I remember being a young teenager. I remember being so embarrassed by everything, so worried about what people would say or think about me. I remember my face right close to the floorboard of my dad’s Buick at every stopsign and stoplight as we went down the road toward the freeway one Saturday morning while we ran errands. I pretended to tie my shoes repeatedly so I could keep my head down, so no one would see me. I wonder what my dad thought. Hopefully he just thought I was being weird and it didn’t make him feel as awful as I feel now remembering it. I will never not cringe and apologize for that. But it’s good to remember, right? I’m able to sympathize and empathise with my kids when they get really spun about something that doesn’t seem even a little bit like a big deal to me. Because I know it doesn’t have to make sense, and I know those feelings are like a tractor beam and you’re just pulled along kicking sometimes and you don’t know why but even so it’s consuming you, and there you are, just acting like an asshole even if everyone knows that deep down someplace the you that isn’t pelted with hormones 24/7 is really not an asshole most of the time.
The summer I was fifteen was especially rough for me. I can’t remember what all was going on, but I remember being in the back of the car while we drove someplace, maybe across Texas, maybe we were in Kansas or Oklahoma. Wherever we were, I was miserable, looking out the window and up at the sky, at the big white piles of clouds above the road, sure that my friends back home were all having fun and forgetting I existed while I spent the summer with my dad. We had so much fun there, though. We tracked hurricanes and watched thunderstorms from the backyard. We lit candles at night and put them in the ceramic lanterns my dad made and turned off the lights and listened to the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit on a recording put out by the BBC (at least, I think it was the BBC). And we listened to old radio shows like The Shadow. We watched baseball and football while we sat on the floor in front of the TV and had salami and cheese and club crackers, the ones with all the butter, off a big cutting board. And the popcorn, with Cokes and dishtowels for our buttery hands. We played poker with our jars of pennies and my brother wore a green banker’s visor and counted out the money with reverence and serious concentration. It was the only time he was both awake and still and quiet, I think. We watched Alien and The Blues Brothers, a lot. My dad drew designs in the air with his cigarettes in the dark, wrote our names so fast we could read them. We listened to Bob Wills records, Willie Nelson, Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan, Cab Calloway, Pink Floyd, and ELO – backwards. I didn’t appreciate that time enough when I was living it, but I did at least enjoy it as much as I could given my age and insecurities and all those fabulous beach parties I was sure I was missing far away in California.
Now I’m on the other side, with a teen daughter who is often horribly humiliated that she actually has a family, and I know she’s going to grow out of it. Eventually. I remember the moment that things kind of changed for me. I was in the back of the car, on that trip across someplace in the heat, someplace that was not cool, someplace where we stopped for breakfast in a small truckstop and didn’t fit in with the locals, at all. I was still looking up at the sky and what must’ve been a college radio station played Fall On Me by REM and I was suddenly connected to all the things I’d been pining for. I knew that song, I had that album back at home, and it was on the radio and for every single second of it I was floating and smiling and relieved and not lonely anymore. It’s not really working for me to explain, because it doesn’t have any logic behind it, but I felt saved from the country highway we were on. I felt really super cool and my heart beat with the music and I had no idea what Michael Stipe was saying (and I still sing along with my own version of lyrics, I’m afraid). Anyway, that CD is in my van and I’ve been listening to it, feeling that rush and connection again nearly 30 years later, and feeling like a kid again even though I spend most of my time taking care of them.