no constant online judgment of parenting, and to be sure, there were some people that took it too far, but for the most part spanking was widely used as an effective form of punishment. I often wonder what state the world would currently be in if more spankings had been administered. I guarantee you there would be no Kardashian reality show, that’s for sure.

Oftentimes when I was a little girl my punishments were administered by myself. Some of the ones that come to mind are running into a tree and cutting my eyelid open when I was four, sliding down a hill on my face in a tricycle mishap when I was around three (resulting in some very awkwardly posed school pictures shot a week later) a third degree burn on my finger from lifting the lid of a copper pot on the stove, and a broken foot from hitting a coffee table while doing a cartwheel in the house.

Do you know what all of those things had in common? My parents told me not to do the things that led up to those spectacularly painful endings, and I still did it.

No one convinced me to do those things, and as a small child you’re very willing to exercise your rights of free will. It’s only when you get older that you consider the outcome of said rights. My current ruminations have been over the times I’ve been branded a bad influence over people. My mother told me it had only been brought to her attention once as a teenager. It was from a friend’s mother who had loved me at first, but then blamed her daughter’s bad behavior on me. I can tell you this: I had never had a full blown cocktail until I met this girl, and I had never had a full bottle of beer before I met this girl, and I had never been taught how to roll a joint until I met her, and I was already in the 9th grade. (I never mastered joint rolling, by the way.) I was raised on military bases. My father was a colonel in the Air Force. No one at my house was teaching me how to play drinking games with huge 40-ounce bottles of Mickey’s malt liquor and hiding pot in my room. As a matter of fact, there was a totally cliché moment wherein my parents found pot in my room and we had a big to-do about it. My pleas of innocence fell on deaf ears, and the almost textbook quote of ‘it’s not mine, I’m holding it for a friend!’ played out like an after school special, with ME being punished for it. A few year later that same friend ended up getting pregnant and her mom kicked her out. She was fifteen and pregnant, on the streets. I’ll bet her mother somehow managed to find a way to blame me for the pregnancy and when my friend showed up with the father of her kid one day hungry and scared, I was at home doing schoolwork like a normal kid, not with child.

I was raised with manners. I am polite and friendly to everyone I meet. It’s how you respond to my behavior how it will go after that. Unfortunately for my parents, the people that were the most receptive to my polite behavior were the ones that drank beer, skipped school, and smoked a lot of dope. I will never blame anyone for the way my teenage years went. I made bad choices, and I made good ones.  To this day I’m the friend who won’t smoke pot because somehow the first thought in my head is a paranoid fear of getting papercuts. Yes, it’s weird I know, but what I’m getting at is I’m not the ‘hey man, let’s get high’ person. I’ve known a lot of potheads in my life, and more power to them. It’s just not my bag.

But somehow, I ended up being the bad influence. Not even three years ago I was accused of being a bad influence by a friend of mine in her mid-forties because she had gotten so drunk the night before doing shots with me. It’s not my fault she couldn’t keep up with me. I was going to drink the shots with or without her, but because she was sitting next to me, I was accused of influencing her. Give me a break.

I didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to turn fruits and vegetables into drug smoking apparatuses, or how to melt religious candles into drug smuggling tchotchkes. I had no idea that people would pay you to steal and vandalize their cars so they could use the insurance money to get a new one. I wasn’t the bad influence. Admittedly I was a willing participant in learning how to do fun things like that, but I wouldn’t ever have spent the time convincing other people to do them. I had plenty of other things keeping me busy like choir and basketball practice.

These days I’ve settled down quite a bit. After the whirlwind life I’ve had doing the opposite of everything I was supposed to do according to what counts as normal behavior in becoming a responsible adult, I acquired a few college degrees, and I’m now more happy spending time at home alone reading and writing than I am doing anything else.

I have at least four or five friends that have seen how I changed my life and followed suit by returning to school and getting sober. I applaud them, but never tried to convince anyone that what I did was right for them.

So, what happens to being a ‘bad influence’ when someone chases behind you on your journey down the highway to hell? You’re manipulating them. Taking advantage of their weakness. They’re a sheep, they’re weak. But if someone follows your lead in a positive way, you’re an inspiration and a role model.

Apparently, I’m one of those.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

 I wish my friend’s mother could see me now.

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