I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Would you believe me if I told you that Zac Efron was my first love? Sure, it was unrequited, but a kind of love nonetheless. It was the year 2006 and Disney Channel was running promos galore for its new movie, High School Musical. Efron immediately imprinted on my psyche as Troy Bolton — a sweet jock who made me feel like all my dreams could come true. I knew he was the boy for me. At least until I saw him drop a condom on the red carpet six years later.
Before I’d even seen the movie, I hung a photo of him in my sixth-grade locker that I would lovingly gaze at between classes. There was something about the floppiness of his hair, the twinkle in his eyes, and the yearning in his voice — I just couldn’t look away. I spent my high-school years following his career as it took off: performing as a 1960s singer in Hairspray, playing a young Matthew Perry in 17 Again, and even voicing a 12-year-old boy in The Lorax. What can I say? My boy has range.
And then I heard about an embarrassing mishap at The Lorax premiere. Efron, then 24, had dropped a condom while posing on the red carpet, and the whole thing was captured on video. And just like that, my childhood ideal burst. We no longer lived in a world where people broke into song at any given moment or where the biggest crisis was figuring out how to balance basketball and the drama club. He may have retained his youthful voice in order to play a little boy in The Lorax, but he was a grown man now. Watching him in the video, unable to hide his laughter after he saw his mistake and picked the condom off the ground made me realize: He’s an adult who has sex with people who are, well … not me.
The news left me with so many questions, like, Did I subconsciously think I’d end up with Zac Efron? I’m slightly embarrassed to admit the answer to that one. But also, How does something like this even happen? It’s not unbelievable that he was carrying a condom. I mean, I can count on both hands how many people I know who have one on them at all times because you just never know. But that’s what wallets are for — why didn’t anyone give him that memo?
In an interview on the Today show after the incident, Efron joked, “I never really had a pocket-checking policy prior to going on the red carpet before, but now we fully instated one.” And that was that. It happened, he laughed it off, and now he checks his pockets with his team before being photographed by paparazzi. Meanwhile, I’m left wondering where my childhood went, and how do I get it back?
There are many milestones that mark adulthood. When you turn 18, you can vote. When you’re 21, you can drink. When you’re 25, you can rent a car. And apparently, when you’re a 24-year-old Efron, you can drop a condom on the red carpet for a children’s movie without anyone batting an eye. Despite the fact that it was filmed, lives on YouTube, and inspired a couple of interview questions — most people don’t even remember that it happened.
I still think about the incident to this day because it was the moment I got a peek behind the Efron curtain. In a flash, I realized that he is Zac — not Troy. He is a man and no longer my teenage fantasy. And I am a woman who can stay out all night without having to sneak back into my house. I can drink at a party without worrying that my mom will be able to smell it on my breath. I no longer have to pretend that my headache after a day at the beach is from sun poisoning instead of a hangover. (I also know better than to fantasize about a love story that ends with Efron serenading me in a high-school cafeteria.)
When you’re a teenager, people watch your every move — whether you’re famous or not. Efron spent years not being able to break out of the Disney bubble, and I spent years having to answer to my parents about failing a math test or not making curfew. Now, I can eat brownies for breakfast and go so long without doing the laundry that I have to buy new underwear. And guess what? No one really cares.
Our mutual maturity was made even clearer to me three years later when I saw Efron at a premiere for his newest movie while I was interning in Los Angeles. I was able to push aside being starstruck just long enough to wish him a good night. He smiled, turned around, and walked smoothly into the theater, no condom dropping in sight.