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. 

I Refuse to Call This “Sweet Sixteen”

Although I was. Sweet, that is. Innocent, really. Had never been kissed, until my sixteenth birthday. Really.

My mother had given me a pamphlet called “What Every Girl Should Know,” a kind of watered-down version of the facts of life. We had never had “the talk.” My grandmother told me to “keep my skirts down” (she told me that after I divorced at forty, too). About this time, a girlfriend and I took one of her father’s medical textbooks down from the shelf one day and greedily read the facts. I was partly astonished, partly appalled. And during my junior year, this year called sixteen, another friend dropped out of school, pregnant. She would never go back.

Meanwhile, I went on my merry little innocent but angst-ridden way.

This diary should be burned.  It’s solid evidence that I must have been the silliest sixteen-year-old who ever lived.

Diary. To be burned.

I was silly-sick in love with a boy who knew I had a crush on him, and he played me like crazy.  He would put the word out that he was going to ask me for a date for something big–like the Junior-Senior Banquet–and then he’d wait until the very last minute to ask. I was oohing and ahhing and Dear Diary-ing, page after page about how he called or he didn’t call. Meanwhile, I seemed to be having a pretty good time! I had great girlfriends, although my best friend would move away at the end of that school year, and I would never see her again. I was dating at least one other boy, and there was a lot of driving around in cars and meeting up with boys at the Dairy Bar and going to movies and meeting up with boys there.

But this one boy who mattered to me more than the others–he could be loving one day and cruel the next. Looking back, I believe he introduced me to emotional abuse, only I didn’t know what to call it. It was good practice for later, I suppose. If I had understood it better, I would have realized that I was pretty and smart and talented, and he was good looking and not smart and very insecure. The only way he could be with me was to put me down. Sad, isn’t it, that I took that for two years. In my defense, I was only sixteen, and back then, sixteen was very young.

Here’s a quote from the diary: I will never understand boys or men! That about says it, doesn’t it?

Tell-tale words

When you close your eyes and look at your young self, what do you see? 

Age Fifteen: “Where the Boys Are . . .”

After the so-called senior recitalwhich should have marked an end point, should it not?—the piano saga continued.

I played in a piano competition in Memphis the fall I turned fifteen. I was the youngest competitor, which should have told me something. Also, I’d refused to practice as I should. I went blank in the performance, just lost it several measures in. I started over and played fairly well, but the damage was done. I was humiliated.

My teacher for nearly ten years didn’t feel she had anything else to offer me, so my mother dragged me once a week to a nearby small college where I fumed for an hour under the tutelage of a young piano professor who forced me to play Bartok. I hated every minute. I had better things to do now. Those lessons lasted an interminable year.

Oh, but that summer!

By this time, my parents invited my best friend to go along on our beach trips. We usually stayed at Panama City Beach, in motels with names like Trade Winds and Surf and Sand. One year, we could see the amusement park just down the beach. We could walk there. (Chaperoned, of course.)

Here we are, prepping for the beach. And the second photo shows you what we found: a lifeguard. Cute, isn’t he? And he was mine!

Friend Sarah and I check out the beach. I’m on the left.

Lifeguard!

He had a friend, too, for my friend, which worked out nicely. We mostly talked to these boys when they were off duty during the day, but one evening, my folks allowed us to invite the boys up to the motel (my parents had to meet them, of course), and then we were allowed to sit around the pool and walk on the beach. I don’t remember this boy’s name. I never saw him again. But it was heady stuff.

I had gone from little girl a year before to full-fledged teenager. Still no dates. Still no kisses. But I was on my way!

That friend, by the way, is still around. She and I don’t talk or write often, but when we do, it’s as though we pick up where we left off. Occasionally, she’ll send me a photo from when we were girls together. I do the same. Friendships like that, and memories of beaches and lifeguards, don’t fade with time.

Is there a particular place you associate with the time when you went from child to teen? A particular friend or experience? Tell me about it!

This is the fifteenth post in the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. Thanks, Jane Ann McLachlan, for the challenge.