Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In which I visit my sixteen year old self

I see her there, sitting in the car, looking at the sky. She is sixteen, hair forced in a dozen directions, left ear lobe studded with silver, looking sulky. Really, she just has that kind of resting face. Among other things, she inherited her grandmother's jowls and sometimes they can weigh a face down. 

The tape in the cassette deck plays The Church. M gave her that tape. He made it for her during their very brief going out experience. She never understood why he liked her but he made her mix tapes from his monstrous CD collection and she kept those tapes infinitely longer than their fling ever lasted. He wasn't the only one that made her mix tapes. She had a box full of them, all crafted by boys who had liked her. The tapes were still there. The boys were not. Music has a tendency to do that. Last.

She gets out of the powder blue station wagon, the car she learned to drive in, the one that she could parallel park like a boss. Her mom taught her how to do that fifteen minutes before the driving test and, to this day, it is the one driving skill at which she truly excels. She's proud of that. She should be embarrassed to drive this family truckster around but she isn't. It's her family's car, their only car, and she is thrilled at the moments of freedom it buys her. Driving that car, windows down, music playing...she is catapulted forward in time. She feels wizened. Mature. In control.

She won't smoke inside the car, though. She doesn't want to risk getting found out. But even more, she fears the disappoint it would bring if her parents ever found out. She doesn't want them to think she was one of those kind of girls. The ones that spend the five minutes between classes in the school courtyard with all of the other burnouts. No. She wasn't like that at all. She wasn't a real smoker. She only smoked in secret. Or when walking around The Central West End. Or at Denny's. Until her neighbor happened to come in and see her. She always hoped that maybe he didn't recognize her. And she really hoped, more than anything, that he didn't tell her parents about it.

She pulls out a Camel Light and her Bic lighter. They are hidden in that zippered pocket in purses that are made to conceal feminine products. She keeps cigarettes and a lighter alongside her tampons. Her mom would never look there, right? 

She never meant to actually like smoking, it kind of just happened, and her favorite part is the smell of a cigarette when it is first lit. This smoking alone makes her feel older, too. She is very deliberate in the way she inhales and exhales and it becomes a calming ritual, a breathing in and out. I want to tap her on the shoulder and remind her that she is smoking, not doing asanas. 

As she inhales she thinks back to the days when she dated W. He smoked Marlboro Lights, like his mother, and so they shared packs of cigarettes. The freedom with which he lit up in his bedroom always felt both exhilarating and monstrous. Did his mom know what else they were doing behind that closed door? Did she care? How could she not care? That removed distance between mother and son never ever sat right with her. And even though there were a dozen other girls with spiked hair and trench coats and Doc Martens in the world, the fact that the bad boy with a mohawk and tattoo picked her never ceased to amaze and frighten her. It caused her to make decisions before she really knew what she was getting herself into. It meant that she sometimes confused who she was with who she really wanted to be. And it ultimately meant that she would break it off with the bad boy who somehow managed to make her feel beautiful and cheap, all in the same kiss.

I wonder if I would like hanging out with her. Would she afford me the same grace she seems to grant absolutely everyone else? She's incredibly open to everyone. Too much, sometimes. She reveals her vulnerability and transparency in ways that make people feel understood, which is admirable. She is a good friend.

But she has also been capricious. At one too many parties she has marinated her tender spots with Boone's and there was one who saw her weakness, every time. Why did she always take his hand and walk into the darkness? Again and again, she knew what was behind that door, yet still, she followed. I wouldn't have much patience for that if I were to hang out with her today. I would tell her that she was made for so much more than following.

Would she be nice and polite because she didn't want to hurt my feelings but secretly wish that I would go away? Probably. I think she would know that I represent truths she's been burying beneath hair spray and a wardrobe of black. She would probably decide that she wasn't ready to talk to me yet. 

But if she would listen, I would tell her that she is already enough. Yes, she is a work in progress but who isn't? I would tell her that all of the things that tug at her soul, that move her, are good and beautiful and worthy of being loved and that if she embraces that she will find that she is weaving beauty right round her. That we are all the sum of our parts, not defined by one or two events or decisions, but by a diligent stringing of day upon day. I would give her permission to redefine herself whenever she feels led because I know, now, that following your heart looks different depending on the day. The roots of one's heart plunge deep and its life source is not like quicksilver.

And I would tell her to not be afraid of what she thinks. She needs to know that her mind is a beautiful place and that it doesn't matter if everything isn't all sorted out first. It's okay to be figuring it out as you go. Being all things to all people doesn't guarantee squat. She just needs to be.

Oh, and I would tell her she needs to start writing. Now.

And, oh yeah, she needs to stop smoking. Yesterday.

Yes, I think I would like hanging out with her. 


  1. Holly, this post is like stepping into a memoir, one I want to read. I clicked on you to find you are only about two hours from me. Sometimes, it feels like the blog world is so far away. This summer I met Emily W in Branson, and almost got to meet Kelli Woodford, and now I find out you are in Jefferson City. My world is shrinking just a bit. Blessings to you today.

  2. We would have totally been friends, Holly. I would have met you in that five-minute-break between classes, lighting up at the corner where the wind is cut by the side of the school building, or maybe we would've parked next to each other, your powder blue station wagon alongside my pickle-green subaru (where i knew the back seat better than the front, ahem).
    And the boyfriends. And the music. And the Denny's -- oh, yes. we would definitely have become friends sooner, had our paths crossed over a grand slam breakfast. ;)
    i think i love you even more now. (if that's possible.)

  3. well, i know for sure that i would like her. and i would want to be friends with her. i could have read a whole book of this kind of writing. beautifully done dear friend!

  4. Oh, Holly. Woman, this. is. so. good. I love reading your writing. I, too, could devour a whole book of this girl and grown-up you and all the ways they meet. Maybe -- besides sparks of recognition -- that's what I loved most here. It almost hurts how much I treasure this God-touched mingling of the two of you: I would tell her that all of the things that tug at her soul, that move her, are good and beautiful and worthy of being loved and that if she embraces that she will find that she is weaving beauty right round her.

  5. Holly this side of your writing self is so beautifully woven. I love the way you story tell the truth and how you gently and honestly let her speak through you. This has got to be a great way of walking back and picking up pieces of a life. You shine with memoir as you shine with poetry. Love that you took this one, friend. And what a radiant way you tell of the days of your life then from your perspective now. Love to you.

  6. Wow, what an interesting adolescence you had. I was so, so boring. SUCH a 'good girl.' If I were not getting ready to be gone for a week, I'd probably try to carve out the time to write this one - I loved the prompt. But man, it would be b o r i n g. :>)

  7. Beautiful and touching....I remember that girl and yes she wasa good soul and friend to all thanks for taking me back in time :)

  8. Ashley, so very glad to "meet" you here. Where do you live? I am constantly amazed at how something as huge as the internet can actually bring people closer together. I love how this medium can be used to build community, despite distance. And I'm grateful for your kind words, here. This was a new venture for me, contemplating my younger self, but it was good to stretch my perspective and see what I could gain in the experience. Thank you, again, for visiting me in this space.

  9. Oh my dear Kelli, thank you for this. The picture you've painted is so palpable and it is almost enticing enough to make me want to go back, even if just for a day, join hands with our 16 yr old selves and walk confidently in the way of our dreams. And the fact that you "get me" well, it makes me love you even more, too.

  10. Emily, thank you so much for this prompt. It was such a grand exercise for me and one that has definitely stirred me in places deep.

  11. Ashley,
    I love how you described this: "the God-touched mingling of the two" That is such a perfect description of what I experienced in the writing of this and the one that brings such insight into the ways in which we grow and change over time. Hindsight can be such a powerful tool but I also love how it can spur us to turn around and look forward, hoping for better and deeper and richer experiences.
    I love your voice here, your presence, YOU. Thank you for all the ways that you speak into my life. You are a gift, my friend.

  12. Yes, picking up pieces...that is exactly it. Such a strange yet poignant exercise in self examination. And how true that God is in the details, always. Thank you for all the ways you love me.

  13. Boring? Are you kidding me? One doesn't have to be daring and rebellious to be interesting my friend. I would love to learn what was going on inside of that mind of yours. I am convinced that, even at sixteen, great insight and vision were swirling among the typical concerns of an adolescent girl and that, my friend, is something I would most definitely be interested in reading. Love you, at all your ages!

  14. Stephanie Lynn StevensFebruary 8, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    So poignant and beautiful!

  15. Thank you so much for reading.

  16. I wore black, spiked my hair, and smoked in secret. Can our 16 year old selves be friends? :-)

  17. Holly, I am in Buffalo, MO which is near Springfield. I think sometimes I feel like all these amazing people are "out there." And so it's somewhat surprising to find people so near. :)