Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Childhood in the 1970s: Part Eleven

If you will recall my first love, rather my first love who was actually a peer and not a teen working for the family business (Carla), or an English teacher (Ms. Miller) or a celebrity stranger (Jacqueline Bissett, Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant etc.), you will remember Lydia. Of course I got distracted by Lydia's mother because of, well, Ms. Rodding's Miles Davis records and the fact that Ms.Rodding (who was the first woman to explain to me the Ms. formulation, in great earnestness) was more like Ali McGraw, that is, a fully developed woman, than her daughter. I also got distracted by Lydia's best friend Sally. But it appeared to me then and it feels in my memory now that Lydia was more important to me than anybody else, at least with a certain degree of romantic equality.

But as we talked, usually in and around the expansive trees that populated the freaky free school - the one with the headmaster's van and other local color - we shared all that we had on our minds, especially our shared love for the movie Annie Hall, which was the only "adult" movie Lydia's mother allowed her to see. (Seeing R rated and G rated movie was a weekly event for me of course). People then as now love to fit our individualities into the fashion and framework of celebrity examples, and Lydia was always told that she looked like Diane Keaton (!) No similar comment was made as to my likeness with Woody Allen.

Such long talks over hours gives you an idea, not only of our lovely time together, but also of the absolutely irresponsible attitude of a school that would allow so many hours pass by with kids spent outside in the afternoon, with no clear classes, grades and other traditionally accepted parts of school life.

What I had not revealed before dear reader was that after many years apart, I suddenly got the idea to contact her. I had just spent my first year away at a boarding school and I was curious to see a childhood friend now that we were teenagers and I was in high school.

In life we often must look back in order so that we may understand the present. Partly in fidelity to this particular truth we must slightly leave the 1970s behind - alas and alack - and venture into....the 1980s, albeit a very early 80s that in many respects is not so far apart from the late 1970s.

I gathered the courage to contact Lydia, after more than five years. I had just finished a freshman year in high school and was prepared to go off to a dream of an institution called Interlochen Arts Academy, one of the very few schools I experienced that I can call with some justification decent, if not excellent. I was unable to drive and called up Lydia. Inexplicably and with some horror I realized that one of my own parents (I cannot and do not want to remember which) had called Lydia's mother to set things up. That is, I had not even had the opportunity to speak with her since we had both entered adolescence, or puberty, or whatever the experts are calling it these days. Somehow, I was told by my mother in her usual manner, which is to say like a female drill sargeant (or female PE coach), I was to be "dropped off" and left in the company of Lydia in one of those early 1980s vast shopping malls, meeting in the parking lot.

Nothing prepared me for the shock which was the sight of an adolescent Lydia. Everything about her was so radically changed, from hair, to clothing, to the excess of makeup and accesories, that I had to literally ask twice if it were her, if she indeed was Lydia. I do know I must have said Lydia several times to her for confirmation, to say nothing of validation.

I really don't know how to describe the change. I am not a great or even particularly good literary stylist. I do not do novels or short stories. I wish I could magically imbide some of the vapors of an Elkin, a Roth, or especially, given our subject, an Oates.

The Lydia I remember was a deeply hippie styled girl. She had wild curly brown hair and full lips and slight but pleasing curves and went about in bell bottomed dungarees and tie dyed or denim halter tops. That may have accounted for a lot of why I loved her. That form was all that I knew.

The new Lydia, you might say, was what was called a "valley girl". She was wearing so many shades of plum, teal, fuchsia and pink that my senses were overwhelmed. I felt as if I couldn't see her. She had this enormous skirt and these large hoop earrings, like a bargain basement version of Cyndi Lauper, you might say. For all I know she might have had incredible style for the time, but I was too shocked by the change to fully be in the moment and relate to the newer her.

It was a date of sorts. Indeed you might say that we saw a perfect date movie, if you believe in such categories, which I adamantly don't. The film was called Valley Girl.

As I recall I loved it but she didn't. This started a lifelong pattern of gender reversal where we would see these studio or even independent movies that were seen as aimed towards a female market or sensibility and it was always I who ended up liking the movies while my female date would hate it. Thus the fallacy of over generalizing and stereotyping.

We ate sushi which I had never had before, and for which I had little appetite and she did most of the talking, about things which seemed far removed from her childhood concerns. Instead of her stories or her flute she talked of New Wave pop music and how much more conservative she had become, at least more so than her out of date parents. And she had to mention her puzzlement at why our parents had set things up as they did. She made it clear in so many ways that she was engaging in an empty formality and, in her words "she was not the same girl" that I had known and with whom I had spent time",  above all making it clear that "I hadn't seemed to change at all".

I was consumed by philosophical thoughts the whole evening, even during the movie which was rather well written and acted. Thoughts like these: what is identity? How and why do people change? What is the nature of that change and is there a deep core that remains unchanged? I really wanted to know. These are questions that are still important to me.

The worst part of the date was its conclusion. As she walked me to her car. I reached over to kiss her something I had never done with her and had always wanted, perhaps because we had always seemed so young. And here I assumed that we could act more like, well, adults. Yet she pushed me away most fervently explaining that she didn't really feel about me the way that "everyone" knew that I did. She said she had to get back to do homework and listen to some music she felt I would just hate, something called Men At Work, or Haircut 100. I forget which.

My first kiss was not a kiss at all but a great risk, a mishap. How much better was the backstage smooching as a child, so primitive and polymorphous, and rooted not in traditional intimacy but bodily brute drive. Why there was even a group involved as it was group kissing with several girls. Conversely, this business of the couple seemed to me woefully overrated to me. I wondered what the fuss was all about for close to a year after that.

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