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Authors: Bristol Palin

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BOOK: Not Afraid of Life
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“Aunt Molly! Uncle Mike just shot Payton with a Taser!”

“No, he didn’t,” she said. It’s not that she didn’t think I was trustworthy; she just couldn’t imagine that the man she married would do such a thing to an innocent little kid.

When it finally dawned on her that I was telling the truth—and Payton confirmed it—she was livid.

We weren’t the only people who had trouble with Mike. In fact, there were so many citizen complaints against him that one day a state trooper detective asked to come to our home and interview us about what we’d observed about his activities.

“Of course,” we said. Cooperating with a detective is not something you think twice about.

What was revealed about Mike’s actions as a state trooper was shocking, including citizens claiming to have watched him chug beer
in his patrol car,
claims that he later denied; and one of his fellow police officers confessed that he witnessed him illegally killing an animal on a hunting trip, another claim that he also denied.

Oddly, the detective didn’t seem too interested in my story. In fact, he turned off his tape recorder during our interview and lectured me about how Taser guns aren’t lethal. I told him about my Internet research on the dangers of using a Taser on a little kid, including Taser-related fatalities, but he just laughed.

“The Internet is full of lies,” he said.

My interview only seemed to help Mike and his fellow union members (including the detective himself!) make it sound like I was just whining about a cop. I sure wasn’t whining. I was just truthfully answering the questions. This is when I really began to wrangle with the ideas of justice and fairness, and when I learned some people just don’t want to be bothered by the truth. The incident also showed that my mom and dad cared so much about family that they were ready to stick their necks out, even at great cost to themselves.

It was a regrettable incident that stuck out because I had an otherwise peaceful childhood. Our home was right in the middle of town, so that meant our friends were always over. Dad paved us a basketball court area and put up a hoop. We putzed around on the lake on Jet-Skis and boats. On the Fourth of July, friends would come over and watch the fireworks over the lake and go swimming. Our house was known as the place to hang out after school or practice, and Mom kept the house full of cookies. We’d also go out to Papa Jim’s cabin in Crosswinds (Papa Jim is my paternal grandfather) and shoot BB guns and go berry picking for pies we’d make for dinner at his cabin. My parents worked hard to make our family a good one.

It might seem unconventional that Mom was the mayor and Dad was both a commercial fisherman and worked in the North Slope . . . and it was. But through love and a lot of effort, they made the challenging jobs and demanding schedules work for our family. I grew up knowing how to bait a hook, I grew up knowing how to shoot a basketball, and I grew up knowing that I was loved. In many ways, my childhood was very similar to my mom’s . . . full of fishing, hunting, camping, family, church, and friends.

Then, in seventh grade, I met a guy named Levi.

Chapter Two

First Impressions

I
n seventh grade, my locker was right beside Levi Johnston’s. Of course I noticed he was handsome, and I was happy when we’d run into each other between classes. However, I hadn’t thought much about him until an English teacher gave all of us an assignment: write a letter to ourselves for a time capsule to be opened at the end of high school. The assignment asked us to list our goals, our dreams, and our interests. I remember thinking and thinking about my list because I wanted it to be just right. After all, it seemed like a big deal to put something into a “time capsule.” I didn’t realize it only meant the teacher would file it under “Class of 2009” in some dusty old file room. At any rate, my letter had some lofty goals, like wanting to own fifty pairs of jeans, having my own pig, wanting to go to a Lakers game, and meeting President Bush. But at the very end, after I’d sat there thinking about who I might like, my mind went back to that cocky guy whose locker was next to mine. I’d already written “I have a crush on . . .” So as the teacher told us to turn in our papers, I hurriedly scribbled “Levi Johnston.”

That’s how it all started.

That year, we lingered a little too long at our lockers, so long that we’d almost miss class. Which was silly, since we had math, English, social studies, and science together anyway. We saw plenty of each other.

Levi was known for stirring up trouble in class, especially when we had a substitute teacher. But one day he picked the wrong substitute teacher to challenge—my grandpa. An amazing thing about school was that Grandpa frequently substituted for us in science. And he was great! His house is full of antlers, snake skins, monkey skulls, duck bones, owl pelts, jars of dissected animals, and porcupine quills to show the class. My friends loved it, because when they saw Grandpa, they knew they’d learn more interesting things than just the “parts of a cell.” Plus, he never assigned homework because he believed kids should get their schoolwork done during school hours.

On this particular day, Grandpa was there teaching us about petrified wood, when Levi started his usual antics. He wasn’t loud and obnoxious, he was quiet and obnoxious. He threw spitballs at someone, kicked a kid under the table, and even punched some poor kid. When Grandpa kicked him out of the class and sent him to the office, it was the first sign of how well Levi would get along with my family.

He didn’t make a good first impression on my mom, either. Later that year, his competition hockey team played my older brother Track’s team and won. Afterward, Levi came up to me and gloated, “I told you I’d beat Track’s team.” Mom, who was standing right there, was not impressed with this big guy who had a talent for trash-talking but nothing else.

“What’s that guy’s problem, and why is he gloating to you about your brother’s loss?”

I assured her that he was just kidding, but I could tell Mom was not fond of him. I quickly ran and hid in the car, so he wouldn’t run his mouth again.

Though I loved my mom and grandpa and respected their opinions, Levi’s bad behavior wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I found him exciting. Like many women throughout history, I went for the “bad boy” who didn’t care about authority. After all, he was my opposite. I was a rule follower, a teacher’s pet, a straight-A student. I didn’t even cuss, and when people used bad words around me, I’d correct them. “Come on,” I’d say a little self-righteously. “Don’t use that kind of language.”

Levi was my first crush, though nothing “official” was ever established between us to give us the designation of “boyfriend and girlfriend.” However, it felt more “official” when we had a substitute teacher (not Grandpa!), and Levi made the class memorable for me in a way different from his usual antics. Instead of using this opportunity to pull someone’s hair or trip someone, in the middle of class he reached under the table and grabbed my hand. It was the first time I’d ever held hands with a boy, and my heart raced.

Throughout the year, we passed notes to each other all the time, under our teachers’ noses. Once a note landed on my desk and I carefully unfolded the paper. I gasped when I read what he’d written.

Will u be my gurl?

No, it didn’t have boxes to check—yes, no, or maybe. It was just the one sentence, all alone, in a rather lame attempt to make sure I was “his.”

I didn’t think about it too long. I scribbled hurriedly:

No! You’re supposed to ask me in person.

Levi could barely get through a week without getting in trouble at Teeland Middle School. He had a sister named Mercede (like the car, but without the
s
) whom we called “Sadie.” She wasn’t a model student either, and his mom eventually transferred both of them to a different school. This was a good indication that things at his home were really not good. His mom was always letting her kids do whatever they wanted. (She was later arrested for selling OxyContin in the local Target parking lot and served time in jail.)

When Levi finally left my school, a lot of drama left with him, and I sank all of my energy into sports. Athletics shaped my life as much as the state in which I grew up . . . just as they did for my grandparents and both of my parents. I played basketball, ran track, was the captain of my volleyball team, wrestled, and then I added another, unexpected sport to my roster.

It happened because I idolized my older brother, Track. When he made the offhand comment that football practice was harder than basketball, well, I had to show him he was wrong.

“It is not,” I protested. “And I’ll prove it to you.”

“How can you do that?” he asked, familiar with the stubborn streak that made me unable to back down from any fight. “You’ve never played football.”

He was right, of course. After all, girls my size didn’t play football, but I never let anything keep me from a challenge. “I’ll join the team then.”

And so I did, much to the bemused pleasure of my brother.

I was one of the smallest receivers the Houston Hawks had, and we lost every game. However, I went to every practice, kept up with the boys, and never complained. At the time, my mom was training for a marathon, so she’d drive me to practice and run to get a couple of hours of training in while we were out on the field.

Normally, my brother was very protective. Though he would later threaten to beat up anyone who messed with me, this “protective streak” disappeared when it came to our bet. I could tell the guys on my team were a little hesitant to tackle Track Palin’s sister. But he’d laugh and say, “Go ahead. Hit her harder!”

After weeks of practice, it was time for the actual games to begin. One Saturday, I was running a play when someone came at me. I got tackled so hard that I lay on the ground and cried . . . right in front of my brother and his friends in the stands. I saw my dad, who was standing on the sidelines, wince. Lying there on the field, I’d never felt more embarrassed in my life. I was practically sobbing, which wasn’t pretty since I’d gotten all the wind knocked out of me. It was the only time I cried.

I want to quit,
I remember thinking. But quitting wasn’t an option. At least not for me. I went back onto the field and played. We didn’t score any points at all, until the last game. The one touchdown we scored wasn’t enough to win a game, but we were thrilled! That season, I gained respect from my teammates and coaches because I’d toughed it out without whining. When that football season finally ended, so did my short-lived football career.

And I survived it, Track Palin. You have to admit that now.

T
hough I was the only girl to play football, my friends and I stuck together in our other athletic activities.

My best friends were Jenna, Ema, and Sammy. Jenna’s dad was a sloper like mine, so she was a hard worker and was focused on getting good grades, too. It was nice, because we shared all the same classes. Her family belonged to the Mormon church, and they were always involved in church activities. Ema went to the same Bible church as my family did, but she was a very curious girl, always pushing the limits.

In a word, we were jocks. In Wasilla, there wasn’t the typical “cheerleader” stereotype like there is in the other states. The popular girls were the athletic ones, and we played everything our town offered.

On a whim, my friend Sammy and I decided to join the wrestling team. (Not as uncommon up here as a girl being on the football team.) This entailed learning hundreds of moves, both offensively and defensively and from the top and bottom. After much practice, when the referee blew the whistle at the beginning of the match, and my opponent began circling and looking for an opening or to clinch my arms, I was ready. We worked so hard during that season, and we were in the best shape of our lives! Dad never came to my meets, because he did not want to see his daughter wrestling. Football was one thing, but this? It was too much for him. The worst part about the whole experience was that we had to wear purple “singlets” for our meets. They looked so ridiculous that Sammy and I wore them to volleyball practice to get a few laughs. We looked stupid, but it’s fun to be silly when you have your friends around you.

The girls and I also played on the basketball team together. In eighth grade, I was a shooting guard for Teeland Middle School’s team—the Titans—and proudly wore the number 20. (My mother was number 22 all through her high school basketball days.) Our coach, John Brown, was a talented guy with light blond hair and three daughters. He was also our math teacher. This meant that we basketball players tried to get away with everything in class. Jenna and I would go up to him in the middle of prealgebra and ask, “Can we go do the basketball laundry?” We got out of a lot of boring math that way, but we still managed to make all As. In fact, all of our middle school teachers made learning fun. For example, in eighth grade, we took a multimedia class where we shot our own videos. Jenna and I took on the challenging task of making a video called “How to Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich.” (This, sadly, is still about the extent of my cooking skills.)

Even though we’d get away with mischief in class, Coach Brown was all business on the court. He taught us tons of plays that we’d later use in high school. The girls on the team had a friendship that went beyond just learning various plays. On game days, Jenna, Ema, Sammy, and I all wore matching basketball shoes that coordinated with our purple and silver uniforms. Plus, we’d always do our hair in the same way, all pulled back on the sides or in French braids. At lunch, we’d always sit together and talk about our strategies and upcoming games. And even after games, Coach Brown would make us write reflection pages that made us think back and judge what we’d done well and what we’d done poorly.

Once, we were coming back from basketball regionals at Kenai, when the car Jenna’s mom was driving hit black ice and spun out of control. She had a pretty bad accident, with Jenna and some other kids in the car. It just so happened that my grandma and grandpa were driving right behind them, so they stopped, called an ambulance, got the kids blankets to keep warm, and helped everyone stay calm while they waited. Other than a lot of stitches, everyone was fine. It just goes to show how small and tight-knit my town is—we all come to each other’s aid in times of need.

Since we enjoyed sports so much, we also went to watch Wasilla High School games. In small towns, there is rarely anything going on more exciting than these well-attended community events. One night, Jenna, Ema, Sammy, and I bundled up and went to a football game. I can’t remember if we won or lost, but I do remember that Sadie and a girl named Lanesia were there. I’d gone to school with Lanesia back at Iditarod Elementary School, and we never really got along.

That night, she and Sadie were not happy with us.

We figured this out by picking up on the subtle clues they were giving us. Like when Sadie yelled “I found them!” as they darted around the parking lot. And then Lanesia yelled, “Let’s kick their ass!” Okay, maybe not so subtle.

Now, I’d like to say that my friends and I turned around and put a stop to that nonsense. After all, there were four of us and two of them. We probably could’ve taken them. But the truth is, we were terrified. We’d never fought before, and had never even seen a fight before. So we ran. We ran between the rows of cars, we ducked behind cars. Finally, we saw a parked truck belonging to someone we knew. We tried the handle and realized—thankfully!—it was unlocked. That’s where we hid, laughing about what was happening, our hearts racing, as they looked for us until finally giving up.

It was just one of those weird middle school dramas that Jenna, Ema, Sammy, and I lived through together. But we also had political adventures. By 2002, Mom had served two terms as mayor of Wasilla and started thinking about running for a higher office. It seemed like the administrative position of lieutenant governor was a good fit for Mom, because she could put to work the skills she learned as CEO of our city, in the position of mayor. It might sound like her decision to run would’ve really affected my life, but it didn’t. Because she didn’t like asking people for money, she didn’t have a huge campaign. So when she ran for lieutenant governor, it was a low-key affair that included a lot of fun but not a great deal of pressure. In other words, it didn’t have much of an impact on my life.

Every weekend, my friends and I would pile into my mom’s four-wheel-drive Bronco and drive around the state to help her at rallies and parades. She was one of six candidates running, and she didn’t really have a chance. Dad was working full-time on the North Slope, had just sold the Polaris dealership, had started building a new house on Lake Lucille, and was preparing for the Iron Dog. Mom was coaching youth basketball, had just had Piper, and was still the full-time mayor. Honestly, Mom had just bitten off more than she could chew. (Later, Grandma would tell her, “You can’t have it all, all at the same time.”) My main memory from that time was that Mom had gotten an awful haircut during the campaign that made her bangs stick straight out. We’d walk up to her with our hand sticking out from our forehead, making fun of the way her hair stuck out. She wasn’t fazed by it, though. She just pinned her bangs down and pretended they were
supposed
to look that way. Otherwise, the campaign was only really significant because her showing in the election led to her appointment as chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, then as chairman of the nation’s Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. This allowed Mom to live in Wasilla and drive to Anchorage for her job. It actually simplified our lives, because she was no longer the mayor, and she didn’t have to constantly be on the phone listening to people who wanted a fire hydrant added to their street or to get her to shut up some barking dog in their neighborhood.

BOOK: Not Afraid of Life
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