Three and I were driving home today, and he turned on the radio. Pat Benatar was singing "We Belong." I reached to change the station, because we all tend to prefer current music, but he stopped me.
"No, I like this song."
"How do you even know it?" I asked.
"I think it was in 'Napoleon Dynamite'," he answered.
"You do know that I listened to this song when I was a teenager, right? Well, I think I was, even though I'm pretty sure I was going to bars."
"Yeah, it's pretty old."
That's the truth. "We Belong" was released in 1984. I turned twenty in December of that year. I was in my first semester at Rutgers, having transferred from my community college. I probably wasn't listening to Pat Benatar at that point, because I was busy cultivating my alt/punk image. And I was most definitely going to bars. But the memory of Pat is strong, because she was tough and cool, she wore sexy clothes, and made awesome girl-power videos. Three asked if she was popular.
"Yes; she was very successful."
"Like, Britney Spears popular?"
"Yes, but like Britney crossed with Pink, 'cause she was a tough chick."
He nodded like he understood the comparison. I got out of the van, struck by how strong the memories of my teenage years remain. A song easily transports me back to high school or college, and all the tumultuous emotions of that time in my life. I remember how awful middle school was, and how I didn't stop feeling awkward until sophomore year. I remember the drama and the laughter, and how life was better when I became part of a close circle of girlfriends. I remember boyfriends, and band, cheerleading, and proms. I could go into staggering detail, if I thought long enough. And depending on my mood, those recollections would be either tragic or triumphant.
I watch Two as he breezes through his life, popular and engaged, and I wonder if he feels the same things I did as a fifteen year-old. The rollercoaster of emotions, the pressure. Every so often, he lets a detail slip about his own internal landscape, and I get a glimpse of that long-ago world of mine. But he doesn't share much without direct interrogation, so mostly I just hope he's okay.
In contrast, I've seen Three struggle these past two years, as he lost touch with what had been his close friends, and fell in with an entirely different group. He looks like one type of kid on the outside-athletic, funny, confident- but inside I think he's a little nervous and goofy. He's muddling through, trying to define himself, and I think that's what resonated with me as we listened to a song that had traveled across time to unite us.
I am still defining myself. The difference is that I have a lifetime of experience that has proven who I am at my core. Now, it's more like I'm revising, or clarifying, that person. My teen years, in all their tear-stained, smeared glory, created me. Maybe that's why that time is still so vibrantly alive inside me. Because it was so important. And as much as I would love to spare my children their own pain, I know it's necessary. We all need our teenage dreams, and nightmares, to help forge our adult reality. I wouldn't change a moment. Would you?