That year we went to Paris, and I fell in love with Renoir at the Louvre. I especially adored his series of the two girls, which reminded me so much of me and my best friend. I purchased two prints of this one, Reading in the Garden, because it was us. One for me and for her. As modern as the world got, some things never changed, and I think that's why Renoir is forever famous: his work is classic. There will always be dreamy girls reading together in a garden somewhere. And for those of us who once were those girls? Inside us remains, always, a dreamy young girl reading in a garden.
When I was thirteen, I thought it was just me. Isn't that how all teens think? It's just me, I'm the only one going through this, feeling this way, having this happen. It's a bold and unusual person who will share meexperiences and normalize, but in my case, I truly didn't think anyone could relate, and I might have been right about that, but I was wrong that it was just me changing: the world was changing too.
The world had transitioned from the 70s to the 80s, disco was dead, punk was on the rise, and in junior high, two big things came on the scene: MTV and an electronic game you could play on TV called pong.
Things weren't groovy any longer, now they were rad, and it was all about technology. Movies were about robots, aliens, and sassy teens from Valleys.
A sassy teen now myself, I boldly went to my junior high in a matching purple miniskirt set with purple leggings and purple legwarmers. I was bitchin'.
I liked my junior high. Although I sadly only went to that school for one year, I liked it. It was a great school. It had good teachers---the best I'd ever known---excellent programs, and enough nice kids that it didn't matter which part of the social scale you fell on. It's a bit of an oxymoron, isn't it, a nice junior high?
But it was.
I was lucky to have two best friends. Carrie from history and Emily from reading.
Carrie was fun-loving and crazy, especially boy crazy. She didn't mind my long crush on Gino, and completely understood when I dropped that crush like a hot potato after he finally spoke to me, only to say, "What happened to your real shoes?" and pointed to my super awesome new ballet flats, the height of fashion. Carrie and I were super fans of Mr. Harrison, the best teacher ever, who got us really excited about history and encouraged us to go on field trips. Carrie alerted me to flavored lip gloss and blue eye shadow, and taught me how to write ridiculous notes and fold them up fancy, with doodled ornamentation to make them pretty. We had scented pens with decorations on the end, and pens that clicked from one color to the next. Carrie was my doorway to adolescence.
Emily had long, straight, blonde hair that she usually pulled back from the top and tied with a bow in the back. She was reflective, but don't mistake that to mean quiet. Emily had passion for whatever her current topic happened to be, and she spoke up and out frequently. Emily liked old fashioned things, and had been a big Little House on the Prairie fan, too. She introduced me to Anne of Green Gables and the marvel that was L.M. Montgomery. Emily hooked me on current events, too. We went to libraries together, traded books, read together and decided it was okay to still have stuffed animals on your bed, even if you were in junior high. Emily was my safe friend, my window into childhood, the parts I wasn't ready to let go of yet.
At the end of the year, Emily and I both moved away. I had been so busy with my own journeys forward and back between teen and child, so busy with my new experiences, that I missed what was happening around me.
My mother remarried and we moved, again, to a new city. I left behind the nice school, the nice people, the good teachers. But before my life changed for the worse, I had the summer between seventh and eighth grade.
First, Emily flew down and visited me at our new house in our new town. She and my sister donned bridesmaid dresses from my mother's wedding and I used my new camera and new fascination with photography to take dreamy photos in the garden. We toured my new city, watched TV, listened to music, and all too soon, she flew home. Shortly thereafter, I flew to visit her, too.
It wasn't my first time flying, but it was still an experience I could count on one hand. It was the first time I flew alone. When I arrived, Emily and her family welcomed me, Emily with huge excitement and promises of a wonderful time. When we arrived at her new house, she took me on a tour and pointed out all the neat features, the best one being her room, which had several windows, all surrounded by trees. "It's like being in a secret tree house," she told me excitedly. She'd gotten a new bed and new bedspread, all done in the romantic country theme that suited her. Her bookshelf proudly displayed her collection of every single L.M. Montgomery book ever published. I only had the complete Anne series. Emily was a very proud girl and she was glad she had a better collection than I had.
While I was there, we picked strawberries and tried to make jam, toured museums and formal gardens (by ourselves!), and spent too much time sunning ourselves at her neighbor's pool...with sun-in spritzed in our hair to lighten it. Mine turned red, but hers got lovely golden streaks.
It only took a few days for us to run out of obvious ideas of things to do and get bored.
"I know!" Emily said excitedly, "Let's read every single play Shakespeare ever wrote! That can be our Summer Goal!"
But when we went to the library and saw what a task that would be, we changed our goal to only include the comedies. And so we passed the rest of the summer vacation reading Shakespeare instead of L.M. Montgomery. We laughed about parts, joked about which people we knew reminded us of certain characters, and shared general gossip and secrets---the sorts of things you can say with a true friend, who will accept and understand, and whom you trust.
When Emily accepted my crush on certain celebrities, I knew she had changed, too. I noticed her new bed didn't have any stuffed animals any longer. We adopted a scorn for all things childish, but we decided it was okay to still like Anne, even if we were nearly in high school.
I flew home, glad to be returning to my own place, but already missing Emily and her place. I wished we could move there, too. I wanted to enter this new time with my friend, have her with me as I began this new phase of life, as I tried to master and comprehend all the changes in me.
My mother looked at me and saw the changes, "Your hair is different," she said, "And you're so tan!" What she really meant was I looked a lot older.
I agreed, triumphantly, and added, "And there's more."
"You got your period," she said, "I knew it. I knew you would."
"Plus I read Shakespeare, now," I said, a tinge of arrogance to my tone.
"I see," my mother said. What she really meant was, and here it begins.
Looking back at photos of that year, Emily and I morphed from gawky and angular---with slightly too-long limbs and faces still round and soft---into long and lean almost young women. We showed the beginnings of our adult selves, some curves and thinned faces with structure. Our expressions changed, too. We posed and tried to look sophisticated. We dressed and accessorized differently. I left behind my cutesy ballet shoes earrings and chose chunky plastic disks, instead. My room, too, matured from child to teen. I hung art posters and photos of popular rock bands.
When summer came to an end, I excitedly began my new school, ready to take it on as the new, older me. It was a terrible place, the antithesis of my other school, every one of my other schools. Luckily, I came too late there. I'd already had good schools, good friends, and the wonderful summer. Those things sustained me.
That summer was the last time I believed.
And I spent the remainder of my childhood trying to recapture that time.
Now, as an adult, as I work to undo all the bad ideas and damage accrued in the years after that summer, I think back to it, I recall it vividly, pick it apart, stand to the side of those exuberant young girls who reached out to life with both hands. I watch, I listen, and I think, "How do I get something of that back? Something of her back?" That young girl was so sure of so many things. She had confidence and faith in herself, life and the people around her. She was sure she'd have good and true friends, and she needed only those. She enjoyed what she liked, and didn't worry about the rest. If I'm honest, I see traces of her in me now: the girl who could walk into a big, new school on her own and be okay; who would wear purple miniskirt sets because she liked them, beyond any need to be fashionable; and who knew quality of people over quantity. What is missing is the optimism. Time and experience has drained my glass to half empty, instead. Sometimes I wonder whether things really are that complicated; maybe there is simply more.
It is interesting how I grew away from her in my early adulthood and how I grow back to her as I get older.
What about you? What's a pivotol childhood memory for you? And how do you carry it with you now?
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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