Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sweat Memories

Spring has now surrendered herself to summer’s sultry heat. As I stretch my loosening limbs and feel the sweat trickle, tickley, down my slick armpits, I get thrown, always, back through time's twisty tunnels: summers past rushing by, swirling their memories around me, tantalizing snippets.

Sense memories all, sticky, sweaty summers full of swelter and promise. One stands out, recently plucked from the memory box…

Summer of ’77. High school graduation; beginnings and endings, all rolled up into one.

Or maybe more like this: a constant tumbling head over heels of endings and beginnings, chasing each others tails, a blur of old and new and old and new; the wheel, spun again and again, the endless yin and yang of it, as I tried to make a 16 year-old's sense out of my life.

My parents loved me dearly, cherished me fiercely, but were often clueless. They didn't attend my high school graduation ceremony. I had been ambivalent about attending it myself, and by the time I decided to show up after all, they had made other plans; important plans.

Not nearly as callous as that seems, I'm sure they had asked me at least three times if I’d minded that they weren’t there.  And I'm sure I'd reassured them that it meant very little to me and I was OK. But I also know at some deeper level I was disappointed, feelings were hurt, a disconnect widened.

As a mother, I have learned to listen beneath, to the waves below the words; to discount, at times, the surface, the brave “I’m OK”s from little boys who aren’t. My mother never did, needing reassurance more than truth. Pity.

At sixteen, I was so very young and clueless, though I'd thought myself sophisticated, a worldly woman. I was sorting through so many things in my mind, and developing just about zero practical skills for negotiating an adult life in the actual world.

Navels were for gazing, and I did, how I did.

New York City (suburbs). 1977.

It was the summer of Sam; and Star Wars.

I remember waiting hours for tickets on opening week, the first time I had ever done that, with my last high school boyfriend, Ben. Sitting on the roof of his Black 1963 American Rambler in the parking lot of the Huntington Mall cinema, we were trying to catch a slim breeze as we waited for day to wheel into night and the movie's magic lantern to begin.

I have since seen that film dozens of times, but will always remember my first, seen with a last. Beginnings and endings tumbled together, wearing each other smooth like the rocks in the rushing river we camped beside, on the sweet and wondrous weekend road trip we took together that summer.

That summer of last high school boyfriend, while I was also quietly falling in love, unrequited, with girls right and left; my head and my heart in a tug of war (along with some select other parts).

I did not even have my plans solidified for the fall, having missed the drop-dead dates for completing college applications, my parents once again useless here, being "no pressure" individualist hippie types, never realizing that a sixteen year-old girl might need a little guidance, a little pressure to make things happen, barely knowing her own mind, leaf-tumbling through life, lucky beyond all knowing that life never tossed evil into her hapless path.

And the soundtrack to all this mayhem? Somewhere between Patti Smith’s Horses album on my stereo, Springsteen’s Born to Run blasting out of a jukebox, John Prine being strummed on my boyfriend's guitar and Abba’s Dancing Queen wafting in from a somewhere distant radio.

If the smell of being thirteen was Coppertone? The smell of sixteen turning seventeen for me was sweat; the intoxicating scent of fresh sweat, honestly earned.

And the salt taste of it, the startlingly metallic and musky tang of it, on my hungry, awakening, clueless tongue.

P.S. If you want to see me on the day of my High School Graduation? Go here: I Was a Senior Feminist-Hippie-Hottie  

This post was inspired by a prompt at The Red Dress Club. This week's RemembeRED assignment was to write a post about Graduation. 

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