Thursday, August 07, 2008
My steps are slow, agonizing and, I am certain, painful to watch. I call it running but I am not sure any serious runner would. I take the same route I always take, plodding along determinedly, not breaking any records, yet internally applauding myself for getting out there and just doing it, as the saying goes. This daily trek takes me down the streets of my neighborhood, winding past familiar places and houses, sweating and huffing my way down streets I once walked as a young girl. As I run it occurs to me that I have not come very far in life. No big city of New York as I once dreamed. No fascinating stories of world travel. Just this place, these streets, these same houses I used to visit in elementary and middle school.
When I was a kid, my best friend Stacy lived in the neighborhood we now live in. Life never fails to surprise me in the way it loops in on itself, continually causing us to revisit the things we think we have left behind. Back in the day I spent many a weekend with Stacy because she had a pool in her backyard. And cute boys lived in her neighborhood. We would lounge by her pool by day, flipping through teen magazines for entertainment. In the evenings, we would roam the neighborhood looking for boys to practice flirting with.
Because we came of age in the greatest decade of music ever (IMHO), there was always a soundtrack playing. We listened to Duran Duran and picked which band member we thought was the cutest. We mused over Boy George's sexual orientation. We discussed which songs were the best to get asked to dance to according to which were the longest. (Answer: "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler, running time, 5:30) We practiced curling our lip like Billy Idol. We belted out the lyrics to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," and watched the video countless times on MTV, cheering with all the screaming girls over the boys from England jumping around in short shorts.
As I run past these houses, I remember. I remember big dreams, good friends, and the last hours of my childhood melting away. In this neighborhood I morphed from child to teen, from girl to young woman. In the front yard of the little brown house across the street from Stacy's I received my first kiss from a boy named Tim. I couldn't have known it then, but that kiss launched me into a whole new world. After that everything changed. Suddenly Tim, and then a succession of other boys, mattered more than anything. Finding and keeping a boyfriend became top priority. Later, Stacy and I stopped being friends over a boy named Kevin. I stopped spending my weekends with her. We stopped giggling, singing songs, and sharing secrets.
And now, as life would have it, my run takes me by Stacy's house every day, the memories swarming as I go by. Stacy still lives there and sometimes we pass each other on the street. We look the other way, pretending we don't know each other. Because really, we don't. She is single and living at home with her parents. I live around the corner with my husband and six children. Our lives no longer intersect and for some inexplicable reason, that makes me sad. I wish I could talk to her, to tell her how silly it was to make the wrong things our focus, to trade our friendship for the pursuit of boys who will never give us what we thought they would.
It took me more than twenty years to learn that.
One time, I see her pulling out of her driveway and flag her down. She stops and rolls down her window out of obligation. We talk briefly about our lives-- me about my kids, her about her plans for culinary school. I smile and say good for her. She smiles and says good for me. She drives away and I run the rest of my route, each of us going about our grown-up lives. Neither of our lives turned out quite the way we thought they would on those warm summer evenings long ago. We believed back then that happiness could be found "out there" somewhere. We thought we needed to find that certain someone who would hand it to us, like a gift. That we would be awakened to it with that first kiss. When really we already held it in the palms of our hands, as fragile as blown glass, as momentary as a dandelion seed aloft on the wind.
As I run these familiar streets towards home, it occurs to me that I may not have come far in location but I have come far. I see what's important now. I see the need for respect and grace and mercy. I see that good friends are irreplaceable. I see that who I am is less about people to validate me and more about the choices I make. I know that it wasn't that first kiss that defined me, no matter how much I hoped it would back then. As my house slips into view, I strain to get home to who I am now and who I am, always, becoming. Happiness waits for me there, less than a mile from where I first began my search, looking much different than what I imagined.
Yet oh so much better.
* This post was written as an entry for Scribbit's Write Away August contest.