Faking Amish: My Sad Attempt At Teenage Rebellion

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teenager rebellious stage

People expected a lot from my rebellious stage. I was the youngest of four children (my biological siblings) and in my other home, I was essentially a middle child of twelve. My rebellion was meant to be a glorious thing, like a lower back tattoo set aflame with the burning resentment borne of living in a schoolphanarium and visiting my other siblings in their various detention centers.

During their respective rebellions, my siblings set the bar extremely high; one of my brothers started doing smash and grabs. My sister tried out every recreational drug conceived of. My other brother went full goth and disappeared. To put it bluntly, I was supposed to go positively ape shit.

Given my current demeanor and personality, a lot of people think that my adolescent years were a blur of middle fingers and bongs, while the truth is horrifically, mortifyingly disappointing when it comes out:

I went Amish.

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, the Amish cease to be a curiosity. Once you’ve been to Intercourse of Blue Ball once or a thousand times, all of those bonnets, beards, and buggies begin to sort of meld into one gigantic mecha-Amish person in your mind and you’ll stop staring, which is rude anyway.

It would not have been impossible or even particularly difficult for me to find a Plain family and ask to live with them to sample the shower-free, electronically disinclined lifestyle. But no, I of course didn’t do that because I can’t even be weird correctly.

Instead, I opted to find a long black skirt, a modest buttoned-to-the-chin shirt, and ditched my shoes. I twisted my hair into the severe twisty-bunny thing that Amish women wear, and I went positively everywhere like this, unapologetically and without explanation. Back then, I think I imagined that people thought, “Oh, look! An Amish girl.” In hindsight, they were probably thinking, “Why the fuck is that girl dressed like a schoolmarm?” because in lieu of doing my research or taking an entire religion and its culture seriously, I just watched Witness and stopped taking baths.

Not having a car helped make the entire experience a bang-up success. I would literally wander around one of the three cities I lived in that summer; Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Hershey, until it got dark, just daring somebody to fucking say something to me. It truly never occurred to me to think that Amish people don’t really hang out in Philly the way that crazy vagrants do. Of course no one said anything to me. I looked like a crazy vagrant.

I was spending the summer with my mother and not my housemom, and that led to some interesting interactions. For one thing, I refused to eat anything she cooked on her electric stove. I would not watch television. Instead of showering, I would fill a cup with water and use that, something that I’m sure the rest of the world appreciated, seeing as I’d just developed my first real case of B.O that May. I checked a ton of books out of the library that were in Pennsylvania Dutch and “read” them by the light of a candle, even though I didn’t speak a single word of Penn Dutch and my actual German skills didn’t extend beyond asking to use the bathroom or get a drink.

In public I always walked a step or two behind her so she wouldn’t blow my cover. If I was going to pull this off, I had to act lost in places like Blockbuster so that it didn’t look like I was doing English stuff like renting movies.

In short–I was really fucking insufferable.

Her reaction only served to make me double down: every time she looked mortified or screamed at me at home I would just nod stoically and say, “Gut, gut,” like I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about.

By the time the school year started and my housemom tagged my mom out, I’m sure she was thoroughly sick of my shit. My housemom took one look at my getup and said nothing, opting instead to pretend that I hadn’t lost my cotdam mind.

That did the trick. Within a week I was sick of pretending to be Amish and I was desperate to shave my legs and watch Dawson’s Creek. I threw the skirt out and never a word was spoken about this odd phase in my life, until now.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why I went with Jedediah and not Manson. I wanted simplicity very badly at a time when my life was complete chaos, and I wanted attention even more than that. For years I had been the “good sibling” while my brothers and sister were stretching their wings, and when it came time for me to do normal teenage rebellion stuff, I didn’t even know how, so I just retreated further into a cozy shell of being quiet and severe. And as for the attention? My mom was so wrapped up in the rest of her kids’ fuckery that it felt good to have her talk to me about me, even if it was out of embarrassment and frustration.

And sure, my story might seem woefully boring and bland as far as crazy summers stuffed with hormones go, but if I had done something like gotten pregnant or tried cocaine or stolen lip gloss and cassette tapes, everyone would have been expecting that.

You have to keep them guessing.

(Image: Dan Thornberg/Shutterstock)