Age Seventeen: On the Cusp

Senior year. Another diary.

I pour my heart out about the New Boy, the dangerous one, the one who wants to park on a country road where the kudzu takes on monstrous shapes on a moonlit night. We stay out past my curfew, arriving at the house to find Daddy standing on the porch, watching for me.

Kudzu
Image by LightScribe at iStockPhoto.com

Here’s a bit of fiction inspired by this time, this Boy (from my first novel):

On a sweltering July night almost a year to the day after Terry killed the snake, Lydia and Terry parked in his daddy’s pickup on a dirt road not far from his house. Under the full moon the trees, overgrown with kudzu, took on life.

“Look at that one,” Lydia said. “It’s an angry cat with its back arched. And see those over there? That’s a castle with turrets.”

“Turrets?”

She poked him in the ribs. “You know what turrets are. They’re those little tops on castle walls.”

“Oh, those.” He leaned across and looked out the window on her side. “Hey, look at that!” He pointed up. “You see the tall one, right there? Looks like it has arms? That’s my daddy coming after me.”

Lydia touched his face. “He doesn’t really do that, does he?”

“Not like he used to.” He kissed her. “Let’s not talk about him.”

Quiet except for the kissing and the crickets and the frogs, the call of an owl and an answer deep in the woods, a moth against the windshield, a mosquito’s whine, Lydia’s thrumming heart.

The old Boy is still around, still mercurial. He asks somebody else to be his partner on Dance Party (a teen dance competition televised in a nearby town) and just about breaks my heart. I’m a good dancer; why not me? He and the other girl win, that’s why. He’s in junior college, so he’s not around all the time. He and I go out on Saturday nights and then stay up late in my pine-paneled den, watching horror movies on TV. A life-sized painting of me, dressed in a harlequin outfit, dominates the room. It’s a Christmas gift from an artist-cousin. My mother hates it, my dad hates it, but they don’t have the courage not to hang it and hurt my cousin’s feelings, so we live with that thing. I live with it, this strange, corrupted image of me. But it doesn’t keep the Boy and me from cuddling and kissing on the couch until my dad comes up the back hall to the kitchen with much loud throat-clearing. Then we know; it’s time for the Boy to go home.

Because the Boy has graduated, he isn’t eligible to take me to the prom, so I go with somebody else. This is the date who does not speak three words all night. I try, I swear. He’s a handsome guy (he is the most handsome guy, as I recall, in the yearbook). We have nothing to say to each other. We have nothing in common.

This is not the dangerous Boy. The dangerous Boy is for summer nights. He’s a thrill, an escape from my good-girl life. He has these piercing brown eyes. He exudes heat and light. But I break up with him, and within weeks, he’s dating my best friend. 

Valedictory address. I didn’t know about cliches then.

After all, I am still the golden girl. I have to measure up. I’m class valedictorian. I’ll be the first person in my family to go to college. A nice scholarship seals the deal: Ole Miss, only thirty miles from home, so I’ll still be tethered pretty tightly. The Boy and I decide to date other people. It makes sense, right?

Do you ever think about the roads not taken–the decisions you made that impacted the direction of your life? Who might you be now, if you had gone down that other road?

This entry continues the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. Getting tired of hearing about me? I hope not. I’m enjoying exploring these early memories, looking for fiction possibilities. 

24 thoughts on “Age Seventeen: On the Cusp

  1. I enjoyed you post Gerry. And great question. I do think about that sometimes. I always come to the conclusion that the paths I’ve taken – right or wrong – made me who I am today. Ultimately I haven’t changed – but I’ve wavered from time to time.

  2. What might have been? And intriguing question. There are so many decisions made at this time that can shape a few years of choices of friends, activities and memories. I wish I had been less shy and more self-affirmed; I might have dared more sooner. At times I believe it was fate shaped during my early years living in Blue Mountain that took me back for my current spouse. I was nudged in that direction more certainly by the fact my college roomy was dating the girl who introduced me to Jane.

    1. You are *NOT* the silent boy! I wish you’d asked me sooner our junior year. (That’s what’s in the diary–that DL asked me that morning, and you came by in the afternoon, and how I hated to tell you no!)

      1. I don’t Think silence would ever discribe me. We would have eenjoyed good times and friendship, but dancing- no. I always admired you..

      2. I didn’t intentionally write as anonymous. It was my first try with a new phone which is too small for this kind of communication.. “Admired” or for that matter “respect” might not be the words a girl wants to hear, but I based it on mutually shared values which are necessary for any meaningful and lasting relationships.

      3. That relationship with the H.S. boyfriend was so frustrating! I read about it now in my diaries, and I don’t know why I put up with it. Live and learn, I guess!

  3. A beautiful post that just exudes emotion.

    I’m pretty happy with where my life is at, so I don’t really ever think about any roads not taken. But I do often think about the different roads that lie ahead.

    1. Oh, Anna, what an interesting take-away from this: the looking forward. In the midst of all this looking back, it’s easy to lose sight of that. Thanks for such an insightful comment!

  4. I like the game of finding shapes in the kudzu — really adds to the setting and the characterization.

    I usually don’t think about the road not taken, but this memoir challenge keeps taking me there. What if I’d taken writing seriously at a much younger age? What if I’d gone to library school after college instead of making it my fifth career choice? What if I just skipped that whole first marriage thing?

    1. Love that last one! : ) But if I’d skipped that “first marriage thing,” I wouldn’t have my sons. It’s interesting to play “what if,” though, isn’t it? It’s a great way to fictionalize.

  5. Oh…THAT road. I haven’t really thought about it at all. I suppose it’s because I didn’t want that road to happen. That’s a very sweet post Gerry and brought me back to my teen years and high school. Fun time.

    1. I did a lot of things and made choices because of what was *expected* of me. I’m not sure how independently I made those early decisions. I’ll get into that more when we get to my early twenties (IF I’m able to hang in here, and if y’all can stand to read more!).

  6. From 17-21, the opportunities swarm but they never feel truly real…like Mayflies under an old street lamp. In the morning they are all a carpet of wings glittering with dew. Not real enough to build a life on. But oh, they enchant.

    1. I suppose we all do, Susan. I don’t think about them with regret, just with curiosity about what might have been if I’d made different choices. But then my life wouldn’t be what it is now. Interesting to think about.

      1. Thinking back on things, any change I would make would have some negative effect. For example, If I hadn’t married my first husband some things might have been a lot better for me, but then I wouldn’t have had my amazing girls. …. Or Maybe I would have had different versions of them – interesting puzzle, eh?

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