To the Girls Who Shared Their Aqua Net With Me

sheragroupFor the past few summers, I’ve been getting together with a small group of friends from high school. Each year we seem to add a friend or two, like charms to a bracelet. And though it’s been nearly thirty years since we threw our mortar boards into a cloudy, June sky, it’s easy to slip back into a friendship that is both comfortable and uncomplicated.

Light as a feather, stiff as a board. It was a girlhood game we played at slumber parties, but it describes these friendships too. The responsibility for maintaining them doesn’t weigh heavy upon me, but I know, without having to think about them too much, that they would bear weight as well. Together we have a shared past of acne and baby fat, of crushes and teenage heartbreak. Of all the good and bad that make up the exquisite pain of adolescence.

I don’t try to impress these women when we visit. I throw some chips in a bowl, open a tub of ready-made dip and make sure I have enough wine. That’s about it. These are the girls that have seen me at my gawkiest, my gothiest, my geekiest. These are the girls that snuck wine coolers at the bridge with me, who gave me endless rides, who slept out on the sidewalk with me for Duran Duran tickets. They are the girls who shared their Aqua Net with me, who let me primp in the magnetic mirror on the inside of their locker, who stood in a circle and danced to We’re Not Gonna Take It.

Once you’ve white-girl danced together to Twisted Sister in a sweaty cafeteria it’s hard to impress someone.

Sometimes it’s hard to get past the past. In my head (and often aloud) I still refer to them by their maiden names. It’s difficult sometimes to think of Kelly as a well-respected veterinarian instead of Kelly who adored Howard Jones. It’s hard to think of Joanne as the mother of two adult women and not Joanne whose house we always hung out at.

We’ve all chosen different paths. Some work, some don’t have kids. I’ve moved abroad. Some live in the same town we grew up in. But we have this core, this commonality that draws us like moths to a flame, a history of having survived the same hallways and the same classrooms, of growing up.

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We still talk about boys–though they are our husbands and sons. We still talk about our parents, but now we talk about the plans in place as they age. We still gossip about who did what to who in high school and a few long-held secret crushes have been shared over the pinot-grigio.

We trade memories like baseball cards. We tell stories, because that is how women connect, through stories. Often we have different recollections of the same event. We were so caught up in our own heads, so focused on the girl in the mirror gazing back, that we often didn’t see past the cloud of hairspray to the girl standing to the right or left.

In thirty years the conversations haven’t changed too much, but we have changed.

Diane has a new hip, her old one worn down by juvenile arthritis–and Tammi is a grandmother. I am softer around the edges. And the middle, top, bottom and sides. Laura’s hair is streaked with gray. Amanda is caretaker to her family, the equation turned upside down, the child turned parent.

Despite the loss of collagen, despite the need for reading glasses, we all look better than we did in high school. Not simply due to hairstyles and a better dress sense, not due to filling out or even tightening up, but because on the other side of the girlhood door we all found the woman we were meant to be.

These are the girls who witnessed my transformation from tall geeky girl to tall eyeliner goth. With them I am not Dina, the writer or Dina, the expat, I am the gawky girl who had a crush on the quarterback. I am the girl who didn’t get asked to the prom, the one who, even at 16, was railing about the injustices of high school life in the school newspaper. I am the caterpillar who didn’t manage to blossom into a butterfly until well after high school.

These women know from whence I came. They ground me.

Aqua NetAt a time when I have felt so untethered to the world around me, as I try to figure out where to go next, I rather desperately needed that grounding. I needed to know that even though I don’t look the same, the girl I once was is still present in the woman I am. As I get ready to go through another metamorphosis, it is comforting to know I won’t lose myself–but instead I will take the girl and woman I am with me into the next phase of my life.

To the girls that shared their Aqua Net with me, thank you for the reminder.

Love,
Me

To All the Moms I’ve Loved Before

thumb_P1100053_1024First was the mother who cradled me, belly then arms; the one who checked for breath in the middle of the night and stayed up until dawn slaying fevers, the one who documented first teeth and words, who started a living record in her memory. The mother who held out her arms to catch my first tentative steps.

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The childhood mother who encouraged her shy seven-year-old to go out and make friends, a clutch of birthday party invitations in hand, the one who had a secret word with the teacher to make sure her daughter wasn’t friendless on her first day at a new school, the one who sat outside ballet classes and applauded a hundred thousand handstands in the pool, quick with a kiss and a band-aid (an occasional I told you so) whenever I fell.

20160508_100015There was the mother who hung further back while I dove in and started the long, hard swim upstream toward adolescence,the one who took a backseat while friendships got more intense, when independence took the form of kissing boys under porches and coming home when the street lights blinked on, still ready to catch me, but from a little further away.

There’s the mother of the teenager, who saw past the aqua-net and the eyeliner, who bit her 20160508_100031tongue over the outlandish, the one who let me cry when a best friend broke my heart, when a boy broke my spirit, when I was still wiggly with who I was, giraffe legs wobbly on the ground. That mother didn’t argue when I petulantly insisted that who I was was the same as who I would be (and refrained from I told you so), the one who let me choose my own road less taken, even though that road led me away from her.

There was the mother during my first few years away from home, tripping and faltering into young adulthood in New York City, a voice at the end of the phone line, the one who let me think I didn’t need her to catch me if  I stumbled and bruised my soul.

IMG_3261The mother at the end of the very same phone line when I got sucked feet first into a black hole I couldn’t see a way out of, the one who got into her car in the middle of a weekday night to shine a light for me to follow out; because of course she was close enough to catch me, no matter how far away she was.

There was the mother who bit her tongue through boyfriends who weren’t right, men who didn’t break my heart as much as they broke the person I thought I was, the one who let me figure out how glue the pieces back together to make a different, stronger version of myself.1378644_10151967016719066_787144188_n

There was the mother who took the last boyfriend aside and thanked him for bringing a smile back to her daughter’s life, the one who thanked him again at our wedding a few years later.

20160508_100001There was the mother who cried with me all those months when my own hopes of motherhood got flushed away like so much waste, the who patiently tried to understand all the needles and the blood tests, the new-fangled methods, the one who cried with me when those new-fangled methods didn’t work. And then cried harder when they did.

There was the mother who stood back looking on while I took more shaky first steps, this time down the road of motherhood myself, who resisted giving advice or an I told you so, who let me find my own footing, who watched me gain my balance and climb higher than I thought I could.thumb_IMG_7725_1024

There is the mother to my adult, the one who shares a bottle of wine and stories, the one who can tell me, now that I am old enough and experienced enough to understand, about all the times she stood behind me, ready to catch me if I fell, even when I didn’t know she was there.

thumb_IMG_0146_1024Time keeps marching and dragging us both with it. Eventually it will be she who is taking steps which are shaky, slightly wobbly on her feet.

And I’ll be behind her, ready to catch her if she falls.

The Body (A Love Letter)

597896d44805c7a7ec065a52b2c24e5fWhat is the difficulty in stripping layers of cloth and standing bared in front of my own reflection? It should be easier to face a reflection in the mirror than it is to face the secrets of a soul; easier to bare a breast, a hip, an ankle than to see unmasked the wings and horns of a self.

And yet…

and yet…

and yet it almost never is.

Even after all this time and thought and searching and acceptance and writing I maintain a complex relationship with my own body. This husk of muscle and flesh and spark and firework, this weight of tendon and sinew and bone and passion. This body.

We circle each other warily. Often we are at war, waging battles against one another, laying siege. At times we live under the flag of an uneasy truce. But the peace is always tenuous. There is always a new front to be claimed, another battle on the horizon.

This body.

These legs. These crepe-skinned knees and flesh-heavy thighs. These legs which have carried me through four and a half decades, which have run me up mountains I thought too high to climb, which have scaled heights I thought impossible from where I stood looking up.

These arms. My God, these arms. These arms which are baggy and saggy and on their way to  bat-winged. These arms which have cradled and rocked countless babies to sleep, protecting and soothing. These arms which have carried the weight of what is needed to feed my family, which have wrapped around generations, pulling grief close, pulling joy closer.

These hands. Christ, these hands which have woven the threads of love and passion and family together into a tapestry of life. These fingers which fly clacking over keys and sometimes seem to know what I need to say before my own mind recognizes it.

This womb. This womb, that hollow source of heartache. This womb which eventually harbored and nurtured two little lives, which had the strength to push those lives into this world to stand on their own, apart.

These breasts. No longer high and mighty, these forlorn breasts. These breasts which nourished two sons; and these hips, always too wide, curved and rounded leftovers of my mother’s body which expanded to accommodate and grow new human beings.

This spine. This spine now just starting to lean. This spine which has stood upright in the face of change, of heartache, of sorrow and grief. This backbone which has borne whatever I have heaped upon it without breaking, without complaint or crack.4adc46e2384f59258e0c836bd3dd5e76

This body. This body which has starved itself and run itself ragged trying to fit a tortured and distorted ideal of its own making. This body, a safe haven for a lover to harbor in, warmth and depth in which to burrow. A lap in which to snuggle, flesh soft enough to absorb the sharpness around it.

This body which despite all of this still only loves itself part of the time.

This heart. This heart which bears the scars of breaking, which has been pieced back together and still beats in time with a love ferocious and fearless. This heart which still has not completely learned to love what has loved me back so fiercely all this time.

This body.

 

 

Little Ditty about Jack and Diane

tastee freezI hope Jack and Diane rang in the New Year by sucking on chili dogs out behind the Tastee Freez.

I, on the other hand, celebrated by belting out the solid gold hits of my youth with friends.

I should add that I can’t sing. Let me clarify: I can’t sing well. But I”m loud. And enthusiastic. And apparently the am I making a fool out of myself? switch is now permanently set to the I don’t give a fuck settingEven if it means enduring the eye-rolling of a couple of mortified teenagers who were witness to the whole thing; especially then.

Oh, all you Jackies. All you Dianes. I keep trying to tell you how boring grown-up life can be sometimes, but you refuse to listen. You just keep draping yourselves in a cloak of teenage stubbornness already thread worn from being passed down from generation to generation.

Right now you’re still the Dianes from the song; debutantes in backseats, sitting there on Jackie’s lap, his hand between your knees. The thrill of living’s still right there, palpable in the thrum of a heartbeat or the whisper of a breath along your neck.

The thrill of living. I’m not that old. I remember the way those thrills trilled up my spine and exploded like tiny supernovas in my chest.

We used to sit on a crumbling concrete curb by the small, grassy circle at the end of the Dianeneighborhood and listen to Jack and Diane. A gaggle of neighborhood kids and a boom-box, a scratchy cassette tape spitting out tinny top-forty fare. I was never really a Diane, not the Diane of the song certainly, it took me until my late twenties to find my Jackie.

I also didn’t have the guts to sing out loud back then. Or play air-guitar. Or dance on a chair. Yet I seem to be doing more and more of that lately. Strange days indeed.

Quite simply put, I don’t give a rat’s ass anymore. Just like all those inspirational quotes that clog up my social media feed advise me to, I sing like no one is listening. I dance like no one’s watching. And I seem to be singing and dancing far more than I ever thought I would at this stage of the game. This is the glorious gift my 40s have bestowed upon me.

This was going to be a quirky little miss sunshine piece about my hope for those embarrassed Dianes, that I wished someday they found a group of friends to sing Sweet Caroline with; friends that recognize the art of enjoying themselves elevates itself above being or seeming cool. But as these pieces often do, it morphed into something else: the stunningly simple realization that life doesn’t stop as you get older.

The thrill of living? It’s not gone. A lot of times it’s hidden under mountains of paperwork and never-ending lists of chores. But it’s not gone.

Hold on to sixteen as long as you can. Do I wish I could have held on to the ass I had when I was sixteen? What do you think? Sometimes I think about the heart plummet of a first kiss, the backseats of all those cars. Sure, hold on to sixteen as long as you can–sixteen was good.

But 45 is pretty damn good too.

At sixteen you can’t think beyond the thump of your heart in your ears. You can’t see beyond the next moment, the next kiss, the next breath. But at 45 you can. You can see far enough to understand they’re not limitless. They’re not endless. You start to feel them again. Maybe not as intensely as the first ones, but with the intensity of never knowing when they’re going to be your last.

A little ditty about Jack and Diane. Jackie’s never gonna be a football star. And Diane probably got knocked up in the backseat of Jackie’s car. He’s probably selling life insurance now, spent too much time down by the Tastee Freez and is now pre-diabetic. Maybe Diane never lost all the baby weight. Maybe they went their separate ways when those changes came around real soon made them women and men…

Life goes on, but the thrill of living? The thrill of living is far from gone. I’d say it’s just getting started again.

So hold on to 16, sure. But hold on to 45 too. And 60. Wherever you are.

jack and diane 2All you sweet Dianes out there cringing while your parents and their friends bang their heads to Bohemian Rhapsody or shake their hips to Grease Lightning—it may look goofy to you, it may be embarrassing, because right now you probably can’t imagine anything more mortifying than exposing any of your own inadequacies, real or imagined, to the world. But the thrill of living? The real thrill of living is getting past all of that and learning to enjoy life. To flip your switch permanently to I don’t give a fuck setting.

Jack and Diane must have figured that out by now, just like I have. They’d be near fifty now. Surely they’ve learned that when life hands you a new year and a group of friends to sing with, let it rock. Let it roll. Hell, you can even let the Bible Belt save your soul if you must. I don’t have time to judge, I’m too busy playing air guitar.