AKA Lake Perris – The Misadventures of a Teenage Jenster
A couple of months ago while perusing my favorite blogs I made the mistake of mentioning to His Girl that I’d been to Lake Perris before and it was, in fact, where I had gotten into the worst trouble of my life (please don’t correct me if I’m wrong about that, Mom). Did you know you can’t just throw out a statement like that and expect people to forget?
Just so you know, there were no sex or drugs involved, though I do believe there was a substantial amount of rock ‘n’ roll. And those of you with no children may not see it as such a big deal. Those of you who are parents, however, will probably shake your head at my stupidity and mutter things like, “if my child did something like that she’d find herself in a high security boarding school until she was 30.”
So without further ado, here it is. The infamous Lake Perris story…
The church I grew up in was full of campers. My dad was the Wagon Master because: a) we did a lot of camping and he knew how the California State Parks worked; b) not only did his truck have a CB, it also had a PA system which he used for camping announcements; c) his daughter (me) had mad whistling skills and was able to get the attention of everyone in a ½ mile radius; or d) he was the only one who offered to do it. I’m not sure which. When I was 14 he chose a campout at Lake Perris, a man made lake in Riverside County.
Not only did my best friend, Cindy, come to church with me and even joined when I did, she also came on nearly all the church camping trips. She was tall and thin while I was short and not as thin. We had one thing in common, though. We were both flat as boards and not the kind of girls who inspired thoughts from older boys, lascivious or otherwise. Kathy, however, was 16 and built like the proverbial brick house. At 5′ or so, she was even shorter than I was, but she had solid curves in all the right places and the French bikini she wore the entire weekend looked exactly like it was supposed to.
Now Kathy only ever came to church or a church activity when she was in trouble for something, which means she was a fairly regular attendee. It seems to me this particular weekend her reason for being there came in the form of a stash of pot found in her locker at school, but it could have been anything. Because she was a bit of a rough girl, a lot of the kids would hardly give her the time of day. My mother – being high on the compassion scale – told Cindy and me to be nice to Kathy. So Saturday morning after breakfast we invited Kathy to come down to the beach with us. She seemed genuinely pleased to be included and came along.
After a while of tanning, talking and listening to that devil music (I have to blame something for my actions) we headed to the bait shop for sodas and a snack. Three guys around 17 or 18 came out of the bait shop and jumped into a ski boat. I don’t believe they even saw Cindy or me, but six eyes landed on the French bikini we were with. And by the way the French bikini started walking, she noticed them as well.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? I imagine some of you are sitting there, glued to the screen, nearly breathless with anticipation as to what will happen next. “No, Cindy and Jenster! Don’t do it! You’re good girls!” Actually, I can’t imagine that any of you are quite that riveted, but it’s fun to pretend.
The guys asked Kathy if she wanted to go for a ride in the boat. And this is where it gets a little foggy. If memory serves, she didn’t even consult Cindy or me and she just jumped in. As an afterthought we were invited to tag along.
For years after the “Great Lake Perris Debacle” Cindy and I argued vehemently over whose fault it was. Easily it was Kathy’s fault because she just hopped in the boat with these guys she didn’t know. But as far as our participation in the scandal – who pushed who? Now that I’m older I can see we were both probably right. I always argued that I tried to talk her out of it but she happily went along with Kathy and she always argued she was the voice of reason while I just blew her off.
I think we both were screaming on the inside, “Nooooooooooo,” but on the outside we didn’t want to appear foolish or uncool. Not only that, but I think we both felt a responsibility to Kathy and neither one of us could leave her to her joy ride alone. So much to my everlasting shame, Cindy and I went on the joy ride, too. I use the term “joy” loosely because I can tell you neither one of us enjoyed it. Kathy, on the other hand, was having the time of her life.
I have no idea how long we were out on the lake other than it was too long. We finally pulled up to the dock and I know Cindy and I were greatly relieved. Though I do have to say for the record, the guys were actually very nice and never did or said anything inappropriate. But I hear axe murderers look suspiciously like nice guys.
When we got out of the boat all I could think of was getting back to the campground. The boys were locals and offered to drive us up to the campground in the back of their truck. Fine, fine, whatever. Just get me back to my people! OH! And drop us off at the entry. I don’t want anyone seeing us with you! As we walked to the truck I heard my name. I barely recognized the voice as that of my father’s. Can you say “busted”?
Up until that time I had never been afraid of my daddy. Since that time I’ve never been afraid of my daddy. In that moment — I was a little afraid of my daddy. He had this glazed, crazy look in his eyes I’d never seen. I had received a few spankings in my life and I deserved all three. If ever a spanking was called for it was that day, but I didn’t get one.
** And for the record, being spanked DID NOT MAKE ME VIOLENT. I’m a lover, not a fighter. Except that I do kick Taylor in the shins sometimes or pinch the tender underside of his arm to get his attention. But that’s another post. **
I quickly changed directions and walked toward my dad and the other people that were with him. I was in trouble and I was humiliated in front of half my church. It’s all a bit of a blur now, but I remember walking back to the campground with several people. You know in the historical-type movies when the villagers chase the outcast out of town? That was sort of how I felt. But instead of being chased out of town Cindy and I were being chased back to our camp site.
Apparently the entire group was out looking for us. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the park rangers were looking for us as well. One of them even asked if we could be out on the lake. “Oh, no,” said my mom. “Jennifer would never get into a boat with complete strangers.” Yeah, I would have thought the same thing.
The worst part of all of it, though, was when Cindy and I were sitting in the back of the truck (with a shell on top, a couch that made into a bed, a built in cassette system, carpeted and with curtains – our little camping oasis). My mom was telling us how worried they had all been and how disappointed she was in our behavior. I remember thinking, “Oh, please! Just beat me now! It would be so much easier to take than this guilt!”
It was bad enough that Cindy and I did something so stupid. But to do something so stupid in front of half the church was horrible. And it wasn’t just my parents who were worried. Oy! I’m embarrassed just thinking about it and it happened ten years ago. Or twenty. Or nearly thirty. Whatever!
I have had a little experience as a parent with the anger that turns into worry that turns into relief that morphs into righteous indignation, but not on this scale. If I think about it too much I am surprised at the mercy that was shown to me when I really didn’t deserve it.
Oh, I was punished. Grounded, maybe? I don’t remember. I try to block unpleasantness from my conscience. Part of my “ignorance is bliss” theme. But a lesson was learned by all that weekend. Cindy and I learned that we really needed to stand up for ourselves. The church learned that “Little Jenni” wasn’t nearly as good as they thought. My parents learned their youngest was more adventuresome than their two oldest. And Kathy learned that wearing a French Bikini could open doors. Or something.