Authors: Bristol Palin
Many late nights, Jenna, Ema, Sammy, and I would have slumber parties and talk about cute boys—we laughed about Sadie and Lanesia’s threats, talked about all the things we got to do on the campaign trail, and dreamed about going to high school.
is probably not the right word. Perhaps I should’ve said
being the new kids in the school. Though we were terrified about stepping into the halls for the first time, we knew we’d be able to make it . . . together.
Then, something happened in 2005. After an evening volleyball game, I could suddenly tell that something wasn’t right around the house. When I came into their room to say good night, I noticed Mom and Dad cut short their conversation and smiled at me. The next morning, they talked in low voices. I knew something big was going on, but I wasn’t a good enough eavesdropper to figure it out.
It was already dark when my mom picked me up from school a couple of days later. In the winter, Alaskan students go to school in the dark and drive home in the dark. At some point during the day the sun might come out momentarily, but we were inside and never saw it. I remember that Dad was on the Iron Dog trail that particular day. Because this race lasts several days, it was an exciting time of life when we’d wonder where he was on the trail, if he was in the lead, and whether he was safe.
When I got in the car and shut the door, my mom’s voice was more serious than normal.
“I have something to tell you, but you have to promise not to talk about it at school.”
Was there something wrong? Was Dad hurt on the trail? My mind reeled with the possibilities.
“Uncle Mike is having an affair.”
The news sank into me like a knife, and my mind was filled with concern over how my aunt Molly and cousins were going to deal with this. In fact, who would want to have an affair with someone who thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to Taser a young kid? I didn’t know anyone on my mom’s side of the family who had ever been through a messy divorce.
“With Jenna’s mom,” Mom added. Jenna’s mom was a good friend of all of ours.
That ten-minute drive home felt like death.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Jenna came from one of those “good families.” I never would’ve guessed her mother was capable of splitting apart my aunt’s family so easily. I was always at their house—even spent school nights there—and my aunt Molly and Jenna’s mom were good friends! The affair became public when Jenna’s mom told my mom while they were watching us play a volleyball game that season. That’s when things unraveled. Jenna’s mom was kicked out of their Latter-Day Saints church, Aunt Molly began divorce proceedings, and my cousins prepared to live life without a dad.
The next day when I went to school, I didn’t dare mention it. Though I was hanging out with my friends just as much, the secret lingered between us like a ghost. It haunted me. It haunted Jenna. We didn’t talk about it. It tore us apart.
It only became a topic of conversation among us when Mike (I no longer called him uncle) showed up at volleyball games with Jenna’s mom. It was so awkward, but we tried not to think about the new, weird dynamics in the stands. We tried to focus on setting the volleyball, spiking it over the net, and having good clean fun.
That’s before we realized it just wasn’t possible anymore. When everyone found out at school, people started choosing sides. Well before we’d ever heard of Team Jolie or Team Aniston, my friends at Teeland unofficially broke into two groups. Those who supported my family, and those who supported Jenna’s. I hated the drama.
It was also the first time—but not the last—that I realized how someone’s private sexual sin could rock everyone around him or her.
When, in that same year, our teacher assigned us a project to do a report on a famous poem, I chose the John Donne poem from which the line “No man is an island” is taken, because the phrase was something my mom always said to us.
I remember getting up in front of the class and clearing my throat before I read it.
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” I read. The class, I’m sure, wasn’t paying much attention to my little speech, as I finished it up, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
When I finished reading, the teacher urged me to go on with my explanation of the poem, but I was hesitant because Jenna was in the class. I was afraid she’d be able to tell the entire report was about Mike.
“This poem speaks to me about how people are not as isolated from each other as it might seem. One man’s actions can—and will—affect everyone around them in unimaginable ways.”
Mike’s behavior upset a lot of people’s lives, and I hated him for all the drama he caused my family.
I couldn’t have predicted I’d soon be causing my family a different kind of drama.
ockey in Alaska is like basketball in Indiana or football in Tennessee. It’s the thing all kids do, and hockey families incur great expense so their kids can play. Sometimes entire teams take trips to other cities for tournaments and games. Since Mom was a “hockey mom,” I was forever tagging along behind her, helping her keep the stats, providing the guys with Gatorade, and helping with any other things that came up. In fact, I missed the first day of high school because of a hockey trip to Boston. Track’s team—which included Levi, a guy named Ben, and other friends—packed up and went south to Massachusetts. Though it was a fun trip, it put me at a disadvantage when it came to getting into the groove of a new (and bigger!) school.
That’s how the second day of school was my first. Track and I drove in his Bronco to Wasilla High School, music blaring, with the base turned up. As the base of the music thumped, so did my heart. How would I know where to go, what if I couldn’t find my classes, and where would I sit at lunch? Track was making fun of me on the way, but I couldn’t calm my nerves—I was about to become one of the hundreds of confused-looking freshmen.
As soon as I walked in the door, my heart raced. I was trying to find my first class, when—through the crowd of complete strangers—I saw my friend.
“Over here!” I yelled, thankful to see a friendly face. But when she approached, I noticed we were wearing the exact same shirt—a button-up cardigan we’d bought on a shopping trip together. Okay, so I realize now it’s not that big of a deal, but for a freshman during her first hour of high school, it was disastrous; I wanted to crawl into my locker and hide. At least we’d bought different colors.
When I did find my first class, I settled into a seat and got my notebook out to jot down any information I’d need for the class. After the class began, Levi walked in late. This second day was his “first day,” too, since he’d been on the hockey team’s trip.
“Hey, babe,” he said as he slid into his chair.
Though I’d never chase or pursue him, I was happy to have a friend next to me. At that time, that’s all we were . . . though we started flirting from that first class on. As the days passed, I watched in mild amusement—and some concern—as it became clear he wasn’t fitting in well at high school. He came to hockey practice drunk, he put Ex-Lax in some kid’s brownie, he got sent to the office. Apparently, Levi only enrolled in school so he could qualify to play hockey. As soon as the season was over, he’d drop out. (It became a pattern. For later semesters, he enrolled in a homeschool curriculum for just enough credits to play. After hockey season, he’d drop out again.) Because he knew he wasn’t going to be there for long, he had no reason whatsoever to behave in school. He was a one-man wrecking crew, and he only lasted a few weeks at Wasilla High School.
I was astonished at how little Levi cared about what teachers thought of him, how little he studied, and how he lived on his own terms. After he dropped out, however, it was out of sight, out of mind. The excitement—and challenges—of a new school crowded out any lingering thoughts of rekindling that old seventh-grade flame. I’d sometimes see him at the house with Track and his other teammates, but otherwise I didn’t pay much attention to him and did normal high school things.
I still had the drama from the affair of my soon-to-be former uncle to deal with. One night at the beginning of the school year, my friends and I went to the high school football game and were hanging around talking. Mike was an assistant coach at the high school, which made it awkward when I’d run into him.
That night, however, we were walking by him, and—in a great demonstration of both his immaturity and his feelings for his former niece—he called me a “f—king b—ch!” Though he mumbled it, every one of my friends heard it.
As he walked off, my friends said, “Really? Did that really happen? A trooper just called you that?”
All of the drama surrounding my uncle was hard for me to survive without my naive notions about truth and justice being stripped away. Even though I was so young, I suddenly became calloused toward people in authority. It also changed the way I looked at men and fidelity. And, not least of which, it scared me. After a state trooper told me he would “bring me down” and “get you all,” it was enough to cause me to lie awake at night.
When he called me a b—ch that night, it seemed to bring it all back.
My friends and I told the teachers what he’d called me, thinking it would at least get him a slap on the wrist for speaking to a student that way. However, he stayed on as coach, and I just tried to avoid him.
It was just another one of those irritants that kind of stole some of the carefree joy out of high school.
uring my freshman year, Mom and Dad gave me a “purity ring,” a little silver band with a diamond on it. A few of my friends in Wasilla at the time wore these types of rings, and I was happy when I received one, too. I didn’t take a chastity pledge or participate in any sort of ceremony. Mine was a purity ring and was just a simple symbol of what I already knew: I was going to remain pure throughout my high school years.
It didn’t seem like such a stretch.
In middle school, I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” and that same personality carried through to high school. I was even more organized, more dedicated to hard work, and more of a teacher’s pet than ever before. Yes, I was that girl. The one who people try not to cuss around. So the purity ring fit right in with my good-girl personality.
Like most kids, my freshman year was a challenge. Though I had good guy friends, the gang from middle school had largely broken up. The tension caused by Jenna’s mom and my uncle having an affair made everything more difficult, so Jenna, Ema, Sammy, and I all went our separate ways. I could barely remember what it was like to have late-night chats at slumber parties when we’d talk about high school. Though we’d all been nervous about entering a new environment, we also had different perspectives about ninth grade. Some of my friends were curious about guys and knew that high school meant one thing: losing their virginity. (One proudly wore a T-shirt that read
Instead of referring to potential weight gain, though, the slogan was about sex; the shirt had the names of fifteen boys written—and crossed out—underneath it.) I was taking a different approach from some of them, however, and told my girlfriends that I was waiting until marriage.
Of course, my friends and I assumed we would stay close in high school and go through the “coming-of-age” moments together. We had no idea that life would intervene and splinter our relationships. I watched from a distance as my friends lived their separate lives. I played basketball, but it wasn’t as much fun now that everyone was on different levels of teams—some were on junior varsity, others on varsity, and so forth. To make matters worse, remember Lanesia? She was now a teammate of mine. Though she wasn’t chasing me around the parking lot threatening to kill me, she was always causing drama on the team.
turned fifteen the day my mother announced she was running for governor of the state of Alaska. Over the summer, Mom had been thinking about whether she should challenge Governor Murkowski, who had already served one term. Many people had called her to complain about how the government had gotten out of control, how they were sick of “politics as usual,” and how the oil companies weren’t drilling and were robbing hardworking Alaskans of job opportunities. Dad supported Mom, like he has always done. So, on my birthday, Mom announced from our living room that she was running for the office.
Okay, she didn’t choose that date because I was turning fifteen. She chose to announce on October 18, 2005, because it was Alaska Day, the anniversary of the day when the United States bought the Territory of Alaska from the Russians in 1867. Kids got out of school, state employees got off work, businesses closed for the day, parades were thrown, and my mom kicked off her gubernatorial run in our living room.
That meant that suddenly our weekends became very full. Every Saturday, we’d load up in Mom’s Jetta and head out on long road trips. When we arrived at our destination—we made name tags, blew up balloons, and stole a few Murkowski signs off people’s lawns. (Sorry, Mom! Sorry, Governor Murkowski!) We were—as always—working on a limited budget, so we’d frequently spend more money on gas than we’d make at the fund-raiser. That’s because Alaska is so gigantic that some of our in-state trips would take seven hours, then we’d turn around and come back to save money on hotels. But we did get to see most of our beautiful state. Frequently, we’d see bear, moose, buffalo, and sometimes wolves walking across the roads or grazing nearby. Some of the roads were built over permanently frozen ground. When the hot pavement was poured, it melted the ground, which caused the ground to “heave” from side to side as well as front to back. This meant that some roads were like roller coasters, with dips sometimes a foot deep! They could wreak havoc on your car . . . and stomach, after too much ice cream.
In spite of all these low-budget road trips, Mom had learned from her lieutenant governor loss to do things right this time. Her two themes were simple and catchy: “New Energy for Alaska” and “Take a Stand.” Plus, she set up a nice campaign office in Anchorage on Fifth Street. One weekend, we loaded the car with paintbrushes, rollers, and several gallons of red paint and painted the Alaska flag on her headquarters wall. As we stood back and admired our work, everything seemed so much more official. Like always, her endeavor was a family affair. Kris Perry, one of her dear friends—and a fellow soccer mom—became instrumental as they figured out how to win the gubernatorial race. Even my great-grandmother on my dad’s side got involved in the campaign. Mom called her a “one-woman Eskimo whistle-stop tour” as she went around Dillingham and told the elders about “Todd’s wife.”
ur fall was consumed with starting that adventure, but right after spring break in 2006 I ran into Levi.
“Come see me play in Fairbanks,” he said.
“I’m already going,” I told him, trying to hide the fact that I was thrilled at his invitation. That hockey-mom thing my mom always talked about? It wasn’t a campaign tactic. She really was the manager of Track’s hockey team, which means she went to his games and cheered the young players, kept score, compiled stats, organized transportation, and put bandages on game-induced wounds. Though Fairbanks was a seven-hour drive from our hometown, I happily endured the road trip there. I watched from the stands as Levi played.
A few days after that game, he invited me to the movies. Because we were so young, he had his dad pick me up and drop us off. After seeing a silly movie that made us both laugh, he leaned in to kiss me.
Afterward, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I just had to do that.”
“Why?” I asked, a little skeptical even though I was a freshman. “So you can tell your friends?”
“No,” he purred. “So I can sleep tonight.”
Okay, so maybe I wasn’t skeptical enough, because that line—that cheesy line—melted my heart. The next day I was still intoxicated with new love, when I noticed he was texting someone.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Is that a girl you’re texting?”
“Um, yeah,” he said. “She was asking me a question about something.”
“Really? About what?”
“She’s just a friend,” he said. “Ask my mom or sister. They’ll tell you.”
This became a pattern. At first, I’d call to check out his story, but his family always backed him up. It made me feel like I was being petty and small-minded.
Of course, he was texting a girl—because he was with that girl when I wasn’t around.
After so much public unfaithfulness, it almost seems strange to mention such a small incident. But it’s significant because it was the initial lie snowball that started an avalanche.
Levi would frequently lie to me about other things, too. For example, he told me he had a new cobalt blue truck—a 2007 Chevy Silverado extended cab, with rims, and a double pipe exhaust. Not only did he have no cobalt blue truck, it was before he had a truck at all. Though he later got a series of red trucks, none matched his disturbingly specific description. He also would act like he had lots of money, which is odd since I didn’t even really care about that. He’d say he got twelve fish when he didn’t catch any. It’s weird. He’d lie when the truth would do just fine.
I ignored his lies, mesmerized by what I thought was love, and the year went on well for me at Wasilla High School. With one week left, everyone was looking forward to the wonderful Alaskan summer.
That’s when I did the thing that drove me crazy about Levi: I told a lie.
“We’re going to go stay the night at Ema’s house,” I nonchalantly said as my friend and I headed toward the front door and to Point MacKenzie.
Of course, I thought I was headed into an evening of harmless high school fun. But really, I was headed into the deep quicksand of sexual sin, during a night that I barely remembered. The next morning when I woke up, I didn’t know what had happened until I spoke to my friend, who confirmed my deepest fears.
On the drive home from Point MacKenzie, she and I sat in the backseat while Levi chatted with his friend riding in the passenger seat. (Guys, take note: Do not put your girlfriend in the backseat so that you can talk hunting with your friend.) His only acknowledgment of our life-changing moment was the occasional knowing glance or wink in the rearview mirror.
He remembers, I thought . . . and dread crept all over me. I tried not to vomit.
When we got back to the house, I was devastated as I tried to figure out what had just happened. When we got a chance to be alone, I pulled him aside and began a very uncomfortable conversation.
“You knew I didn’t want to have sex until I was married!” I whispered. “How could you?”
He never really gave me a good answer, but he did apologize. “I thought you wanted to,” he said. “I thought you changed your mind.”
He also claimed to have been drunk, which I believed.