I've never in my life know why I've made the choices I have. I mean, when I make choices, they seem to make sense. It's only later on that they turn out to be mistakes. Sometimes, it feels like I don't even have a choice, as if there's no point in thinking about a choice because my decision won't change anything. I never set out to do the wrong thing, but so often it just feels like I'm trapped, and no decision will get me out. What's the point, then, in worrying about the right thing to do?

      I started dating when I was fourteen. It was weird, though. It's not really like what you see in movies, mostly. The girls I knew only went out with guys because they wanted everyone to think that they were mature, like they were adults or something, not because they really liked the guys that much. It was like they wanted to date just so that they could say that they were dating someone.
      The guys weren't that different. They wanted to be cool with their friends. They didn't care about the girls anymore than the girls cared about them. At least that was the way it was with the people I used to hang out with. We were all in the eighth grade, living lives we thought made us adults.
      I went out with five or six guys that year. We'd be together for a month or so, then when no one seemed to think us being a couple was interesting anymore, we'd break up. Actually, we'd basically just stop calling each other. Eventually we'd be going out with other people, and wouldn't even talk to each other in the hall anymore. And about a week or so after we stopped, that's when stories and rumors would start circulating. I'd hear his guy friends calling me dirty names when I'd walk by, pretending that they were whispering when they knew I could hear. And I'd hear my friends telling me how my guy had been cheating on me the whole time we went out. Within two weeks of a breakup, he and I would basically hate each other, and I didn't even want to be seen near him.
      But that was normal. It happened all year long with almost all the people I was friends with. None of us knew that it was all so pointless. None of us knew that when you go out with someone just because you think it might make people envy you, that you can't expect it to actually work out well. Or maybe we did know that, and didn't care. That's what I was saying about choices. Maybe we just thought that was the only way things could work out, that it was something we just had to do.
      It got worse in high school. The older we got, the more stuff we could do on our own, without our parents' interference. And the older we got, the, more important it became for us to look good in front of others, to be envied by others. 'Relationships' were measured in weeks, not months. A 'couple' would cuss each other out right in the middle of the hallway… and then each person would be with someone new inside of a week. We'd watch the older kids around us, the juniors and seniors, and we'd see the same thing… except there seemed to be more hatred between the people that broke up. You'd think that we'd realize what we were doing after seeing that, but it just made us want to do it more. We followed the example the older kids set for us. Again, choices. The 'right thing' wasn't defined by your beliefs. It was defined by what your best friend was doing.

      I was pregnant at sixteen, late in my sophomore year. The guy was nobody special… no one that I cared about anyway. We were just doing what everyone else was, what we thought we were supposed to do. It wasn't a rare occurrence. Two of my friends had gotten pregnant the year before, and one was even pregnant in the eighth grade. Of course none of us thought it would happen to us that early, even though we knew it could. We weren't stupid. We just didn't care and didn't think we could avoid it. To a lot of us it was just a matter of how long it would be before it happened.
      I never made the choices to avoid that. People used to warn us about it… but no one that I ever listened to. No one that I cared about tried to keep me away from that life. And all of my best friends, we never tried to stop each other from heading towards that life. We didn't have any real hope, so we all wanted to fall down together, I guess. Not one of us ever stood up and tried to pull the rest back from the edge. Together forever.
      Of course, that didn't last. Raising a baby at that age doesn't leave you time for anything. All of us 'friends' started drifting apart. Some of us dropped out. Some ran away. Some just moved on to new friends when the baggage that came with the rest of us was too much for them to worry about. But most of them fell down too, because they never changed their habits… only the people they surrounded themselves with. Of all the girls I used to hang out with, three got out. Three avoided the traps that the rest of us fell into. I don't know where they are these days, but they left before they made the mistakes we did.

      I look around and all I see are the things that try to convince us to live a certain life, things that make us believe we don't have real choices. Movies, music, TV… there are so many messages that say, 'Your life is terrific, or your life is terrible. And that doesn't change.' They show us lives we'd like to have, without telling us how to get there. And the more appealing those lives look, the more we dig ourselves into the lives we wish we didn't have. We pay them for a brief glimpse into a fantasy world. Or they show us the lives we really do have, and tell us there's no way out. And we pay them because we think they share our pain. Not one of them says, 'Listen. Making the right choices will pull you out of your madness and despair. Let me guide you upward.'
      Again, I have heard that message before, on rare occasions. But not from anyone I've ever cared about.