Sometimes you are reminded about how different things are for others, even though they may seem so similar to yourself.

When I was around 12 I was friendly with a family of three kids in my teeny town, a girl of 14, a girl of 11, and a boy around 9. I hung out most with the 14-year-old because she was a Bad Girl, a real Bad Girl who smoked and drank and did drugs and skipped lots of school and did very dodgy things with boys...and men. She dressed like a Bad Girl, in too-tight jeans and nasty boots and low cut shirts and a dirty jean jacket. But when she wasn't out and about nastying, we would hang out at her house and play records and talk, and she had a surprising desert-dry wit and intelligence. Sometimes it seemed to me like she was caught between two very, very different worlds; to be like her younger siblings, who were bookish, a little shy and nerdy but funny and kind, or the direction she seemed to be headed, the outcome I could not really fully see.

The parents were nice if not very talkative. They seemed like good folks who worked hard, probably very hard, to provide for the family. The dad had black hair and a sparkle to his eyes, liked to laugh, but seemed to be fairly strict, not someone you'd want to cross, a plumber. The mom was tiny, maybe a hundred pounds, with red red hair and sarcastic look on her face nearly all the time. I often wondered if they knew what their oldest daughter was up to, and part of me wished they did, and would do something about it.

One night after dinner, I popped over to their house, just a couple minute's walk from my house. I was welcomed at the door by my friend, and I saw a cake on the kitchen table, candles already lit and blown out, slices cut.

"Do you want some cake? It's my mom's birthday."

"Um, sure!" Like any kid is going to turn down cake. My friend went to the table and got me a piece, and we went into the dining room, where the rest of the family was. "Happy birthday, Mrs. K.," I said politely, because I am polite. She thanked me, and as I looked at her, I wondered how old she was. I knew she was younger than my mom, but just about every mom was -- my mom was already close to 50. When I could without being overheard because it was an impolite question, I asked my friend how old her mom was that day.

"She's 28."

I thought I misheard. Surely, I misheard. "28???"

"Yeah. Mom, tell her you are 28!"

I looked over at her, and she smiled that crooked sarcastic smile of her, and nodded yes. I am sure I looked just stunned, having done the math there. 28 - 14 = 14. Mrs. K had my friend when she was FOURTEEN. Holy shit! MY MOTHER COULD BE MRS. K'S MOTHER.

I kept looking at her, the reality of that seeping in for the first time. She really was young, and I just didn't see it before. She was so pretty. I thought about what on earth that would be like, to have a baby that young, rolling that around in my brain for the first time. It was overwhelming. I felt so terribly sorry for her. But here she was, she was still married, the kids were all healthy, they had a house and a car, and...

She lit a cigarette and I watched as the smoke tendrils spiraled up to the dining room chandelier. The shame and disapproval that was no doubt heaped on her back then when she became pregnant would have been tremendous. A Bad, Bad Girl, she would have been called.

After awhile, I got tired of being used by my friend to help her cover her tracks, and I stopped hanging out at their house. I would see the younger ones at school, and we were friendly. The girl a year younger than I once wrote in my yearbook that I was "an inspiration and true friend," and there was something about that that made me want to cry. But I didn't.

Within the year, the older girl had run off to Florida with a married man in his 30s. The man was arrested for transporting a minor across state lines, drug charges as well, went to jail. His wife killed herself over it, leaving their young son without a mother, his father incarcerated.

My friend disappeared from the juvenile detention center she was placed in, and I never heard of her again, and never asked her brother and sister, who had the saddest eyes.

I think now of the birthday party, and the way Mrs K held her cigarette as she looked up to the ceiling, and how little of the cake she had eaten, ashes on the plate.