My mother always says, "Growing up isn't easy." When she says it, she's usually referring to the color of my hair, or the number of earrings I have in one ear. The last time she said it was when my boyfriend honked, instead of coming to the door.
She turned on the couch, where she was casually looking at a magazine, (actually she was waiting to measure this guy with her Mom-ruler) and said, "How rude to sit out there and honk. It's like he's whistling for his dog, don't you think Dear?"
Dear, in this instance was my father, but the comment was really meant for me.
Dad said, "Hmmmm," like he always does.
When I said, "Mom, we're going to be late for the show, I've got to go," that's when she said, growing up isn't easy.
Anyway, I used to think, that what she was really saying was that being a mother wasn't easy, or just wait 'til you're a mother, then you'll understand. I usually just rolled my eyes. Sometimes my mom is so annoying.
She's right though, growing up isn't easy. I'm sixteen, almost seventeen, and so far a lot of things about growing up haven't been easy. I'm really confused about boys and love, and sex especially. Seems like that's all I think about and talk about with my friend Judy. But, there are a lot of good things about growing up too. Sometimes I see something or feel something that makes me just so happy; like the sun on my face, after a week of rainy days.
Lately, I've been thinking about those good things. I started doing it because of an assignment I had in class; Write down the things that make you feel good. It really got me thinking; like, for instance, my house and my yard and my crazy cat, Psycho, make me feel good. The teacher who gave us this assignment makes me feel good. She's my favorite teacher. Her name is Lovey Coffman. Can you believe someone being named Lovey? It's her real name, and she fits it because that's just the way she is, Lovey. She teaches health education, but we talk a lot about other things. She said she used to take all the little things for granted until she almost died in a car accident. Afterwards she saw more beauty in life, and things that she never noticed before, became important. When I thought about what she said, I realized that I take things for granted too.
I never thought before about how good that Psycho cat makes me feel just purring and rubbing against my legs and getting in my lap and cuddling like I was the most important thing in her life. Just patting her and giving her all that pleasure makes me feel good. She's not just a cat, she's MY cat. Another good things is the plum tree in the back yard. It's all white with blossoms right now. I go out there and lay under it in the dirt and I feel something bigger than I know how to say. It fills me with this sweet feeling that is awesome.
Sex, has been the most confusing part of growing up. Mom has told me stories about how it was in the 50's when she was my age. She said she never even knew about birth control until she was seventeen, and that having sex with a boy was out of the question anyway. She talks to me about condoms and jellies and the pill and IUDs as if she is discussing which breakfast is most nutritional. Even though she talks to me about sex a lot, sometimes I feel like there's some mysterious secret that no one is telling me. From what I can tell from all the movies I've seen and books I've read, love is what makes sex something special. I want to know about love.
Anyway, my mom says what she thinks most of the time. We have had some pretty animated discussions about abortion. Mom is pro-life. She thinks that all life is precious and has a purpose. She doesn't believe in capital punishment either. I'm not sure how I feel. I think there are some situations that a new life should be kept out of. For instance, I heard the story of a girl that was older than me, eighteen, I think. The story was that she got pregnant by her own brother and had an abortion.
Mom says she wants me to talk to her about anything, but there are some things that I haven't been able to talk to her about, like for instance "The Virgin Club". Me and my best friend Judy started this club when we were fifteen. Well, maybe it's not a club, because we're the only members, but we don't do a lot of advertising. You can't just go around asking who's a virgin. That would be so embarrassing. Judy and I made a pact that we wouldn't go all the way unless we were really and truly in love.
Dan is my boyfriend. We go to the same school. Dan and I have been going out together for about four months. I know I'm not in love with him. Love is something like the plum tree, I think, awesome. Dan is more like a friend. So far everything has been cool, we do a lot of making out and stuff but that's as far as it goes. I've told him I don't want to go all the way.
At first he understood, but lately he's been pressuring me. He says he loves me and that I'm driving him crazy. "He wants me bad," those are his words. My friend Judy says that if he loves me then he'll love me more if I hold my ground. She wants to wait to have sex until she's married. She's a little old fashioned and says that sex before marriage is against her moral beliefs. She says to remember that no birth control is 100% guaranteed to keep you from getting pregnant. Sometimes she sounds just like my Mom.
The problem is that I would really like to see what all the hype is about, you know? I don't really want to wait till I get married. Maybe I'll never get married. I know it will be a long time before I do. How could I ever love someone so much that I'd want to spend my whole entire life with them? I want to be a doctor first. That takes forever. Oh, and I would also like to see other places, go to Europe, help people, or maybe set up a clinic in India or something. Maybe I'm just too young to even consider having sex, but I think about it all the time anyway.
Then, I found something that my Mom wrote. She's into creative writing. She writes all kinds of poetry and stuff. I really haven't seen much of it, she keeps it kind of private, but what I've read is kind of hard to understand. She's a lot deeper than she seems. It was on the desk, folded, but just lying there. I didn't mean to snoop or anything, I was writing a paper for English and I opened it and started to read it and then, well, I just had to read it all.
The Small Death of 1963
In the 50's, style was petticoats and orange lipstick, and beer was the drug of choice. Our family had dinner together and watched Father Knows Best. Going steady and making out in the back seat of a car was what nice girls did. Bad girls went all the way, slept around, got pregnant sometimes and disappeared. The only birth control I knew about was a condom, and nice girls didn't go to the drug store for anything but ice cream sodas, that left self control as the only option, along with guilt. Sex wasn't talked about, it was giggled about at slumber parties. I sailed through those years and into my senior prom obeying all the rules.
When I was 19 I fell in love. He was 29 and moving on with his life. He was leaving, without any regret, to make something of his life at a big, fancy university. I wanted him to say "I can't live without you, come with me," or "I can't live without you I'm going to stay." He said neither.
I followed him. He didn't whistle, although I must have seemed like a dog waiting for him to say "heel." "In pursuit of higher education," I lied to the questioning parents. In pursuit of love, I whispered to my heart.
I left my sheltered life for the grassy hills and idealism of a university. It was like plunging from a diving board into a swimming pool and finding out you were in the middle of the ocean instead. When I arrived, he had already disappeared into the paperback books, madras skirts and coffee houses of intellectual pleasure. Once in a while he would call. We would ride on his scooter out of the crowded corridors of knowledge, to the hills where the buildings and roads were manageable, and the song from the bell tower less formidable. He shot golf balls into the net's waiting arms and I watched the fog creep across San Francisco bay. Sometimes he would take me home to his one room with the mattress on the floor.
"We'll study," he said.
"Bring your books," he said.
He studied while I memorized the colors of the fabric on his shirt, considered the glaze of his skin against the twilight desk lamp and watched the dark curls against his neck, caress his skin. He laid his books down on the bed and stroked the printed paper, then turned to me. I loved him with the purity of youthful madness, and he responded to the silken moment and melted into me with the carelessness of his arching back, and forgot to leave, before leaving his seed scattered and searching.
Four months later I knew I was pregnant. "Lets get married and be a family," I said, thinking at last I would be with the man I loved, forever.
"I'm not ready to get married," he said. "There's only one thing to do."
He asked a girl he knew to be my companion. "She knows what to do," he said.
Callowness doesn't know what direction to take. There are no sign posts to tell it which way to go. I let myself be led.
There was a certain gray quality to that morning. It pressed into my skin, held my steps back, prevented the perfect breath. I could feel it hitch there in my throat as I tried not to take it in fully, but of course I had to breathe. I couldn't just decide that today I didn't like the quality of the air and choose not to.
The car whined, purred then choked, a living thing, a cohort, a companion in this agony of breathing. She was beside me, red hair corking out the window, disturbing the air with its exuberance, its fiery threads. She was supposed to be my protector, my teacher, she was the one who knew the way into this dark place where I had never been. I didn't know her, not really, her story was locked and my gaze didn't shift the stillness of her voice into telling.
She must have done this too, I thought. How else would she know about the doubt and feel of the tangled ropes of death and forgiveness battling in my bowels? I could tell by the tilt of her eyes and the way she watched me that she knew first-hand.
We squeezed into another country, past border guards and brightly colored pedestrians and when I turned to question her face, Death was in her eyes. Then I understood finally and forever what I was going to do.
Into the streets of noisy faces and the congestion of smells, like ripe sewage leaking into the air, we drove. I heard the cry of a baby and held the small swelling of my body to protect it from the blaring horns and the poverty of empty faces that insisted on being present.
Like a puppet, I followed her to the cracked corner, past the swollen silent buildings, passed the glass tomb store fronts and into the white room. I wanted her to take me back to where I left the person that I was; back before that long night of heavy breathing and naked brown eyes; back before I thought that being his was all I wanted to be;
before the legs tangled, before he melted like warm honey into the sanctuary of my girlhood.
I thought I would explode onto the ceiling of that room and paint the white, sterile walls with the blood of a that blissful union. I remember wishing I could push that careless creation into "pause." Just wait, I said, till I am a little older, till I can be who I want to be, till I can be your mother. You deserve a mother.
She held my hand in the fog that descended on that day into my memory, and when I could see again, the tiny agony of life, glued to the fabric and central core of me was gone. She held my hand still. Her freckled, long fingers trapped the small beige flutter of mine, as she pulled me into the evening.
When I returned to him later, after the white sheet confusion of day had moved into the dark and moonless fact of evening, I saw him for the first time, my vision cleared by the truth of what had happened.
"Let's have a beer to celebrate," he said.
I had just finished reading and was folding the papers back up when I felt my mom's hand on my back. I jumped, surprised, and then I felt awful because she caught me reading her stuff.
"It's OK," she said. "I wanted you to read it. That's why I put it there where you'd find it."
I felt so sad about love and life and that small death that I just started to cry. I couldn't help it.