We grieve for folks
we never met
when we know
they lived their lives
when their souls were so bright
they lit the path
for your own soul
to find its way.
Thank you, Justice Ruth.
My high school sweetheart died last week.
Sweetheart is the perfect way to describe Greg. He was sweet and all heart.
The suddenness of his passing (a heart attack) left everyone who knew him with a hole in their lives that they were unprepared to accept.
Less than a year ago, my graduating class attended our 50th high school reunion. Greg had taken the lead in organizing the event, and as emcee, we all could see that he was still as sweet and gentle as he was fifty years before.
Greg was a Spanish teacher – who decided to become a teacher at the age of fifty. From the outpouring of love from his students on his social media page, he was as beloved as a teacher as he was as a classmate.
Back in the 60s, I was a self-conscious and insecure teenager. (I know, I know… like most teenage girls.) I had dated a little, but was hardly sought-after. So at 17, Greg was one of my first boyfriends. He was kind of an accidental boyfriend. I started out not very interested. I had a crush on another boy. I tried my best to let John, my crush, know I liked him. But looking back, I have no idea whether I was obvious and he was oblivious, whether he just didn’t like me, or whether I was a complete failure at flirting.
But in the meantime, there was Greg.
A group of kids from my church went on some kind of hayride – my memory must be failing me because it was Spring, not Autumn, but that’s what I remember – and sitting on the hay on the truck, Greg asked me to the Junior Prom. I didn’t want to say yes. I wanted to wait to see if John would ask me. But I am nothing if not practical. And there were multiple practical reasons to say yes:
- His cousin was dating my best friend, Karen.
- If I said no, and John (or anybody else) did not ask me, I would be sitting home instead of wearing a beautiful gown and white gloves.
- If I said no, and then John did ask me, I would feel awful anyway, because it would just be mean of me. I couldn’t see myself turning down a nice boy and then saying yes to someone else. That would hurt Greg’s feelings. And it didn’t seem fair.
- I didn’t know how to say no.
- Greg was nice. Really nice. Maybe I could like him.
So I said yes.
My oldest sister was getting married in a month, and my parents had already spent a fortune on the wedding. So although my mother offered to buy me a new prom dress, I just didn’t feel I could add to their expense. But my sister had a bridesmaid’s dress from my cousin’s wedding a few years before. It was a bit short, but it was pretty, a light green overlaid with gorgeous white lace. I decided to wear it.
My short Twiggy hair was all wrong for a formal dress. so I went to a salon to see if they could dress it up. It was a horrible mistake. I came home in tears – as ‘bouffanted’ as a backup singer for the Shangri-Las. Mom managed to tame it down somewhat, so that I looked like the white girl version of Diana Ross.
I told myself it didn’t matter. But I felt bad. It was my Junior Prom. I wanted to be beautiful. I didn’t even like Greg that much, but it seemed rude not to look nicer for him.
We double-dated with my best friend and Greg’s cousin. To go to my first formal dance with a nice boy and my best friend took all the anxiety out of the event.
We ate in a fancy restaurant, feeling very grownup. We complimented our friends about how beautiful we all looked. We danced every dance in our fancy clothes in the high school gym. I forgot about my too-short dress and my terrible hair.
We were both sweet, innocent kids and kissed a sweet, innocent kiss at the end of the evening.
We had wonderful time.
There was no great romance. Greg and I dated for a few more months, but just gradually fizzled out. We stayed friends for fifty years, and that certainly means that Greg was the perfect date after all.
I have a new novel coming out before Christmas. It’s set in 1969 and the main character is seventeen. She badly wants to go to the Junior Prom. Her idea of a perfect date is based on her adored older sister’s experience. This is how she describes her sister’s Junior Prom:
Jeannie was asked to the Junior Prom by this very ordinary guy, Walter Brooks. Walter had Buddy Holly glasses and he was about two inches shorter than Jeannie. She thought he was nice, though. They had been to the movies together twice and she said he was smart and kind. She told me that the Junior Prom is usually everyone’s first formal event, and that it was important to have a sweet memory of it for when you got old.
I’m old. I have a sweet memory.
I need hero protection.
To get me through this pandemic and these divisive insane times, I have been painting a series of portraits of people I admire.
I call them my Hero Portraits.
My first few portraits were relatively easy picks. They are people for whom my belief is so strong, my confidence in their goodness so unshakeable, whose moral center is my own aspiration.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Jimmy Carter. Jane Goodall. Eleanor Roosevelt. Albert Einstein. Malala Yousafzai. John Lewis. President Obama. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Amelia Earhart, The Dalai Lama. Rosa Parks. Anne Frank.
I have also added portraits of people I believe have given to the world in ways that are perhaps not historic, but nevertheless important:
Mother Teresa, Billie Jean King, Danny Thomas, Michelle Obama, Greta Thunberg, Helen Keller. And a Covid-19 nurse whose family and friends wanted to recognize the significant contributions and the enormous bravery of everyday people in traumatic times.
My favorite portraits are not necessarily the people I admire most, but rather the portraits that captured what I wanted to capture.
The power of Dr. King:
The shy but confident audacity of Rosa Parks:
With Anne Frank, I wanted to emphasize how young and innocent she was. So many of the old photographs look dark and tragic, but to me, Anne was, above all, a hopeful little girl.
And I want to continue.
There are a couple of people on my list that I am sure of: Mahatma Gandhi, Marie Curie, and Muhammad Ali will be coming up next.
But then it gets complicated.
Do I add people I admire but have grave flaws? Do I add folks that are not particular favorites of mine, but have enriched the world? How about my childhood heroes? What about artists and writers?
Some who might fall into this category are John and Robert Kennedy, Princess Diana, Mark Twain – and even Jimmy Stewart and Audrey Hepburn. There are more – Winston Churchill and FDR come to mind.
But here is my biggest fear: That my choices will disappoint me.
When I was a kid, I adored the Kennedys. As I grew up, I learned that Jack and Bobby were far from perfect. But didn’t they leave the world a better place, despite their personal failings?
In choosing contemporary heroes – Greta Thunberg is probably the youngest of my current-day heroes – I run the risk that they won’t live up to the world’s expectations. To my expectations, to be honest.
I worry that my heroes will be exposed as frauds, or they will be seduced by fame and money. They may have a dark side of which I am unaware.
They may hurt me.
Ah, but isn’t that the risk we all take in loving people – whether we love them as heroes or friends?
To view human beings as heroes is a terrible, wonderful risk.
All I can do love them now, and if they disappoint me in the future,
take comfort in the knowledge that I loved them for a time. That for a while, they gave me hope.
*I have set up a tab in the menu at top where you can see all my portraits.
As I was trying on outfits the other day – for God knows what reason, I have nowhere on earth to go – a sweet memory surfaced – also from God knows where.
I attended a parochial grammar school, where I wore the typical Catholic school uniform. Navy jumper, white blouse, little navy bowtie. Oh so cute, but so boring.
I was ecstatic to enter high school so I could dress in real clothes. I had what I thought was an unparalleled sense of style. I knew I didn’t want The Patty Duke Show kind of boring. Or the Beverly Hillbillies’ “keep my pants held up with a piece of twine.” And that was pretty much the limit of this unparalleled style.
I had a sparse wardrobe, except for white blouses, of course. I also had a sparse budget. I had a couple of hand-me-downs from my sisters, but I was skinny, and although they were slim, they were not as slim as my skinny. Everything hung poorly on me. I was given some beautiful things from a family friend, who was gorgeous, skinny, and rich. But they were a little too grown-up for a 14-year-old. I didn’t really need tweed double-breasted blazers.
But I managed to get through my freshman year with two skirts, three sweaters, and all those white blouses.
My parents moved across town after that first year, and I switched to the rival high school. I wasn’t sad to leave the old school behind. I desperately wanted a new start. And a better wardrobe.
I had a little money saved up from babysitting, and I begged my Mom to take me shopping before the start of the new school year. She agreed to match my savings, which was fantastic. But there was a condition attached. She would reveal her terms at the store. And I had to agree beforehand. Doubling my money was worth the risk, given that my mother was quite stylish herself.
We went to a store that carried junior sizes. The clothes were stylish but not outlandish – of course, in 1966, ‘outlandish’ was pretty tame anyway. The store carried mostly A-line skirts and matching sweaters. That’s what most of the girls wore most of the time. The stylish girls just had better matching skirts and sweaters. Add a little Carnaby Street (think Beatlemania) and you can visualize the store.
My mother then gave me her condition:
Choose an outfit from a mannequin.
The whole outfit. Skirt, shirt, sweater, jewelry, even knee socks or tights, if the mannequin wore them.
Here was her rationale: I had one year of experience putting together an outfit. But this store was a chain department store – they had professional window-dressers. Real stylists.
“You can pick any display you like – so you still get to choose,” she said. “But you will also be certain that you are getting a terrific outfit. Experts chose it. And you are not an expert. So rely on someone who knows. Eventually you will develop your own sense of style, and you’ll be able to trust yourself.”
I chose a skirt in a heathered green wool, with a matching Fair Isle cardigan (you may not know what that is today, but they had a pattern along the yoke, and a pale yellow button-down shirt. And a charm bracelet.
I wore that outfit once a week for three years.
And used that shopping method for many more years than that.
There’s a point to this story that is more than fashion sense.
You are not an expert in everything.
And you do not have to be.
You are not a sheep if you listen to experts.
It can be a pretty smart move.
A little while back, I violated three of my own friendship rules.
I was friends (and still am, I hope) with Edie, a woman who was often at odds with her adult daughter, Fran.
We’d meet quite often for lunch, or shopping, or Yoga, or just coffee, and she’d give me her ‘upset smile.’ (We all know what that is – we all have an upset smile, and we all know what everyone else’s looks like.) I’d know she had argued with her daughter again.
Edie was distraught at least once a week by Fran’s behavior.
When Fran graduated from college, she moved to the Midwest, and so the biggest issues revolved around visiting. Fran was not coming to visit. Or she did come to visit but spent most of the day with her girlfriends, so it didn’t count. Or Fran spent too much time with her father (Edie’s ex), and Edie’s feelings were hurt. Or Edie flew out to see Fran, but Fran had an emergency at work and couldn’t take the day off, or Fran invited Edie, but asked her to stay in a hotel.
And there were arguments. In person, by phone, by text. Edie’s house was too dated. Fran’s apartment was not tidy. They couldn’t agree on a restaurant. Edie was too critical. Fran was too critical. Each thought the other was a bad driver, a bad dresser, a bad example.
I listened to all of it. But I didn’t just listen.
And that is why I violated three of my interpersonal rules.
First: Rule Number One: Always remember that there are many different kinds of families.
I never for one minute doubted that Edie and Fran loved each other. But not all relationships are sweet and supportive. I know more than one family whose love is intense – usually of the shouting variety. Some mother/daughter love is based on mutual dependence. Some are formal – like a throwback to Queen Victoria. Some are best friends. And some are combative.
But it’s still love.
That was my first mistake. That I thought Edie’s relationship with her daughter should be different.
Which leads me to Rule Number Two: Don’t take sides in other people’s squabbles.
When I was a kid, my mother had a pact with all the other neighborhood mothers. They agreed never to interfere in the kids’ squabbles. As my mother put it, “You kids will fight and make up in half an hour. But us mothers – if we get involved, we may end up enemies forever.”
But I wanted to fix Edie and Fran.
At first, I tried presenting Fran’s side, since she was not there to defend herself from Edie’s complaints. I reasoned that maybe the stress from Fran’s job spilled over into her personal relationships, and she was just exhausted. But my rationalizing Fran’s behavior made Edie feel like her own friend (me) was not on her side. She even wondered aloud whether Fran had contacted me to gang up on her mother.
So then I took the other side. I told Edie that she had every right to be upset, that her daughter should be more respectful, more flexible. But then Edie felt compelled to defend the daughter she loved so much, and was angry at me for criticizing her beloved baby. That strategy worked better, because then Edie felt more forgiving towards her daughter. But the downside was that she was mad at me.
Which is why Rule Number Two is so important.
I wanted to fix Edie and Fran. But they didn’t need fixing. They always made up, but my friendship with Edie suffered.
Which leads me to Rule Number Three: Listen.
This one did not come from Mom. This was something I learned gradually (and rather surprisingly) during my career.
When I became a manager, I had to deal not only with my subordinates’ performance, but with their personalities, attitudes, and issues.
When my staff was at its largest (about 35), it wasn’t unusual to have at least one person a day come to me upset about something.
I was working at a break-neck pace myself, and seeing another distraught face emerge in my doorway often put my own deadlines in peril.
But over time, I stumbled on an amazingly successful response.
I would say to the aggrieved employee, “I’m swamped, as usual, but I can give you five minutes right now if all you need is to vent, or I can schedule you for an hour later in the week to have a deeper discussion.”
And incredibly, almost every single time, the employee would opt for the five-minute gripe session.
Rule Number Three: Most people do not need or want you to solve their problems. They want you to LISTEN.
And that is my biggest mistake with Edie. I didn’t need to fix anything. I didn’t need to take sides. I didn’t need to give her advice.
All I had to do was listen.
And she would feel better.
And in these times of turmoil and worry, if I am ever lucky enough to have coffee with Edie again, and she complains about Fran, I will say,
“I can see it’s making you sad. I’m so sorry.”
And I hope she will feel better.
It’s July. We haven’t put the lounge chairs on the patio yet. We never opened the hot tub. The peonies and roses came and went without even one gracing our kitchen table.
2020 is half gone, and I know the second half will disappear as well. It’s as if the whole country – the whole world – is in a coma. We’re not sure when we will awake, but it seems distant.
What happens to a lost year?
I feel bad for all the children who never had a birthday celebration. But then again, losing a year when you have so many ahead of you seems – well, not trivial – but manageable.
But what if you don’t have so much time left? Losing a year when you are old seems tragic.
I’m sixty-nine. Not so old. I’ve always considered middle-age to last until age seventy. I am losing the last year of middle-age. When the world finally comes back to life, I will officially be old.
I’ve spent the whole of my middle years in a determined effort to be not middle-aged. But I didn’t intend to lose a year of it.
I worked at being youthful. And I am – thanks to hair dye, sunscreen, makeup, contact lenses, and the most fashionable outfits I could afford. And Zumba and Yoga and crunches.
But now I am out of time. And I (and everyone else) have been cheated out of a year.
I didn’t waste the last six months entirely. I finished the manuscript of my third novel. I painted portraits. I even housebroke the dog who was figuring to be unhousebreakable. (Or more likely, he just finally figured it out, but I will gladly claim victory over peepee.)
But I still somehow feel like I have missed an important deadline.
I am well-educated. I’ve had reasonable success in my career – which I define as making good money at something you like well enough. I retired when I was ready, and returned to my childhood dream of becoming a novelist.
But I had another childhood aspiration.
Despite being grateful for my brains and my artistic abilities, and as shallow as I know it is to admit it, what I have really wanted since I was five was to be beautiful.
Oh, I know I am not ugly. I’m fine. But how I have wanted to be more than fine!
I’m a late bloomer for sure. Really late. I looked better in my forties than in my twenties. It was a gradual process for me, a slow understanding of how to accentuate what I liked about myself. Even more important, I needed to learn to like myself.
I wrote an essay three years ago listing the things I liked about myself. I wrote that I thought I was quite pretty. Imagine that, at 66! I felt that there were three possible explanations of why I would feel pretty after all these years:
A) I finally understand how to make the most of what I’ve got.
B) I was always pretty but I didn’t know it.
C) I actually and mysteriously got prettier as I aged.
And the answer was: D) All of the above.
But now I am sixty-nine, and the year is a total loss. We are all looking ahead to 2021. When I will be seventy.
Pretty in middle age – but not beautiful. I didn’t quite make it. I came so close but I have run out of time.
I think a lot about what it will mean to be seventy.
In some ways, I think it will be freeing.
I’ve always fallen into the trap of comparison. I’m pretty but that woman is prettier. I’m smart but that person is smarter. I’m successful but that guy is more successful.
Or, in my vanity: I’m not athletic, but I’m more athletic than that guy. And at my worst: I’m not beautiful, but I am more beautiful than her.
I hope at seventy I can give that up.
A friend recently told me, “You will never not care about being stylish.”
That’s probably true. I don’t think I will ever go out of the house without makeup. My mother is 96, and still makes sure she has her eyebrows drawn in case anyone visits. It’s genetic, you see.
And I can’t picture myself in elastic-waist pants in lavender double-knit polyester.
But who knows? Maybe I would rock those slacks.
On the other hand, I worry a lot, too much I’m sure, about looking foolish.
I don’t want to be one of those old ladies still trying to look like a teenager. I don’t want long blonde beachy hair in a pruny face. The kind of person who looks great from a distance, but makes folks wince close up. I fear being pathetic.
Years ago, I made a pact with the women in my office that we would tell each other – kindly – if we wore something too young for us. We decided the code would be, “What a cool blouse. My daughter would love it.”
But now I’m retired. I’m afraid no one will tell me.
Someday – soon – I will need to give up my skinny jeans.
There’s an appeal, however, to comfortable shoes. Within limits, of course. Returning back to my genes, last year, my mother tried on a pair orthopedic shoes and said to the saleslady, “I’m sorry, but I’m just not ready yet for ugly shoes.”
Oh, but there’s a lot of room between stilettos and crocs. Between skinny jeans and polyester slacks.
There are luxurious materials and classic hairstyles. There are non-feathering lipsticks. And gorgeous earrings.
And inner peace.
It’s too late to be a beautiful middle-aged woman.
But it is so early to get a start on being a beautiful old woman.
Since I’m writing off the rest of 2020, I think I will be old now.
I may like it.
Like everyone in the world, I love music.
But I am not a connoisseur. I don’t collect music. I don’t have a fancy music-playing thing – are people still using ipods and mp3s? I don’t even know. The last time I bought music it was The Best of James Taylor. I listen to the radio in the car. I like the radio. I don’t mind at all that someone else is choosing the songs. If it’s something I don’t like, it’s only a few minutes before I get to hear something else. It’s like the easiest gambling in the world. Once in a while, the absolutely perfect song comes on. What is absolutely perfect depends. But it’s perfect often enough.
Sometimes when I am doing my hair and makeup, I play some upbeat music to put myself in a good mood. Because I am not a music techie (not any kind of techie, and I don’t even know how to spell it and don’t feel like looking it up, so let’s just go with the spelling I have) – I just go to Youtube on my phone and pull up a song. That’s about the only song I pick, and then I let whatever comes up next surprise me… just like the car radio.
On Saturday, my brother-in-law sent me an email to remind me that “The Music Man” was going to be on TV in a few hours. He knows that’s my favorite movie – he’s been my brother-in-law for more than fifty years, for Pete’s sake – so he often sends me a reminder.
So when I was doing my makeup yesterday – and yes, I still put on makeup every day even though I never go anyplace – I called up Youtube and put on “Seventy-Six Trombones” – not the earlier number in the movie, but the finale number – when the credits are rolling. “The Music Man” is the only film I can think of where I actually get choked up with delight during the credits.
So I listened, and kept stopping my makeup application to peek at the screen, since the scene is so awesome. It’s like a one-thousand member marching band.
And after watching/listening twice through, I went back to my makeup.
With all the fancy algorithms today that predict what you will like based on what you have already chosen, I expected the next song to come up would be something related – a song from another musical or movie or from the same composer maybe. But it wasn’t.
For some reason that I cannot fathom, I heard the opening intro to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”: “We never ever do nothing nice and easy…”
I stopped my makeup and backed up the video.
It was a video of a live performance from 2009.
I have now watched it seven times. Then I watched a performance from back in the day – 1971, and then another live version from 2000. And then there was one from back in 1982.
1982 was about when I went a Tina Turner concert. It was an awakening for me.
Tina was in her mid 40s then. She said that when people asked her when she was going slow down and she always answered, “I’m just getting started.”
Well, she wasn’t just get started – she was at her peak. It’s just that her peak was lifelong.
What astonished me about Tina was her open, powerful sexuality.
I had never seen a woman so confident in her body. From up in the balcony, you could feel it.
Tina Turner was good looking, that was a fact. But she was not exceptionally beautiful. Nor did she have a fantastic body. It was good, but not awesome – her shoulders are a bit too broad, her neck a bit too thick.
But those great legs and that wide-apart aggressive stance – she dominated the stage. With every move and with every note in her growling voice, she exuded sex.
It astonished me.
My idea of sexuality was so different from what I was seeing, hearing, and feeling with Tina.
Up until I saw Tina Turner, my concept of sexuality was built on images of Marilyn Monroe. I adored Marilyn. And she was – to me – the epitome of sensuality. And because of Marilyn, I defined sensuality as fragile, vulnerable, self-conscious.
But here was Tina. There wasn’t a drop of fragility or self-consciousness in her. Her sexuality in one word was: Powerful.
I wondered at the time, and still wonder today, what gives a woman that confidence. What makes her know – and love – that she is a physical, sexual force?
Was she born that way? Was it a gradual awakening? Did she have moments of doubt?
I was in my early 30s when I saw Tina. I was as insecure in my body at 30-something as I was at 12. My sexuality in one word: Excruciating.
Every woman I know is self-conscious about her body. How is that the norm and Tina the exception? How we waste the expression of our astonishing bodies! I wished at the time that Tina would teach a course in body fearlessness.
I think of all the videos of Proud Mary I’ve now watched, I think the one I love the most is the one that took me by surprise on Saturday – the one from 2009.
Tina Turner is the age then that I am now – only a few months away from 70. Has she slowed a bit? Maybe, but not much. Can she still deliver the full force of her rough and tough vocals? Absolutely. Is she still aware of her sexual power? Oh yes.
Tina is 80 now. I would still enroll in Tina’s School of Body Confidence.
I’m in the editing process for my new novel.
My narrator, like myself (what a coincidence), digresses quite a bit as she tells her story. One story reminds her of another story, which reminds her of another story. But all these little side trips advance the plot or reveal her character or someone else’s.
But sometimes the narrator digresses a little too far. I had nothing to do with this of course – it is all her fault. But my editor has pointed out that a few of these side trips don’t really advance the storyline. They have to go.
Oh, that makes me so sad. I know there are some authors who doubt every word they write. They worry that their writing is garbage. That’s not me. I love all the words I create. Every sentence is my baby.
One particular non-essential side-trip needed to be cut entirely. It was obvious that the whole thing had to go because lifting it out didn’t make one bit of difference to the story. So okay – out you go.
But here’s the sad part. This little anecdote was really cute.
I know, I know… since I’m in love with my own writing, I realize it may not actually be as wonderful as I think it is. But it’s like when you know your child is a genius even though he’s almost nine and still pronounces it ‘pasghetti.’ He’s your kid. He’s endearing, not weird.
I could save those few paragraphs. Maybe use them someday in some other story. Maybe I could make a blog out of that anecdote. That would be a stretch though, since it totally fictitious. Perhaps I can use it as an allegory.
Ah, wait. That’s what I’m doing now.
Because sometimes something you love just isn’t working for you anymore.
It might be a job or a relationship. It may be as simple as a favorite pair of jeans that are falling apart. Or as complex as a friendship that suddenly feels painful.
But whatever it is, you love it. You don’t really want to stop loving it.
Years ago, I left a job that that had turned very unpleasant. A job I had devoted myself to for fifteen years. I loved that job. But the last year or two had been awful. When I left, I felt terrible for a long time. I hated that job and what it had become. But eventually – thankfully -I saw it differently. I saw it as a great job. It was a shame that it wasn’t a good fit at the end, but that’s all it was – a good job that didn’t last forever.
Like my discarded anecdote, I think you have to say goodbye to good things that are no longer quite so good.
Love what it used to be. Love what it used to mean to you.
So what did I do with the unnecessary but cute anecdote?
I didn’t save it for another day.
I hit ‘delete.’
My novel is fine. I am fine.
I’m glad I wrote it. I’m glad I let it go.
Do not worry about your hair during a pandemic.
You look just FINE.
I have finished the first draft of my new novel. Yea for me!
It is off at the editor’s and now I am stuck.
Stuck between that story and whatever come next.
Because I can’t quite shake that story. I’m still in there.
The story is set in 1968 and the main character is a junior in high school. Which is an amazing coincidence, since I just happened to be a junior in high school in 1968. The story isn’t about me though, except that the kid is funny and smart and oh-so-ready to trade the Funny and Smart for a little dose of Pretty.
And like me, my protaganist is stuck. Stuck between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out. Wanting to be like everyone else and wanting to be unique.
I think I am stuck there still. Maybe everyone is – throughout their lives.
Writing about high school more than 50 years later is an amazing experience.
Because it all returns. It’s not coming out of the mist. It’s tangible. It’s yesterday. I’m there.
I remember the corridors and the sounds that lockers make when they slam. I remember the smell of the heavy curtains in the auditorium, the worn spots in the middle of every step in the staircase. The display cabinets of trophies, the scratchy PA systems.
I remember every outfit I ever wore, and which ones were my favorites. I even remember specific outfits my friends wore. I remember my friends’ shoes. I remember the emphatic gestures of my French teacher. I remember everyone closing their books thirty seconds before the bell rang. I remember who sat with who at which table in the lunchroom. I remember hall passes and study halls, and pop quizzes.
And love and almost love and crushes.
And now that I have spent months writing about it all, I’m stuck there.
It makes me wonder about memory in general. My memories are so vivid, but does that make them true?
I have some friends from back then who are still my friends. One in particular spoke recently about a high school memory. It was a memory of ME. But the weird thing is that I didn’t remember the incident at all. How in the world can a memory of me exist apart from me? It’s like I’m starring in someone else’s movie.
But there’s no way I can tell my friend, No that didn’t happen, when her memory is as strong as mine is nonexistent.
Now why would that one little incident leave such an indelible print on her and didn’t take up even one cell of my own brain? I believe the answer must be based on what any experience means to you. So then, this little moment meant something to her, and not to me.
But then again, she doesn’t even know what it meant. Because it only meant something to her at the time, when the memory was made; not now. She doesn’t remember the why of it, only the what.
And here’s another crazy piece: Now, just a week or so after the conversation of the memory/memory lapse – I can’t even remember what the incident was. What were we even talking about, and what was this memory that she shared? It’s gone. All I remember now is being surprised that I couldn’t recall that moment. And now I can’t recall THAT moment, if you know what I mean.
How can I not remember the specifics of a conversation that happened a week ago? I remember 52 years ago, jumping up from my seat as the bell rang, and catching my skirt in the spiral notebook of the boy in the seat behind me, and how I lifted my skirt really high so he could unsnag me. How we were both embarrassed and delighted at the same time.
Yes I was stuck then too.
And yes, that scene appears in my new book, but in writing it, I let a friend have that little scene.
Let her wonder why she doesn’t remember it.