Playmates and Playdates: Lorraine Nicholson’s Childhood at the Playboy Mansion

Playmates and Playdates: Lorraine Nicholson’s Childhood at the Playboy Mansion

The girls were melting. It was Southern California, and though it was spring—and though they weren’t wearing much to begin with—it was so very hot. Ice dissolved in syrupy glasses of Pepsi. The smell of Mystic Tan hung heavy in the air. The Playmates, wearing their Easter best, dabbed their brows with foundation-stained tissues. When were they going to announce the winner? Looking out the warped walls of the tent, I could see the manicured lawn and the koi pond. Even farther in the distance, a pair of identical blonds jumped on the trampoline, skirts flying up and over their belly buttons. They didn’t care who won the egg hunt. But because I was 11, I did.

Something had gone wrong, it was obvious. There was never any waiting at the Mansion. Nor, as far as I knew at the time, was there ever any sadness, anger, or pain. But suddenly, the whispers began, passed between artificially puffed lips: The boys had cheated.

The rules for the hunt were well established. If you were under the age of five, you had the right to an accompanying parent. Beyond that, you were expressly forbidden to pool eggs with another competitor, though Hugh Hefner’s sons—my best friends, Marston and Cooper—usually did it anyway. The boys already had an advantage in that they could watch, all week long, as the squadrons of black-vested butlers hid the eggs across the property. But who could blame them? The hottest toy of 2002, the GameCube, was up for grabs.

I never really had a chance at winning. I moved too slowly. Every time I found an egg, I would cup each delicate shell in my hands and get lost in its swirling designs. Later, I heard a rumor that Hef hired a professional to decorate eggs year-round. During their breaks the more artistically inclined butlers, chefs, security guards, maids—even some of the girls—could paint eggs whenever they wanted. It had been different before us children got there, one Mansion regular told me: “You would get eggs, and you know, they would have two balls and a dick. They were very erotic. It wasn’t until you kids started coming up that that stopped.”

Recently I heard about a streaker at Disneyland. Being a child at the Mansion was the direct inverse, but with the same result: You were ruining the magic.

PARADISE LOST From top: Hefner and associates at a birthday party in 1998; the author Shel Silverstein (reclining) and Hefner drawing in the sun; Lorraine and Marston Hefner poolside.BRENDAN BEIRNE/SHUTTERSTOCK. Courtesy of Lorraine Nicholson.

Details of the Easter egg scandal unfolded slowly, with rumors circulating from the monkey cages to the game room and back. The butlers had helped the boys cheat. No, the butlers had turned them in. As it turned out, the boys had found where all the eggs from past years were stored and passed them off as their own. Petty cheating could be shrugged off as classic “boys will be boys”–type stuff. But this—this was a conspiracy.

Up until that moment I had never in my life seen Hef angry. Of course, he didn’t care about the winner of an egg hunt. In fact, if his boys wanted a GameCube, he probably would have bought them one. The problem was that they lied. Hef did not raise his boys to become dishonest men. I can’t remember if the boys were grounded, and if so, for how long. What was more striking to me was the realization that with this cheating scandal, they were becoming men. And while this wasn’t a particularly horrifying proposition—there were wonderful men at the Mansion—what it meant was that maybe not tomorrow, or even the next day, but someday, I would become something so horrible that even today the memory brings shivers down my spine. I was becoming a woman.

I never went to summer camp. I never had an after-school activity. From the year I was born, 1990, until I was about 11, I went to the Playboy Mansion, because that’s where my friends were. There were the kids—like curly-haired Taylor, whose parents actually met at the Midsummer Night’s Dream party. There were the girls—more Playmates past, present, and future—and of course, the men. Only half my friends there were actually children, but that didn’t matter. The adults who hung out at the Mansion, like Alison and Joel, liked to play too.

I first went to the Mansion before my brother Ray was even born. After a minor stroke in 1985, Hef decided it was time to focus on something he had previously failed at—building a family. Within five years he had married Playmate Kimberley Conrad, and they had their sons, Marston and Cooper, very shortly after that. My parents were on a very similar timeline. Marston and I were born a week apart. When I’d celebrate my birthday at the Mansion, Marston would cry if he didn’t receive presents too. Reminiscing with my mother, Rebecca Broussard, for this piece, she told me she thought it was just “adorable” that Marston, Cooper, Ray, and I were so close in age.

People assume that my father took me to the Mansion, but they assume wrong. In fact, I can venture with confidence that I spent more time there than my father ever did. It was actually my nanny, Cis, who brought me. Before she was my babysitter, before she was married to a member of the E Street Band, she was Hef’s social secretary. Legend has it that she’s the one who brought Hef the news that Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten had been murdered by her estranged, homicidally jealous husband.

My mom and dad never really made friends with the other parents at my school. In their defense, the other parents eyed them like they would a stumbling toddler, never knowing, precisely, what they would do next. Most of the time they enjoyed their eccentric antics—my father falling asleep beneath the picnic tables, my mother pitching in the kickball games before school. But these same parents were not so keen on letting their children come over to Jack Nicholson’s house. I can’t say I blame them.

For the Hefners, I imagine it was nice to know that my father would never be like the other fathers, lingering a little too long after their children were dropped off, marveling, open-mouthed and fully clothed, at the way the refracted light danced on the roof of the grotto. They didn’t have to worry about these things, because my father was on the list. Which meant that he could show up at the Mansion, without an invitation, at any time.

While I never went to the Mansion with my father, my mom did drop us off a couple of times. During that period, the boys and I entertained ourselves by driving child-size cars, endlessly and in circles, on the tennis court. According to my mom, she and Kimberley would bond over their shared experience of loving a playboy. They both had to deal with malicious gossip not only spread from person to person, but reported by strangers, printed in magazines, and read all over the world. In her 30s, my mother had to put up with reading stories about my father cheating on her with other beautiful women. Over the buzz of the children’s toys, my mother and Kimberley would reassure each other: The journalists don’t know Hef, don’t know Jack, like we do.

We drove there in Cis’s car, trunk packed with spare jackets, old tests, unopened presents. Most days, unless Cis played Hootie & the Blowfish to torture us, we would listen to K-Earth 101. This was the time when the oldies station still played music from the ’50s. We would pull up to the Mansion in a cloud of doo-wop, the magic only amplified when the disembodied voice of the security guard rang out from a call box disguised to look like a rock. “Ray and Lorraine? Come on in.”

I emerged from the car, the heat radiating off the concrete of the driveway. Half the time I don’t even think I bothered wearing shoes. I would pass through the Mansion and out the clanking steel-framed doors into the backyard as quickly as possible. The coldness of the floors made the hairs stand up on my arms. Plus, the pool was where the action was.

Though there was a time when I went to the Mansion every day, I never became jaded. Despite being blasted with sun, despite the cold LA nights, the grass never died at the Mansion. The green grounds rolled in all directions, spotted here and there by the vibrant plumage of an exotic bird. Some children have their first negative animal experience with a dog, putting their face too close to its face and getting bit. This happened to me, only with a peacock. Needless to say, a butler or some such adult swooped in and saved me before I was mauled. At that time I really believed no one could be hurt there. Later, when I heard about Adam and Eve and their garden, I imagined them living somewhere like the Playboy Mansion.

HAPPY DAYS From top: Lorraine’s legendary dad, Jack Nicholson, entertaining the troops at her preschool; Lorraine in pink hair clip and overalls; with her brother Ray Nicholson at the Mansion in 1994.Courtesy of Lorraine Nicholson.

I loved everything about the Mansion, but the part I loved the most, by far, was the grotto. I loved the rich smell of enclosed wetness. I loved the fleshy temperature of the point where the pool water met that of the hot tub. I even loved the secret tunnel that connected the grotto to the deep end. If you have never been scared shitless, halfway through an airless underground shoot leading to a famous sex cave—you have never been a kid at the Mansion.

Even in my early childhood, I had a quiet reverence for the magic of the place. My favorite songs were “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles. At night, when I went home, I loved watching Disney movies—I related to the distant, magical, and far-off worlds they took place in. Because when I went to the Mansion, I got to live in one too.

Kimberley watched over us with the vigilance of a security camera. For the entirety of the ’90s, which ended when I was 10, I do not remember her sitting down once. I think this came from the very real fear that, because our fathers were public figures, there might be people out there who wanted to take us away. In practice, this meant that if you were a kid at the Mansion, you couldn’t get away with much—at least not without Kimberley catching you. Along with the fleet of nannies, security guards, and butlers, Kimberley was so scrupulous that it made me feel afraid to go home. At home, my parents were so busy falling in and out of love they barely had any time to pay attention to us at all.

Hef, of course, had built his empire in the name of freedom. This meant that—despite, or perhaps because of, all the supervision—we could go wherever we wanted, eat whatever we wanted. Most of the time this meant stealing cookies from the butler’s pantry and playing too much Pac-Man in the game room. In other words, while the only thing Kimberley cared about was safety, the only thing Hef cared about was freedom. They were my favorite parents by far because, with them, I was both safe and free.

Though my parents were technically together during this period, they lived separately. On weekends, I would shuffle back and forth between my father’s home on Mulholland Drive and my mother’s down Coldwater. When I was around eight years old, a rabbit appeared at my mom’s house. (This is not to be confused with the turtle that appeared out of a magician’s hat and that my mother would let swim in our pool, paving the way for its tenure as a champion turtle racer at the local pub.) I do not know where the rabbit came from. The point is, I called him Gray Cloud and I adored him. We’d let Gray Cloud hop around the kitchen, shitting with abandon. I would leave lettuce for him on the floor, which sometimes he would eat and sometimes he would ignore, the lettuce becoming soggy and yellow until it was stepped on or thrown away. Because Gray Cloud never lived in a cage, he became huge. He really was a massive rabbit.

Traveling between my parents’ homes took a toll on the poor creature. Ultimately, we decided Gray Cloud would be happier living at the Playboy Mansion. There he would be safe. The only time I was allowed into the animal cages was the day we gave my rabbit away. Marston, Cooper, Ray, Cis, and I stood there, surrounded by a hundred bunnies. Gray Cloud was clawing against my arms, already eager to join his brethren. It was time to let him go.

“You can come visit him any time,” Kimberley assured me, and I knew she meant that. I was welcome at the Mansion whenever I wanted.

The pool at the Mansion was never at rest, partly because of the waterfalls that cascaded into each end and partly because someone was always taking a dip. There were invariably people by the pool too: the men huddled around the backgammon table by the deep end, the girls, slick with oil, lying out in the sun. Though not all the girls were young, they were all beautiful. They were like the petals of a rose; those farther from the bud were no less beautiful for being bruised, speckled, or slightly crisp. The younger girls were always terrified of saying hello to Hef. There was a ritual here: One of the older girls would take one of the younger ones by the hand and introduce her to Hef. He’d smile at her, kindly, like he did with everyone. Half underwater and spying, I marveled that someone could do so little and have such an effect.

Whenever my time to say hello to Hef arrived, I’d tense up like I was visiting a god. I was shocked by his warmth. At that time, I didn’t want anyone to touch me or reach my heart in any way, because I was afraid they would leave. But with Hef, I knew he wasn’t going anywhere. Literally. The man deviated so little from routine that, later in life, whenever he left the Mansion to go somewhere else for dinner, he would bring his own lamb chops.

You could order whatever you wanted at the Playboy Mansion, but I only ever ordered mashed potatoes and peas. I didn’t even have to ask for them, actually—they just appeared at lunchtime. I would emerge from the pool, eyes singed with chlorine, and sit with the girls. The Playmates could also be intimidating. The more they cooed over me, the more self-conscious I felt. I would jump back into the pool, potatoes digested not at all, to join the boys my age.

At elementary school, when they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be an actress. This was a lie—I didn’t care about movies at all. The truth was, I wanted to be beautiful, and it seemed to me that the beautiful women, the ones who had everything, all said they wanted to be actresses.

In the early 2000s, as I slid from girlhood to adolescence, problems arose. Though the girls at the Mansion would marvel at my porcelain skin and adorable freckles, I knew I was not one of them. I was prepubescent, my teeth coming in at increasingly odd angles, my skin tainted by misshapen splotches after even the slightest sun exposure. I was neither blond nor tan, and even the girls who were not these things were at least perfect. I compared myself to the girls at the Mansion, because they were who I wanted to be. I wore padded bras and bleached my hair a noxious Sun-In yellow. My mom protested my trips to the tanning salon, but I didn’t care. Cis, my nanny, would take me.

In retrospect, I realize the girls were also comparing themselves to one another. Even though they could order anything, many of them ordered no food at all. More and more of them got their noses fixed, their breasts enlarged. As I chased the beauty of the girls, they chased their perfect measurements—and in so doing became even more unattainable to me.

I was offended that the girls didn’t include me in their conversations about bloating or the men who were disappointing them. It never occurred to me that they might have been trying to protect me. That perhaps, despite all appearances to the contrary, they did not have everything. And that whatever was lacking from their lives they wanted me to have.

The first person I ever knew who died was a regular at the Playboy Mansion, Joni. While she was not technically a girl, being 60 years old, she was a former Playmate. She was famous because in her pictorial she got away with lying face down, showing nothing but her back and a sliver of her derriere. As one of Hef’s social secretaries, Joni was responsible for taking photos. This makes sense, because my memories of her are like a chemical impression: The long whippiness of her hair. The softness of her voice. Crushed velvet—every day—in Southern California.

When I was nine, Joni was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was already terminal when a doctor attempted a lifesaving surgery. It did not go well. Joni spent the last few months of her life in such agony that they had to strap her down in a bed. Kimberley visited her every day, putting on gloves and a mask. In caring for Joni, she didn’t want to accidentally kill her.

Mansion regulars Alison and Joel also visited Joni at the hospital. That night, they approached Hef trepidatiously at his spot in front of the big screen. Hef always sat in the same spot, in front of the same screen, where he would watch a movie every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. When they told him that Joni was slipping away, he swallowed hard, then turned.

“Let’s not let it ruin the movie.”

We very rarely stayed at the Mansion after dark, not because anything nefarious was going on, but because it was very boring. They served a massive Thanksgiving-style buffet dinner every night, but I already had mashed potatoes whenever I wanted. The adults would jockey to sit next to Hef—the meals fell somewhere between a family dinner and the court of Versailles. The kids were pretty much ignored because we had no opinions on censorship or the hypocrisy of American sexuality.

Before I began writing this piece, I asked the regulars I still know what had brought us all together. Alison and Joel insisted that Hef was just like anybody else—he wanted real friends, people he could talk to about the stuff that mattered to him. Marston has a very different take. The regulars, those people I saw as family, really only stuck around because they wanted proximity to fame.

“My father was a very bad judge of character,” he told me darkly.

For my part, I had no interest in celebrities. In the same way a kid rolls their eyes at things their parents like—their record collection, their bridge club, their golf obsession—I rolled my eyes at famous people. They all seemed hopelessly uncomfortable in their skin, trapped in the persona that their agent, publicist, or most recent director had created for them. Hef, on the other hand, was a celebrity who loved celebrities. In one hallway he hung photos of all the famous people who ever visited the Mansion, which was a lot. The entire hall was filled floor to ceiling, Hef’s mischievous eyes peering out at you from every picture.

I do remember being starstruck at the Playboy Mansion once. At that time I was an avid reader, and Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite writers. I appreciated the way he wrote about nonsense, because I had a sense that everything I experienced was also backward. There were only a few men brave enough to bare their hairy chests and spindly legs by the pool. One of them, I learned, was Silverstein. No wonder he’s so brave, I thought. He is a genius. One day we were marched up to him, each with a crisp copy of The Giving Tree for him to sign. He not only signed the book but drew each of us our own special cartoon. Later the boys were encouraged by an unknowing nanny to color the drawings in.

I knew the Mansion was not intended for children, but I asked no questions. I could not have been less curious about sex or sexuality. I was constantly vigilant, in terror of being exposed to something I wasn’t supposed to see. I never picked up an issue of Playboy, though they were left in every room. I never once questioned the original purpose of the mirrored furniture-less room in the game house—or why every bathroom had its own selection of Vaseline and tissues.

As we got older, however, the boys did begin to get curious, and they would sneak off—in search of what I was too afraid to ask. Later, when I asked Taylor how they knew where to go, he gave me the side-eye. “We were boys. We knew where to look.”

One of those days, standing alone in the game room, waiting for my friends to come back, I realized there were the girls, the men, the boys, and me.

My parents and the Hefners split at around the same time in the late ’90s. I was more upset about Kimberley and Hef’s divorce than I was of my own parents’. After all, the relationship between my parents was constantly in flux—breaking up, coming back together. But Kimberley and Hef…they were so consistent. There was nothing confusing about their world. They did the same thing every day.

Looking back as an adult, I’m surprised that Hef stayed married as long as he did. Obviously, there’s an inherent dissonance in toys being strewn across the Playboy Mansion. The regulars hated that Kimberley changed New Year’s Eve from a lingerie party to black tie, that she cut down the guest list. The butlers hated that Kimberley would come down to their pantry and check on them. They even hung a sign in the kitchen: “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy.” When she and Hef did finally separate, Hef threw a Valentine’s Day party to celebrate his singleness. He started going out to restaurants and nightclubs. Within a few short years, he had seven girlfriends, most of them at least a half century his junior. “The boring years,” as one regular mockingly calls that time at the Mansion, were over.

The famous sign in the driveway proclaiming “Playmates at Play”—changed to “Children at Play” during our tenure—was changed back to “Playmates at Play.” Kimberley and Hef remained cordial, not divorcing until 2010. In fact, Hef still delivered Kimberley a single red rose every Valentine’s Day until his death. As for the kids, the Hefners made sure the boys knew that they didn’t love them any less. But the sign—that hurt. Worse still was when one of the girlfriends asked Hef if she could take over the boys’ room and he agreed.

For me, this marked a new chapter in my time at the Mansion. The boys’ primary residence became their mom’s house, the mansion next door to the Playboy Mansion, which meant they were no longer there every day, which meant I was no longer there every day.

Shortly after their parents’ split, the boys became obsessed with Nerf guns. At the Mansion, you couldn’t look in any direction without seeing the yellow Styrofoam detritus of the latest battle. The boys were constantly shooting each other. This violence was not contained to the grounds of the Mansion; Taylor got his tooth shot out by a BB gun in the game room. For my part, despite being a late bloomer, despite my misgivings about sex, I was developing a new kind of feeling for the boys. As scared as I was of being shot, I was even more afraid of getting my heart broken.

I was starting to develop my own romantic feelings about the opposite sex. As I rolled into my teenage years, I would prefer to spend my weekends at country clubs—because country clubs meant bar mitzvahs, and bar mitzvahs meant boys. Though these Saturdays would start exciting enough, applying blue glittery eye shadow to the sounds of Ja Rule, the night would end in disaster. I knew I was not beautiful because I knew what beautiful was—after all, I had grown up at the Playboy Mansion. When I cried because none of the boys wanted to dance with me, Cis would reassure me. Just wait, she said. You will be beautiful someday.

It was around this time that my awkward phase ended, that my age collapsed with that of the girls, that we stopped going to the Mansion entirely.

The last time I saw Hef was in 2008, when I interviewed him for my high school senior thesis about censorship. “He just loved doing that with you,” Cis told me the other day. Finally, I was not only old enough but sophisticated enough to understand the hypocrisy of American sexuality. Hef was proud of me.

Everyone thought Hef was going to live forever, but he got sick instead. Like Kimberley before her, Hef’s new wife, Crystal, cut the standing guest list way down, this time barring many regulars who had spent their whole lives at the Mansion. Alison and Joel managed to fight for their right to visit Hef. For them, it was a chance to pay him back in love and attention for all the years that he bestowed the incredible opportunity to just…be there.

Alison started working at the Playboy corporation in the ’70s, when she was just 29 years old. While she’s been married to Joel for as long as I’ve been alive—and I cannot imagine her without him—she knew Hef even longer.

One day, as Alison was leaving the Mansion, Hef took her arm. He knew he was not doing well, that he could go any time.

“I love you,” he told her.

“I love you too, Hef.”

It was the last thing they ever said to each other.

Hearing this story in their living room a few weeks ago, I had to blot my eyes.

“You were like family,” I said.

“We were family,” Joel corrected me.

When I spoke to Kimberley for this article, I explained my thesis—that for me, the Mansion was one big unconventional family. “What’s normal?” she said. “What’s conventional? Everybody has a different story. There is no Disney-perfect family out there.” Kimberley rarely speaks publicly about her time at the Mansion, but she agreed to let me quote her on this one salient point.

I arrived at the memorial service in a shuttle. It was 2017, and I was 27. Behind me was a pair of women I didn’t recognize wearing the unofficial uniform of the extended Mansion family—Uggs, animal print—and complaining about not being able to drive onto the property like they used to. I couldn’t help but smile to myself. Guests hadn’t been allowed to drive into the Mansion for an event like this since they started charging for parties. After the company went private, the property was sold. For the final years of his life, Hef lived at the Mansion as a tenant.

During the service I was struck by how small the Mansion looked. Anyone who has ever sat in a live television audience knows the feeling when you visit the set of your favorite TV show, which, until that moment, occupied a larger-than-life place in your mind. The services were held in the morning, a fact the regulars, the ones who really knew Hef, took issue with: Hef was a night person. The only woman who eulogized Hef was his daughter, Christie. None of the Playmates spoke. I don’t know if it was because they weren’t asked or felt they had nothing to say. An entirely new cadre of staff, led by Crystal, were in charge now.

Already the cracks were beginning to show. Sondra—a regular I mostly remember because her daughter, Katie, used to lock me in closets—had already turned against Hef. In 2022, Sondra would allege, among other things, that he pressured her into unwanted sexual situations and coerced her into buying drugs—accusations that many of those closest to Hef deny. It’s true that in the years that followed, Sondra had her wedding reception at the Mansion and brought her children there. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t telling the truth, as anyone who’s been a part of a family can tell you. Of course, you can always leave. But where, exactly, would you go?

Despite the vitriol Sondra received after coming forward, Katie says her mom still has love for the people of the Mansion. “The Mansion was her whole world,” she told me recently. “Her sisterhood. I think it’s important for people to know that both things can be true. That good people can do bad things. It can be all of it. She probably had compassion for Hef in the same way I have compassion for him. ‘Just because he did things that hurt me—there’s still goodness in him. Still magic in him.’ I think that’s why she stayed.”

Though it was never his childhood dream, Cooper did work for Playboy as chief creative officer. During his tenure, he fought—and won—to have nudity brought back into the magazine. He featured both his mother and his now wife, Scarlett Byrne, in its pages, the latter penning an essay that framed posing nude as a feminist act. As he told one publication, “Nudity hadn’t been the problem—it was how it’d been presented.” Today, Cooper is a father of three and serves in the Air Force.

Marston founded a magazine, published a book, and plays backgammon professionally. Despite these accomplishments, it’s his OnlyFans account that’s made headlines. In an interview for The Messenger, he railed against the double standard in his family and elsewhere: “You can be the CEO of the people getting naked. But don’t be the person getting naked. It’s fucking bullshit. That upsets me.” Last year, he appeared on the podcasts of both Holly Madison and Crystal Hefner—two women who have written books critical of his father in which they allege mistreatment at the Mansion and the mental health issues that followed. They join a chorus of former Playmates, Bunnies, and Bunny Mothers, appearing on the docuseries Secrets of Playboy, who have accused Hef of everything from fondling an animal to raping an unconscious woman.

While Marston says he’s still wrestling with the allegations against his father, he clearly still loves his dad. As he told me, “I love my life. So no matter how I may feel about my mother or my father, they did a good job.”

I went down to the Mansion again on a stormy day this past November. When I was a child, it never rained at the Playboy Mansion. And on the rare occasions it did rain in Los Angeles, we stayed home. If we were going to be cooped up inside, it might as well be in our own house. Cis was hesitant to venture out of the house anyway: People in LA don’t know how to drive in the rain.

I got out of the car in the storm and looked for the call box. A series of permits, attached to the gate, announced a massive construction project happening therein. Alison and Joel always felt if nuclear war ever broke out, they would spend their final days at the Mansion. Not only because Playboy and everything it stood for could withstand almost anything, but because, like me, the Mansion is where they felt safe and free.

In one respect they were wrong. Playboy no longer appears in print. The Mansion has been sold to the heir to the Twinkies fortune. More than six years after Hef’s death, most members of the Mansion family are either dead or not speaking to one another, ripped apart by insult, outrage, and the unavoidable truth—their patriarch has left the building.

For my part, I’m too old to grace the pages of Playboy even if I wanted to. My younger self, that girl floating in the grotto, would assume my life ended the day I turned 30. It didn’t. Standing outside the gates, I knew I would not be granted entry. I was no longer on the list. Because those days, like my girlhood, are over.

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