When I was fifteen I had to live in a twenty feet by twenty feet area with my parents and eleven year old brother. I also was pretty sure Charles Manson was working on our kitchen floor.
It was February of 1992. I was in the throws of adolescence and lucky for me, our house was being remodeled and what this meant was, I was forced to live in the dining/living room with my family. There could be no greater hell I could imagine.
Let me give you a lay of the horrific land:
I can imagine the ad in the paper:
A charming room for rent. Perfect for the tight knit family. Furnished with two double beds next to each other in an old dining room. Have a privacy obsessed teenager? Phone/work area within ear shot of anywhere in the unit! Fridge humming inches away from your beds. Perfect for your midnight snack cravings. A cozy T.V. area ideal for family bonding. A cute 3/4 bath. What more could you need?
There was only one way a fifteen year old girl would react to this:
Excuse me while I vomit. Sharing a bed with my brother?? One phone? One bathroom? All I wanted was privacy. A place to be awkward and daydream all by myself sans judgmental audience. This was going to be the longest few months of my life.
I lived in a Walton’s episode every night.
“Good night Beth,” mom said.
“Goodnight mom,” I mumbled.
“Good night Ryan,” dad said. “Good night Ellen.”
“Good night Lee,” mom said.
“Good night dad.” Ryan said. “Good night Beth. Good night mom.”
“Good night everyone,” I said a bit too loudly.
I had about as much privacy as a prison inmate when it came to phone calls. Thank God the bathroom had a lock and it did not help that the disaster zone filled with construction workers that resembled serial killers were held back by the flimsy wall of plywood and tarp. Our house may have been being remodeled, but my insides, my brain, my body was in its own remodeling state. Adolescence was like the Measles. Potentially fatal, but all anyone can notice is how crappy you look. I just wanted to be able to disappear. But we might as well have had a spotlight installed on the ceiling.
INT. MAKESHIFT STUDIO APARTMENT-WAY TOO EARLY IN THE MORNING
Beth is sleeping smashed in between the wall and a thick barrier of down pillows. A spotlight illuminates her.
Mom mans the spotlight wearing a huge smile.
Would you like some bacon?
Pan to dad making some bacon on a hot plate. Ryan sits in the background watching T.V. (He had to deal with this too. He did the best he could.)
Oh is that a zit?
The spotlight pinpoints on the pimple on Beth’s face.
Oh and your friend Steve called. He might come over!
Beth is horrified.
Well I survived. Looking back. Eh, shouldn’t have been that bad I guess. But at the time it was torture. Now living 2000 miles away... well... sigh... (in a barely audible mumble) I sort of miss those close quarters. Not THAT close, but you know what I mean. Don’t expect me to repeat this, but ... I like those knuckle heads that are my family.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
(This is a smidge true and a smidge fiction. I changed the names to protect the guilty.)
I was the picture of adolescent horror, but I had no clue. It was the morning of my first day of sixth grade. I sat in front of my mirror picking my blonde permed hair into the perfect halo. I adjusted my pink-rimmed square glasses on the bridge of my nose, folded the collar of my turquoise turtleneck dress down and added the perfect finishing touch. A extra long “pearl” necklace. I looked like a thirty-year-old business woman in an eleven year old’s body. All I needed was the brief case. The smile was undoubtedly pre-teen though, under bite and all.
I was terrifically uncool.
“Triangles or squares?” my mom yelled from downstairs.
“They are actually rectangles,” I corrected coming downstairs with my backpack.
“Rectangles it is,” she said cutting my sandwich and handing me my lunch.
“Bye mom,” I said heading for the door.
“Wait for your brother. He’ll be out in a second. Ryan? Triangles or Squares?”
“Tell him to hurry up,” I said walking outside.
Then the first thing that ever really happened to me, happened.
I froze. On the porch was a red rose with a note folded in perfect triangle attached to it. It said my name. B-E-T-H. Definitely boy handwriting. I scrambled to pick it up, ran behind a bush that I’m pretty sure was not tall enough to hide my hair, and unfolded the tightly bound ruled paper
My name is Adam Harris.
I sat in front of you last year in Mrs. Kline’s class.
I think you’re neat. I think you’re the prettiest
girl in school. Especially in that blue dress you wear almost everyday…
“Oh my god.” I could barely breathe. I kept reading.
You’re the smartest too.
I’ve been waiting all summer to see you.
Let’s hang out at recess. I’ll write you a note.
I didn’t think I had ever talked to him, but that didn’t matter. Adam Harris. A boy.
“We had the same initials!” I thought to myself. “I’d better get to school. Oh gosh. Oh no. He’s going to be there. Oh god…”
I took a step onto the sidewalk and was nearly mowed over by the latest fashion trends.
“Nice dress Beth. Didn’t you wear that last year?” A familiar voice mocked. Amanda Wright. The most popular girl in school. She laughed with her minions as they ran away.
I didn’t care. Adam liked my dress.
“Beth, wait up!” my little brother ran up. “What are you doing? Is that a flower? What do you have that for?”
“Ryan, shut up!” I said. I stuffed the rose and note into my backpack and continued on with my brother trailing behind me.
“Sooooorrrrry,” Ryan whined.
But I beamed.
In school relationships were like the love affairs on soap operas my babysitters liked to watch. Beginning with strangers exchanging glances across a crowded playground, an innocent chance meeting at the drinking fountain, falling in love by Social Studies and broken hearts by Gym class. I desperately wanted to be part of that cycle.
A note boyfriend.
The bell rang.
“See you after school…with your booooyyyfriend,” Ryan teased running off to join his class.
I didn’t care. Nothing could get me down that day.
Adam. There he was. His messy brown hair covered his face. His red converse propped up on the seat in front of him.
My mind was going a millions miles a second.
“He’s not looking over here. He’s staring down at his desk. He must be nervous too. I don’t know if I really want to see him or if I really don’t want to see him. Should I sit by him or should I…Just go, but don’t sit that close. I’m gonna sit down two seats behind him. Go! I’m walking. I’m walking. He hasn’t looked up yet!”
His eyes hadn’t moved. Slowly I took in my breath. I strode passed his desk. I took a deep drunken inhale. He smelled like dirt and orange peels. Just what I imagined. And I sat. Staring at the back of his head. He didn’t move an inch.
“He had to have known it was me,” I thought to myself. “I have his favorite blue dress on.”
Then Amanda Wright sat between us. Perfect.
“I just got a note from Brandon we’re meeting at the swings after school,” She said to her crony across from her.
She wasn’t the only one with a note boyfriend. I had one too. Recess was at 10:20. It was our first possible interaction. I could barely see around Amanda’s perfectly feathered hair to see if maybe Adam was writing a note. 9:30. Nothing yet. 9:49. Nothing. 10:11.
“Maybe I should not talk to him on the playground,” I thought. “I mean...” “PPSSSTTT!” Amanda’s hand crept over her shoulder holding a tightly folding paper triangle. “Here geek.”
A note. I stifled a squeal. I opened it.
Will you meet me by the bars at recess? Circle yes or no.
I took a deep breath and decided my fate. I circled an undeniable yes. I carefully folded the note and passed it to Amanda who in turn passed the note back to Adam. The deal was done.
The bell blared. The class stood together in a unanimous sigh of relief and we bolted outside for our twenty-two minutes of freedom.
“Wow! Adam’s already out the door,” I thought.
I walked out slowly. I had heard you’re supposed to make a man wait. I sauntered out to the blacktop. He was standing with a few friends. I walked with my sights set through the buzz of recess: home base and playtime and no tag backs, very careful not to trip as I made my way over to him. His friends hurried away leaving us alone together. I had butterflies in my stomach, but I greeted him with a huge smile. He looked nervous. He had his thumbs in his pockets, his feet kicked the ground.
“Hey, listen, I’m sorry. They paid me to do it,” Adam said not looking up. “They thought it would be funny…” He laughed a bit. Instinctually I began to laugh with him. Until my ears caught up with the words.
Instantly, my feet bolted to the ground. Our eyes locked. His eyes faded from our reflected future to a hard eternal gray. And life had screeched to a halt. I froze time and the playground became full of granite faces. A wax museum. Statues of boys playing kickball, girls ring around the rosy surrounded me. I studied his face for a glimpse of humanity, but his eyes were carved out of sharp glass and his mouth a crudely chiseled smile.
Life was easier when cooties were rampant.
I took the time to cherish these last moments of safety I had. Then I released him from the rock I cast him in and he ran. I sank into the gravel under the bars. And the bell rang again.
I did not want to go back in that classroom. I knew they were laughing. I wanted to scream…You don’t know! He just got scared. He just got nervous!
The day was a blur. Spelling. Irreparable. I-R-R-E-P-A-R-A-B-L-E. Lunch. I sat alone and hid behind my foggy glasses steamed by my soup. Science. Gym. I could have done without the jelly ball smacking me in the face during dodgeball. Finally, school was out.
I could only hope…that they would forget. Maybe laugh at someone else tomorrow. I walked passed my teacher’s desk as my enemy ran out in front of me. But before I can cross through the threshold. She closed the door and knelt in front of me. Her eyebrows curled with deep concern. She smelled like magazine pages. More paper than perfume. She told me of ancient love stories and of a world when love was good and real. Her speech was peppered with phrases like: “Your time will come.” “You’ll bloom like a flower.” And…”There are plenty of fish in the sea.” All I wanted was to get out of there. I looked back at her and she was sitting at her desk, proud. Still lost in her own memories of love. Looking like she became teacher of the year.
Ryan was waiting for me sitting on bench outside.
“Where have you been?? Making out?” Ryan said making slurppy kissing noises.
“Leave me alone,” I said walking the opposite way of home.
“You have to walk home with me. Mom says!” He said pouting.
“Just go! I’ll be there in a minute,” I said.
Ricky started to protest again, but stopped when he saw the tears in my eyes. He ran off.
I wiped the half formed tears and shook the sadness out of me. I opened my backpack and took out the rose and twirled it in my hands and played out my dreamt reality.
“Thanks for the flower, Adam. I love it. The note was really nice too. I know you were kidding earlier. Don’t worry about it. Really? Thanks. It’s ok. I understand. Of course I’d like to go out with you. Where? I don’t know. Anywhere…