This post is dedicated with great affection to JDB.
It was the summer of 1978. I was thirteen, the only girl in a group of five guys who knew each other from school, the neighborhood, or from playing on sports teams together. The leader of the pack, let’s call him Vic, was like a brother to me. We had known each other since kindergarten. Both of our homes operated according to the revolving door policy—all were welcome whenever they turned up. Hence, we’d split hanging out between his house and mine. My parents never minded the gang plopped down on the orange, crushed velvet sofa in their living room, listening to loud music, and consuming huge quantities of snacks as teenaged boys do.
We spent our summer walking the neighborhood, racking up miles, since none of us was old enough to drive. We’d go to the movies or to the bowling alley or just sit around and listen to music. After a while, a crush developed between me and one of Vic’s friends; let’s call him Nate. Nate was the darker version of Christopher Atkins of Blue Lagoon fame. Dark, curly hair and melted chocolate eyes were the draw. He was quiet, but cool. I loved the smell of his leather jacket and the minty scent of the gum he chewed. Soon, I was head over heels in love and, because of those two X chromosomes I possessed, my dreams centered on happily-ever-after in that fairy tale, Cinderella kind of way.
We coasted through the summer, holding hands and stealing kisses. When autumn arrived, school took precedence, but still we found time to hang out, always in that big group. On Valentine’s Day, he gave me an ankle bracelet. (Okay, so it was one his mom had and no longer wore, but where was a 14 year old going to get the money to buy one on his own, right?) Then, just a few weeks later, he was sitting in my kitchen breaking up with me. I was devastated. I cried, I questioned, I begged, and then proceeded to play every depressing song I had in my vast collection of music. In hindsight, I think I enjoyed the drama of the turmoil. Not to downplay the real sadness I felt, but there was something oddly satisfying in crying along to profound lyrics of despair. Unsurprisingly, considering that a 13-year-old’s hormones make experiences exponentially fleeting, a few months passed, I turned 14, and met someone new. Life was all aglow again.
I did the breaking up in the next few relationships. Then, college rolled around. Within the first week or two of school, I met a strapping, blonde, mid-Western guy who had eaten his share of Wheeties and lived in the building next door. Let’s call him Greg. Not usually attracted to fair guys, I nevertheless fell for Greg and his lazy smile and sparkly eyes. He always looked like he had a secret. Looking back, he probably did. Cinderella made another appearance in my fantasies, but let’s be real…it was first semester of our first year of college and Greg didn’t want to be tied down to the first girl he met. Within weeks it was over. In fact, I don’t know that it ever really began. But that didn’t stop me from sitting in my room, totally depressed, playing You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman by Carole King in an endless loop*, with tears streaming down my face, and roommates banging on the walls in a desperate attempt to convince me to shut up. A few weeks later, I had met someone new.
Thirty-two years have passed since Nate; twenty-eight since Greg. I never think about them except when conversations about the teenaged years come up. They are simply two people I knew once, not for very long. I most likely wouldn’t recognize either of them if we passed on the street. And that’s fine with me. Life moved on. Raging teenaged hormones mellowed. Attention span evened out. Experiences became deeper and less ephemeral.
I’m not sure if there’s some master plan regarding the angst we feel as teenagers, especially where love is concerned. Perhaps those early heartbreaks are preparation for the bigger ones we’ll experience in life—practice runs, if you will, during which we come to understand our emotions. Whatever the case, life does move on. Case in point, I have never met an adult who was still depressed over a break-up that occurred at the age of thirteen or fourteen. At that age, who we are and what we want from life are often unrecognizable from who we become. As a teenager, though, no one can tell you this. You have to learn it on your own. And so, the cycle continues—love found, love lost, lost love grieved, love found again, and so it goes. With that said, I still get a pang in my heart whenever I read the lyrics posted on the Facebook wall of a teenager going through it and have to restrain myself from handing over my 45 single** of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
* Endless Loop (definition for current teenagers): You placed an album (like a giant CD, only made of vinyl) on a turntable (a spinning, round surface). You carefully placed an arm with a needle at its end onto the outer edge of the spinning album and, lo and behold, music was heard. After the needle moved across the entire album playing song after song, it automatically lifted and magically found its way back to the outer edge of the album and played the same depressing tunes all over again.
** 45 single: A smaller version of the album described above, featuring one song on each side. After you flipped a switch on your turntable, the arm with the needle compensated for the smaller diameter of the 45 record, correctly returning to the outer edge so you could grieve (or groove, as in the case of the Gaynor tune) to the lyrics over and over again.