childhood memories

at seventeen

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“AT SEVENTEEN”

By Janis Ian

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth…

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say “come dance with me”
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen…

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said: “Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve”
The rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly…

So remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debitures of quality and dubious integrity
Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen…

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
the world was younger than today
when dreams were all they gave for free
to ugly duckling girls like me…

We all play the game, and when we dare
We cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say: “Come on, dance with me”
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me, at seventeen…

 

8-9-10
i worked a coupla weekend parties in the foothills and came home pooped. it morphed into a melancholy saturday evening mostly due to time travel. i managed to be in 2 places almost at the same time. i was moving small platters of food through a milieu of gentiles, and all the while i was whisked forward to the past. i have an incidental connection with the family i worked the parties for. a now-deceased member of their tribe had a profound effect on my sanity and my sense of self and style.

her name was cat and she still seems as aloof and elusive as she did when we met. i was almost sixteen and really struggling in my life. i had become caught up in teenage self-loathing, hormones, and my homosexual proclivities like a fox in barbed wire outside the coop. i kept running from home because home was so very unhappy and somehow i landed in the very hot and very humid south with an uncle and his bride of 2 years. they were in their 30’s so it wasn’t about a honeymoon for them. i now believe it was about the distraction. but then that’s another story.

i arrived in the late spring and had the whole summer ahead of me. there was a pool, 2 acres, a room of my own and about 8 chow chows that cat bred within the confines of her kennel. it was, it turns out, my own version of armisted maupin’s “tales of the city”. it was the 70’s (spring boarded by the 60’s) and all manner of roles and boundaries were being tested. cat was an extremely exotic person to this 16 year old mid western boy. she smoked pot, drank diet dr. pepper by the case, bred chows, and wore an almost inappropriately revealing 2 piece bikini daily as we sat by the pool and swapped stories about life, beliefs, growing up, and sex.

cat changed my life that summer. she seemed even more odd than i felt and that resonated somehow into my feeling better about myself. i fell in love with the dogs- especially blue and maya- 2 chows- i believe blue was a champion- and then there was sing-sing- an adorable and misfitted pekingese who ended up following me around like a vow had been taken. cat’s life, her aura, and her presence fortified my sense of propriety in the world. her words and her attentions steered me towards believing that indeed i wasn’t the most outrageous individual or foreign particle in the universe, which i had silently believed up until that point. it certainly didn’t rid me of those thoughts internally, but it did provide me with a new direction in which to move my thinking.

i enrolled in the local high school in the fall, but the insular quality of the summer faded like grapes on the vine. within a couple of months cat and my uncle’s relationship had become more volatile. they were avoiding and whisper-arguing and i knew that my time there had come to a close. i headed back up north to chicago and tried once more to sow the seeds of a less manic life. lord knows it was quite some time until things settled a little.

i have come to explain to people my belief- that living with bi-polar disorder is what it must be like living on a ship or boat for most of one’s life. the motion that emanates from the ocean is normal. the strangeness in life comes when the ship docks and one walks on dry land. the lack of motion seems out of balance-abnormal, trippy. instinct tells us to get back to the sea. even though the ground is quiet and less chaotic, it doesn’t feel right. it doesn’t feel natural. the constant motion feels like home. mental health treatment- especially therapy provided me with some tools to understand this. but sobriety is the plow that tilled the way.

the beautiful south

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image credit… samuel hodge
If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name. ~Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1958, spoken by the character Holly Golightly
6 days in bed with pneumonia makes a girl a little stir crazy.. or maybe even a lot. i have slept and sweated and sweated and slept. the creases and the clumps in the pillows and the bedding have become just like the pea under the princess’s bed and have made it almost impossible to get comfortable.
 i’m almost as tired of sleeping as i am tired.  i am hoping that wellness is on its way.
during my week long romance with bed rest has been an ongoing madness for drama- especially the cinematic kind.  star trek (chris pine and zachary quinto) made me smile  and smile again.  secretariat continued to be a winner. dolphin tale actually made me cry 5 times.  the film that continues to stand out the most for me is the help. i have been racking my brain trying to figure out exactly why.,
i am from a small town in central illinois- not the south. my grandmother, who is responsible for most (if any) moral fiber i have was from alabama. her family were farmers who emigrated to illinois. i don’t know if the writing, the stories, the drama, the conflict of the south has particular significance for me, but it certainly is easy to wear. 
i have loved tennesseee williams, carson mccullers, willa cather, truman capote,  thomas wolfe,  and flannery oconnor, and harper lee. i have read and watched those stories with fervor and adulation for as long as i can remember. and as i languished around this week, partaking of this newer delicacy over and over, i found myself feeling as if i had been given a very large and comforting hug from a storyline rife with regional language, sarcasm, innuendo, but mostly the undaunting tenacity of the human spirit. 
i/m not sure about past life wisdom. i am not an expert on reincarnation. but i believe in my mind there is a case for it here. i grew up as a small boy listening to stories told around the kitchen table. and these southern writers and stories sound very much like the same thing to me. they seem to be familiar and personal, like it’s being told over a tall glass of iced tea.
so on a week long dirge like this, when i have fever, fatigue, and spend most of my time alone, it makes sense that i would like to drench myself in something that reminds me of my childhood. laughter and drama being played out in stories at the kitchen table. and then there’s all that confection and fried food.:)
Minny Jackson: Eat my shit. 
Hilly Holbrook: Excuse me! 
Minny Jackson: I said eat… my… shit. 
Hilly Holbrook: Have you lost your mind? 
Minny Jackson: No, ma’am but you is about to. ‘Cause you just did.