12 July 2011

Teenage Dreams

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?


  1. Anonymous12.7.11

    Ummm, I think I would drink less... oh wait, was that out loud?
    (who is now extremely sober, technically)

    p.s. Great post! And yeah, I loved that song, ya know, the first time it came out.

  2. Aah, those years are building blocks; some strong and positive, others not so much! I would like to have been less afraid of boys and able to date some...maybe that is why I got married at 53????

  3. Crap, I don't think I ever grew out of it. I was socially awkward and introverted then, and I'm the same way now. I went to bars with my older sister, but never drank more than one or two, now I don't even go to bars. Holy bejeepers. I'm boring. But you know who isn't? Pat Benetar. She's touring again. ;)

  4. @Delia: I've met you and you're not boring. You're like the Captain-stealthy. You keep your awesome traits just below the radar, on a need-to-know basis.

    I saw an advertisement for Pat's tour! She's 58!

  5. There are a couple of things I'd change from my teen years...I was very socially awkward and insecure but I could live with that...it's the eating disorder and my guy friend trying to rape me that I'd prefer to alter...I don't think either of those made me any smarter in the long run. I'm still trying to shake off the remnants of that damn eating disorder.

    fyi: In 1984, I was starting first grade. I'm just mentioning that because I can.

    Gorgeous thoughful post...scared me with the title thought, thought you might have become a katy perry enthusiast! (That's the annoying as crap song that makes my sweet pea wiggle wildly when it comes on the radio..i'm afraid she's a tart in embryo)

  6. @bobbi and lora: this is why it's such an interesting question-if we did change those things, would we be where we are now? I would much prefer that my father had not died, and that it turned out I wasn't a junkie after all, but it's the age-old Star Trek question: what happens if we alter the space/time continuum?

    Lora, I've been clean for 23 years, and my addiction is still sneaky. When I was at RWA, I met some people at the bar. It was my first time making their acquaintance, and they were all drinking, and my addiction whispered, "My, this would be so much more fun if you had a champagne-tini as well. Really, go ahead, who's going to find out?" Seriously, it still hasn't given up the dream.

    But what my recovery has given me is the chance to speak openly and honestly to my children about drugs, how they make you feel, and why it's a bad idea to start using them. I think your experience is what makes you a compassionate teacher, with a depth of understanding that others do not share. Except for that callous streak that reminds us how old we are. But you'll pay for that when Sweet Pea decides her favorite artist is Ke$ha.

  7. Oh lord she will love ke$ha you are right! argh!


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