Everyone is the age of their heart.
You know how it is–or, at least, I hope you do. While looking for one misplaced item, you stumble across something else–something long forgotten–and suddenly a switch is flipped, a memory is triggered, and what you were originally searching for is abandoned as irrelevant as you marvel at your latest discovery. Minutes tick into hours as one memory sparks another, and nostalgia transports you back to another day, another time.
That’s what happened to me yesterday. Really, to be completely honest, that’s what happens to me almost every day. I’ll be looking for a shoe that isn’t where I know I left it, the favorite pair of jeans that I know I hung in the closet, the one essential recipe ingredient that I know I bought yesterday–I will look everywhere, and then I will look everywhere again, and then I will look everywhere else. And somewhere in the middle of all that looking, I will start to sputter words that I’m glad my children are no longer around to hear. But then, before my ranting explodes into a full-blown hissy fit, I will be distracted by the discovery of that something else–the first drawing my oldest son ever gave me, the sweater that I wore on that special night so long ago, the blackberry cobbler recipe in my grandmother’s handwriting.
Yesterday I was searching through boxes of old papers, looking for a newspaper article I had written years ago, when there–underneath a stack of 30-year-old college research papers and one dead cricket–were four spiral notebooks, their tattered covers embellished with faded ink daisies, sailboats and smiley faces. I recognized them instantly. My high school writing journals. Keepsake gold.
And as I thumbed through their yellowed pages, not only did my mind carry me back to bell bottoms and Bee Gees and Love’s Baby Soft, but I also realized I had just uncovered irrevocable, undeniable proof that my husband has been wrong about me. For you see, he has been telling people for years that I have been an old woman my entire life, and I have allowed him to characterize me as such because I have been afraid it was closer to the truth than not. But he didn’t know me in high school! Even though we attended the same school, while he was busy pinning his opponents in wrestling matches and then doing a little illegal, underage partying afterward at Wolf Creek, I was presiding over meetings of the Library Club and then going home to study for the big history test scheduled for a week from Friday. Boring, old woman undertakings at such a young age? Yeah, I’ll admit it. But that’s not all I was doing!
Even I might have doubted it, but these inky confessionals proved it: I was once a girl–a foolish, fickle, dumb-struck, love-struck, star-struck teenage girl (with only occasional lapses into old womanhood). Don’t believe me? Then read on, Oh ye, of little faith . . .
I bought some Bonne Bell strawberry Lip Smackers today! Yummy! Now my lips are shiny AND deliciously kissable! Just in case . . .♥
–entry from Saturday, June 7, 1975
Ahh, the beauty regimen of that 15-year-old girl! I dreamed of having Barb’s figure, Lee Ann’s hair, Debbie’s smile–but I was stuck with me, so I had to make the best of what little Mother Nature had provided. Stridex pads stripped away all the facial dirt and oily residue, and then globs of Noxzema created a soft, rosy-fresh glow. Daily exercises of “We must, we must, we must increase our busts!” offered no visible signs of improvement, but I was still young enough to believe in miracles. And if it was summer, every spare moment was spent working on my tan, slathered in a mixture of baby oil and iodine, while the juice of one whole lemon worked to make my blonde hair even blonder (because blondes were supposed to have more fun, and I was anxiously waiting for the opportunity to test the validity of that rumor). We didn’t have a shower at the time, so after depositing the baby oil mixture in a slimy ring around the bathtub walls, I would tip my head under the faucet and then shampoo, rinse and repeat with Herbal Essence. With no hair dryer or curling iron to fluff it, my hair remained limp and stringy, but at least it smelled like a garden of wildflowers. Someday some boy would sniff my hair and fall madly in love with me–I just knew it!
“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, No escape from reality.” Are you singing to me, Queen? Sometimes it feels like it. Sometimes I feel so alone, nothing but my books and radio to keep me company . . .
–entry from Friday, April 9, 1976
All young girls go through periods of melancholy, and I was obviously no exception. And, no surprise, that melancholy was usually attached in some way to some boy who had stolen my heart (whether he knew it or not). But in those early years I could almost always pull myself out of whatever funk I was in by getting lost in the latest Stephen King novel (reading all day and then finishing by flashlight after my dad had ordered “Lights out!”) or listening to Wolfman Jack howling through the night on WLS radio out of Chicago. Eric Clapton would sing me to slumber with “Wonderful Tonight” or David Cassidy would declare “I Think I Love You” (I think I love you, too, sweet David!). And if no one else was around to laugh at my mechanical moves, I could crank up the volume on the living room television and dance my blues away every Saturday morning, compliments of American Bandstand and Soul Train. Those cute Gibb brothers would serenade me with “How Deep Is Your Love,” Wild Cherry would get me “movin’ to the groovin'” with “Play That Funky Music,” and then KC and the Sunshine Band would have me gyrating madly with “Shake, Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty.” It was hard to be sad for long when all my energy needed to be focused on vibrating, contorting and breathing.
I’m too pooped to pop! I just got home from work–we were so busy! And naturally it was just me and Jim working. I ran my legs off! And some drunk college guy asked for some fries to go with my shake–yeah, THAT was original. I did make $5.82 in tips, though!
–entry from Saturday, March 19, 1977
My first job as a fountain girl and carhop at an A & W drive-in netted me a whopping $2.30 an hour (which would buy four gallons of gas back then). All decked out in my brown and orange polyester uniform, I served up coney dogs and teen burgers and frosty mugs of root beer to high schoolers and college kids who were much better at shouting insults (“Shake it, don’t break it!”) than they were at leaving tips. But even though I went home drop dead tired, ice cream sticky and french fry greasy every night, that job paid for the gas that fueled my car that allowed me the independence to explore my world (i.e., chase boys) away from my parents’ watchful eyes–and it also convinced me that getting a college education would take me a lot further than my aching legs ever would.
He said, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Tomorrow was six days ago.
–entry from Friday, September 17, 1977
Wow! What a weekend! I finally went out with Leo Friday night–I think I’m in love! He was so nice, so sweet, and so good-looking! (And his mustache tickles!)
–entry from Monday, October 30, 1977
So many memories … only one broken heart.
–entry from Friday, November 11, 1977
Sunday I wore my new glasses to work. Rick H. (a regular customer–24, dark hair and eyes, big muscles!) said they made me look sexy! Needless to say, I haven’t taken them off since!
–entry from Monday, February 6, 1978
I still have to ask Eric to the senior dance. He’s got to go! And I’m scared to death his finals are going to be the same week as Prom. I’ll die!
–entry from Saturday, March 4, 1978
Oh, good grief! Was I really that ridiculous? Apparently so. Were all teenage girls like that, or did I belong to an elite class of giddy, love-struck fools? Maybe someone hijacked my journals and wrote fictitious entries on my behalf–yeah, that’s probably what happened. It was amusing (and horrifying) to read how rapidly my romantic interests fluctuated once my steady boyfriend of two years dumped me for the last time, especially since I can count on one hand the number of first dates I had, and it takes even fewer fingers to count the number of second dates. Love-struck and lucky in love weren’t necessarily the same thing.
In just one month I graduate from high school. I’m so excited! I know where I’m going to college, and I know what I want to do with my life–I just don’t know yet how to make it happen. I do know, though, that I can do absolutely anything! I want to be a respected writer (where do I begin?)–maybe have my own column–wouldn’t that be wild? And after I perfect my skills enough, maybe I can even write a book. Or two. Do you believe in miracles? I do.
“Karen has done an excellent job of dramatizing the internal warfare in a young psychotic … Her new novel is convincing and emotionally gripping, definitely the work of a true artist who knows her subject well.”–New York Times Book Review
–entry from Monday, May 1, 1978
Over 30 years ago, I wrote my own book review before I ever wrote a book. A little bit of that “cart before the horse” kind of thing, don’t you think? Ah, to be in the blossom of youth and brimming with excitement for the road ahead. Maybe I strayed a little from the path I charted back then, and my life didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned (and maybe it turned out even better) . . . but a dream postponed isn’t a dream forgotten.
It was a long time ago, but yes, I was once young. I ran around with my girlfriends, I fought with my mom, I went on dates, I shopped and giggled and flirted and whispered sorrows into my pillow–I was a young girl with young-girl dreams and young-girl worries. I may have been on my way to becoming an old woman, but I wasn’t there just yet. And, as far as I’m concerned, I’m still not there.
My senior picture. Check out the limp, stringy hair that would have benefited greatly from a hair dryer and curling iron.
The barefoot hippie chick, circa 1977.