So Long, Levi

March 14, 2009 § Leave a comment


Surely the person most relieved to see Barack Obama elected to be President of the United States was Levi Johnston. You know, Levi Johnston, the self-proclaimed redneck boyfriend of Bristol Palin, teenaged daughter of the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate. Oh yeah, that Levi Johnston.

An announcement was made this week that the engagement is off and has been off for a while. This is a good thing, really. Every day, teenaged girls find themselves unwittingly pregnant. Those determined to see the pregnancy through to fruition, and have the support system to raise the baby, well, while perhaps not an ideal circumstance; the child is still a blessing. A forced marriage not so much.

When the Governor of Alaska revealed last fall that yes indeedy her eldest daughter was five months along, many thought there might have been wedding bells before November 4th. Americans do love wedding pictorials. It would have been something for the Grand Old Party to make capital of, a celebration of Family. But maybe Bristol’s Mom wanted to hold out for, you know, the Rose Garden.

Remember what it was like to be in love in high school? Or even just in lust, or infatuation. That white-hot crush. Every day you live and die by whims of some other hormonally charged teenager. Scrambling to find places where each may explore the undulating landscape of another’s flesh. That urgency, that heat, being that drunk on love.

Then, ohmigod, pregnant. When she tells you, you feel the earth slipping away beneath you. Dammit. But you can’t say Dammit, can you? It would make her cry. Hell, she’s crying already. So you must tell her parents.

But her mother is running for the United States Presidency. I mean Vice Presidency and now your choices are very limited. Abortion is right out the window; maybe it would have been anyway. Adoption, forget it. Now your fate is on the table: you’re getting married.

Levi Johnston, hockey player, high school senior, is flown to Minneapolis post haste to take his place alongside Bristol on the stage of the Republican National Convention. John McCain greets them at the airport, giving Bristol an avuncular hug, his hand resting on Levi’s arm. Just like Grandpa… “I know you screwed up son, but it’ll be okay now.”  Gone soon is Levi’s crew neck sweater; the next time we see him, he’s dolled up Armani-style. Perhaps he got some new duds in the Republican National Committee’s six figure shopping trip. It must have been wild, flying from city to city, riding campaign busses, hotel room service. Throngs of cheering Republicans.

Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on main street / Chicago, New York, Detroit and its all on the same street / Your typical city involved in a typical daydream / Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.

What tomorrow usually brought along the campaign trail was more babysitting duties for Bristol’s baby brother, Trig. For awhile (maybe still) there was some pretty ridiculous speculation that Trig was their son. It would be an anomaly for the child of a teenage girl to be afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, and the kind of pretzel logic these theorists used to explain why Sarah Palin would claim the child as her own (when he wasn’t really, they exclaimed) defied most rules of human nature.

The most reasonable explanation is the usually the most likely: that the eldest daughter was one of her brother’s primary caregivers given her mother’s busy schedule, that Bristol has a real and abiding attachment to her brother. It is easy to imagine Sarah Palin making the caretaking of little Trig into a kind of object lesson. See What You Got Yourself Into. You’d Better Get Used to It.

Then the election. It’s not what any of them expect. He’d voted, sure. How could he not? Everything he does, everything any of them do is under the bright lights of the national media. The results are a little stunning. But in Levi’s heart there is a glimmer of something else. Maybe in Bristol’s too. They’d been together more than a year. A year is a long time when you’re seventeen. That night, in Arizona, Bristol’s Mom wants to give a concession speech. But the McCain camp hands her her walking papers. No concession speech, that’s the privilege and the obligation of the presidential candidate. They all go home to Alaska.  Maybe there is still enough time left in the season to play some hockey.

Then his Mom gets busted for dealing Meth and she goes to prison. Like it wasn’t embarrassing enough to have everyone in town know. Now because of the Palins, it’s frickin’ National news. Then there’s that website Okay, so the guy’s name is Levi Johnston and he had the website before, for his plumbing business or something.  But you look at it; see if it wouldn’t make you mad if people said that kind of stuff about you. Though one person did say he should be careful, because you know, the Palins, they kind of circle the wagons. Look what happened to the brother-in-law.

Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston is born a few days after Christmas. They get paid a chunk of change (three hundred thousand dollars, say most reports) for pictures of the baby. Ironically, it is the arrest of Levi’s mother that has generated enough interest to get the weeklies to pony up the big money.

Sarah Palin releases a statement that both Bristol and Levi are working hard at being parents, and that she is disgusted with the liberal left-wing media for describing her daughter and her daughter’s fiancé as “high school dropouts.” They are taking correspondence courses! (Apparently Bristol is back at Wasilla High now, no word on Levi’s education plans.) 

Bristol is interviewed, and she tries hard to find a voice independent of her mother.  One newspaper runs the headline “Bristol Palin says abstinence doesn’t work.”  No kidding. In an interview with Greta Van Susteren, Bristol Palin seems genuine enough, and her desire to have other teens learn from her mistakes sounds sincere, though we all know it won’t work. No one ever thinks it will happen to them. Bristol’s remarks echo what numerous national studies have found, that “Abstinence Only” programs like those her mother champions, are a colossal waste of time and money. “Expecting abstinence is just unrealistic,” Bristol said.

Then it’s Levi’s sister, Sadie (real name: Mercede, no “s”) talking to the press, this time the tabloid, The Star. She told the magazine that Levi tries to visit Tripp every day but that Bristol “makes it nearly impossible,” an accusation Bristol hotly denies.  They say Levi is upset that the baby was not allowed to visit the Johnston’s home because “Bristol doesn’t want him around white trash.”

Dude. You proudly call yourself  “a fuckin’ redneck,” your Mom’s in jail for dealing Meth. You knocked up your girlfriend in high school. You dropped out of high school. You better figure that “White Trash” is going to be part of that whole package. It’s not a life sentence, though and the choices Levi makes from here on out will determine the labels he wears, and I’m not talking about the ones in the laundry basket.

He was into her, sure.  But you know, things change fast at that age. They’d been dating for a year. He had her name tattooed around his ring finger. Well, not all the way around. Just across the top, in a kind of ornate script, like you see on wedding invitations. Tattoo artists must sigh inside every time someone asks to their beloved’s name inked upon his or her body part.

What a crazy year it was. That chance they took on a spring afternoon that will shape their entire lives. Standing up there with John McCain. Traveling all over with the campaign: the secret service, the microphones, the cameras, the shouted questions. The roaring of the crowds. Being almost famous. Now it’s all over, and real life doesn’t seem so real anymore. Sometimes the lights all shinin’ on me; / Other times I can barely see / Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange Tripp its been.

It’s like running out of love. But the end of the engagement is a good thing. They have a chance to grow up, rather than be conscribed to at least four years of playing house in the glare of the national spotlight. (Betcha a dollar that Todd and Sarah aren’t that heartbroken that the young couple has chosen to part ways.) He and Bristol will work out something with the baby. He’ll find someone else, she’ll find someone else, they won’t be so mad about it after awhile. There’s always work on the North Slope. He’ll get the tattoo lasered off. It will only hurt for a little while.







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