40 Going on 14

Horrible hooves

You may say otherwise, but it’s true. I’m a shallow person with the emotional IQ of a middle schooler. Since I can’t go to confession, I am going to use the blogosphere to admit my childish behavior.

The feet you see in the photograph above were ‘cured and painted with the new OPI shade “Red Lights Ahead … Where?” on Sunday.  When I arrived at the nail salon, I was escorted to the pedicure chairs and seated next to a very pretty girl who looked roughly my age. She was dressed in expensive workout clothes that revealed her flawless physique, and it was obvious to me that she had been one of  the popular girls  in her youth. In other words, the tell-tale scent of Eau de Bitchay radiated from her pores.

She was choosing between two pepto bismol pink shades. At first glance, both were hideous, but the idea that the pretty, popular girl liked them made me question my initial assessment. Should I be getting pepto pink too? Was THAT where I’d gone wrong in life?! Would it look creepy and weird if I too just “happened” to be getting that color? Just then my nail lady stabbed my badly picked pinky toe cuticle and I winced in painful silence. I certainly didn’t need Popular Girl glancing over and seeing the gruesome self-inflicted wound. Surely she had never experienced a day of malaise or panic in her whole popular life, and thus, had no malaise- or panic-sparked habits to hide.  I bet her parents bought her a car when she turned 17, and I bet she had no trouble taper-rolling her stonewashed jea…

I slapped myself mentally. For the love of god you freak, you’re turning 40 in two weeks. You’re not sitting at lunch tables in the multi-purpose room anymore! 

But in a way, I will always be sitting at the lunch tables in the multi-purpose room.

In walked a very peppy, tall and extremely large-boned girl with a strong mid-western accent and an exceptionally loud voice, yapping on her cell phone. She sat down next to Popular Girl and me.  Excerpts from the conversation she was having:

Debbie, he invited you to SEDER. Of course you have to try gefilte fish! He invited you to SEDER! [For those unfamiliar with the term “seder,” please see Wikipedia. For those unfamiliar with “gefilte fish,” please consider yourselves fortunate. Or read about its royal grossness here.]

Do I like gefilte fish? I mean it’s not my FAVORITE thing but I’ll eat it. 

Debbie! You NEED to eat more foods. You can’t eat pasta all the time. No one will marry you if you don’t eat more sophisticated things.

You tried it?! You tried GEFILTE FISH?  Oh Debbie I am just so proud of you! I am SO proud of you! I mean he invited you to SEDER, of course you had to.

Now, it’s hard to imagine that anyone seeking a  little R&R wouldn’t find this conversation a smidge grating. I certainly wanted to smack Debbie’s friend upside her head and possibly drown her in the lavender-scented water. But at some point during almost every pedicure I’ve had, someone in the salon has taken or made an audible cell phone call.  If you want complete and utter silence, you go to a  real spa — not the neighborhood nail joint. It’s annoying, but it’s something I accept. Additionally, Debbie’s friend was so awkward and clueless that I felt a little sorry for her. She was probably a lot nicer than Popular Girl in middle school — she was probably the kind of person who would have sat at MY lunch table.

Popular Girl was not taking it as calmly as I was. I could hear her repeatedly saying “Uch” with the kind of absolute repulsion I imagined all the SPIFFY High cheerleaders felt for me. Then she mixed in a few snide comments and some seriously dirty looks, all of which went unnoticed by Debbie’s oblivious friend. Popular Girl’s nail lady told Popular Girl to sit back and relax. Popular Girl said she couldn’t possibly relax with THAT in the background.

Then Popular Girl addressed ME.

“Can you believe this?”

I was paralyzed. What should I say?! What would make me sound cool?! Or wait…Shouldn’t I stand up for Debbie’s friend? Didn’t all former looz-airs have an obligation to support one another?

Maybe, but fuck it. I had a chance to get in.

I sold her out and said to Popular Girl, loudly, “It is SO annoying.”

I guess that was an acceptable repsonse, because Popular Girl offered me her magazines as she got up. And for a fleeting second I felt like it was 1989 and I’d been invited to the cool kids’ party. Then I felt bad about shafting Debbie’s friend. Then Popular Girl’s phone rang. It was her boyfriend or husband and she spoke to him at the top of her lungs, in a tone so mean I didn’t understand why any man would stay with her. I looked to my right and saw Debbie’s friend now quietly reading her book, not rolling her eyes, not cursing under her breath.  I wanted to ask her what she was reading and/or pet her sympathetically.

But I didn’t. I let my nail lady paint my toes a bright coral Jan didn’t approve of and hoped I would get to dry next to Popular Girl.

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40 Going on 14

My First Time

Keith and I started watching “Friday Night Lights” on Netflix this summer and quickly became addicted.  If you’ve watched the show, you know how intensely it sucks you in. You start to feel like you’re living right there in the small, football-obsessed town of Dillon, TX.  You find yourself motivating co-workers by saying, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” You crave Alamo Freeze. You realize you actually know what number and position each of the Panthers plays.  Especially Riggins. And if you’re me, you are mentally transported back in time to the trauma that is high school.  So it struck me as rather uncanny that Mama Kat’s weekly writing prompts would include “Your first panic attack” – which, in my case, took place at the end of my senior year at Spiffy High.

Nowadays, the classic panic attack is almost de rigeur.  (I mean, have you really even lived until you’ve experienced the joy of clammy hands, sudden onset hot flash, racing heart, severe tremors and impending sense of unidentifiable doom?) I think about panic attacks a few times a day in my modern life.  But in 1990, anxiety was simpler.  We didn’t know from panic attacks, as Grandma Ethel would have said.  I just always understood that I was a nervous person who worried a lot and lived under a cloud of melancholy.

With graduation looming on the horizon, I felt totally isolated (which may or may not have actually been the case); I absolutely could not bear the thought of choosing a college and then leaving home to go to it; I was in a bad relationship; and I despised myself more than you can imagine. So really, things were fabulous!

You won’t be surprised to learn that “my first time” took place in gym class, the morning after I lost a huge fight with my high school boyfriend, B.  I had barely slept and probably skipped breakfast, but gym stops for no man. I had no choice but to hit the weight room circuit, and made it through two or three of the machines. Then came the leg press. As I situated myself, I felt my stomach drop to my feet. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it, and sweat began pouring down my face. I tried to push the five-pound weight into the wall, but found that my legs were rubber.  I would have stood up and run to the bathroom, but I was pretty sure I’d pass out. I froze in place.  Clearly, I had some sort of sudden onset virus and would need to be airlifted out of school. Perhaps they would even quarantine me. It never occurred to me that this was anything other than physical.

I headed to the nurse’s office post-haste, and felt better as soon as I sat down among the derelicts with faux migraines.  My pulse seemed to have slowed to no more than 200, but still, I was obviously quite ill.  I waited for the nurse and when I went in, she asked me a lot of questions about my health in general.  Then  she asked what was going on “at home.”  As a regular watcher of after-school specials, I was compelled to assure her that no one was beating or molesting me, and that neither of my parents drank heavily or abused drugs. Strangely, I also felt compelled to tell her about my college angst and B – and then, for dessert, started crying.

Hmm.  I’d never known that to be a symptom of the flu.

The nurse looked at me with sympathy and said, “I think you had an anxiety attack.”

Wait, I’m not being airlifted?! You don’t have to call my parents? Frick on a palpitating stick and Panic McNervoustein!

She had me lie down for a few minutes and told me to go back to class when I felt up to it.  And sure enough, I was fine. Except that now, I had a new bully in my life … one that still follows me everywhere I go.

My First Time

90 + 11 = 90?

The other day, a friend and I were analyzing the strange behavior of another girl we know. We came to the conclusion that this individual possesses absolutely no ability to grow as a person. At first I felt very smug about our assessment. Then, suddenly struck by a relapse of anxiety symptoms, I started to wonder whether I myself had the ability to grow as a person. After years of therapy and self-loathing, I feel better about myself than I ever did … but how much is that saying? I decided to investigate. And that meant picking up the journals I kept meticulously in high school.

A few things that struck me instantly:

  • My childhood bedroom obviously reeked of guinea pig chips
  • I had the handwriting of a lunatic
  • I ate a lot of candy
  • My flair for the melodramatic was truly unparalleled – clearly taking inspiration from the ABC After-School special and too many young adult novels

I thought you might appreciate some excerpts from these journals, written roughly this week in 1990 – my senior year of high school (class president: my husband). Please note that the views of 17-year-old me do not necessarily reflect the views of 38-year-old me.

4/2/90: Did I mention I got into Brandeis? Notice how thrilled I am. I am crazy, I know, to be miserable after getting into all five schools, but Washington is screaming for me. [This is where my high school boyfriend, B, was going to college.] I envy B because I know he will make it one day. Most people like B a lot more than my parents – they make him nervous. They make me nervous. They ARE nervous. Today was the first day of the last marking period I will ever spend in high school. We picked our gym classes 1st period – I got tennis and frisbee. Taxi driver killer LC is back in school – and guess when she has gym? [Please Google for more info – I don’t feel safe providing it.] I’m still thinking about that movie “Threads” and nuclear war. Today had no characteristic trait. It will blend into my memory and I will never know the difference between it and any other day. It sucked.

4/3/90: A [unrequited love of my high school life] looked so sad today. I asked how he was and he said “mediocre.” I asked if there was anything I could do and for a second, he looked like maybe there was [I can assure you the thing I could do was to shut the fork up], but he shook his head. On his way out of class he stopped at my desk and stared down at me with a weird look on his face. [I can assure you the weird look was his way of saying, “For the love of GOD you freak, stop writing about me in your guinea pig-scented diary.”] Being nice gets you nowhere except shit on, life is shit. The people who are vicious and cruel are a lot happier. B read me 25 characteristics of a disorder termed “anxious-neurotic.” I fit every single one. Nicole and Bob came over. Bob and I hate half a pint of Heath Bar Crunch. I feel sick.

4/6/90: Yesterday we signed in late to miss two gaywad senior assemblies [CRINGE! DOUBLE CRINGE! And note that the emcee at both asssemblies was … my husband.] Mr. O [menacing vice-principal] saw us come in and bawled us out. Like we were the only seniors who did it. Like I ever did ANYTHING wrong. Nicole and Jay weren’t in school today – they were down at Rutgers DJing. There is this thing called Derby Days Bob’s fraternity is involved in. It’s a fundraiser with sorority help. Sam, Jess and I went to Bridgewater [mall that opened circa 1989 with awe-inspiring food court]. Sam tried on this gorgeous peach prom dress – oh she looked so beautiful.

4/8/90: If only “if only” could alter the world. Sam and I had sundaes at Friendly’s, then went to the A&P for popcorn, Pringles, and dip [no, sadly, we were NOT stoned] and came back here and watched “When Harry Met Sally” again, my 8th time. Jamie had her friends over, they were being so loud and Sam told them to shut up. Tomorrow I’ll be lectured. Mom, Jamie and I had lunch at the Diet Works, and looked at some prom dresses at Doris Amster, pure tack. I did get 3 Cadbury Creme Eggs at Walgreen’s. I was thinking it would be so fantastic to keep a journal in college – can you imagine how priceless that would be years later [literally price-less]? I feel doomed – every time I do something I think it’s the last time I’ll ever do it. I can’t stop wondering if I’ll be okay, and not just okay, but happy? How hard will it be to get that way? I wonder if people outgrow neurosis? [Ha!] I can’t see it getting any better, only worse.

4/9/90: I really hate Passover. I know this is sacreligious [sic], but the seder drives me crazy. I believe in God, but I have my own image of God [impressive]. Some of these rituals are so silly. And who are we to say we are the chosen people? I feel so lonely. I wish I had a car. I have this new song onbsession. It’s called “Cigarette” by the Smithereens. Their lead singer is from Scotch Plains. The town was actually mentioned in Rolling Stone once . [This September, I heard the once-famous lead singer perform at the annual Italian Festival in the parking lot of St. Bart’s, but had to leave in haste due to an irritable bowel episode.]

4/13/90: This has been a miserable week. It all started Tuesday morning. Grandma is in the hospital. She was going to drop Jamie and D off in Westfield, then go home and pick up a few things. I was really rude to her. She kept nagging me to come with her and have lunch with her but I blew her off so she left, and she was gone a long time. I thought she was sulking at home and waiting for one of us to call and beg her to come back (she did that on July 4th). Usually when someone’s late I start to have scary thoughts, but this time I didn’t. In the middle of “General Hospital,” she called and said not to get excited, but she’d blacked out and had an accident and was in the hospital, Overlook. I got hysterical – I cried so hard – just the way she said it, and I kept picturing the accident, this old lady all by herself, she must have been so scared, and she kept saying thank god I didn’t go with her. I felt guilty somehow, like somehow I could have done something if I’d been there, and I felt guilty for being so mean – I kept crying, I didn’t know what to do. She said she was fine but that they didn’t know why she blacked out [this was probably an early and unrecognized sign of the problems that started to plague her four years later], and her chest was bruised from the steering wheel. I kept crying. I called my father’s office but the service answered so then I paged him. I was crying so hard he thought I was Jamie. That night we went to see her. There was no room available, so she was in the emergency room. Her clothes were all smushed into this little silver basket on the bottom of the bed. Her coat. Her Reeboks. When we left I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to stay with her. B thinks he is smarter than me [he isn’t]. He said I wouldn’t have gotten in to Penn [probably not, thanks to my stellar test-taking abilities]. Even while I knew that, it still sounded like an insult [uh … maybe because it WAS?]. It’s 2 weeks and six days til my 18th birthday and I must figure out a way to let A know. These are such troubled times. I wonder if I’ll ever feel okay again.

In closing:

  • I am much funnier now – does that count as personal growth?
  • Given the amount of junk food I ate then and continue to eat now (although after 35, I had to draw the line at Pringles), it’s a huge miracle I didn’t experience MORE personal growth
  • I made a lot of mistakes.
  • I could not write to save my life.
  • These are always troubled times.
  • I actually do feel okay.

Have I grown? I’ll leave that to the people who knew me when!

90 + 11 = 90?