Monday, August 11, 2014

Being a Young Woman During the Time of My Life

my favorite of our old Olympia houses.  I like to see it through the eyes of Google Maps.  It's that little gray thing hiding behind trees with a billboard on its lawn.

When I was 18 through 22, I lived in Olympia, Washington.  I’d moved there ostensibly to attend The Evergreen State College, but my true reason was the town itself, which was the starting place and still-center for the punk community I’d read so much about since my early teens.  I only applied to one other college, which was prestigious and at which I was accepted.  With  Evergreen State College, I bombarded them with several fine points and essays in my application, and received an early notice of acceptance as well as a full-tuition freshman year scholarship, which I won based on my work on the zines I’d written throughout Junior High and High school, and my extracurricular activity of being in a punk band that played in a few L.A. venues. 

There are so many stories that I want to tell someday -- about depression in college, some of them--  also about a major heartbreak that, when it turned into more of a sentimental friendship, involved so many little scenes of bitter sweetly crossed wires and unexpected, genuine rewards of loyalty and alliance in return for my years of pining.  I want to explain as completely as possible the depth and wildness of my most important female friendships, and just being, FEELING, so young, so wild and free.

But the memories I keep having of those four years, instances I hope to explain beautifully and loyal to the facts someday, are, importantly, instances of experiences so wholly unfamiliar to me, as a Los Angeles native – glimpses in many cases that I think would be considered mundane by others.  I remember some things that were just so identical to dream scenes, never things I could get used to or forget.  I remember a little house with a bright silver Airstream parked in their driveway – the lush lawn was dotted with children’s toys.  These items, covered in rain drops, were the kind of American family accouterments that I thought must be magical.

There was a burned down house I came upon one time with photo books among the rubble that hadn’t burned.  They were still full of pictures of the family who’d lived there.

One Fourth of July, I walked up and down a few of the streets in a neighborhood full of nuclear families, and feeling that the barbecues they were having would be a nice thing to know firsthand.  They had built-in friends and biographers in the family around them, and their lifelong friends (I imagined).  They looked normal.  Sometimes I want to be around a normal person, and in fact, sometimes I just want a normal person to take me completely in hand, to feed me something healthy and demand I go on a walk and that I stop moping.  The dependable-seeming mothers at these barbecues – it would have been nice to be able to spend a night in a guest room in one of these houses, with the guarantee of coffee and a functional shower the next morning.

I loved the garage sales there, especially the ones that elderly people gave.  The old women had costume jewelry and coats, and the men often had a box of belts and belt buckles that’d become tongue-in-cheek riding on our hips, NRA belt buckles, or a cast iron likeness of a bald eagle, or a hawk.

There was a garage sale we went to in a beautiful part of town, and it turned about that there was a bear roaming the streets.  Nobody ran for cover but I think we all turned just turned our backs and wished it away.

In the winter, around Christmas, there was nothing more bittersweet (I already KNEW, as I engaged in these vignettes) than walking around an unfamiliar neighborhood, taking a break from a party at someone’s house I didn't know well, to walk around looking at Christmas lights in freezing weather.

This that I’m describing now is a particular night in my sophomore year, a particularly huge party in an unfamiliar neighborhood.  I’d had to coax my short-lived boyfriend to go on this walk for me.  I said the type of whimsical thing I used to be known for, something like “oh it’s so beautiful, I feel like I’m in heaven.  I wish I could fly,” or something like that.  He wasn't receptive to such a line of bullshit.  Supposedly he’d told people he thought I looked like an European model, but he never showed real interest in me.  I remember one time when he was asleep in bed I wrote a poem that I later turned in to song lyrics with my band The Tantrums.  He always slept like a baby and I always stayed up all night, sometimes whispering a non-denominational and hopeless prayer, like “Oh please let him seriously start liking me.”  Fuck, that bedroom, that temple of selfishness, no room in the bed, no space heater, no food anywhere. 
These were the lyrics:  Sometimes I want not to eat but my stomach is so bare/It is a place all dead with magic/you have been in there – is it fair?!  Is it fair?!”

Anyway there were boys.  There was inebriation.  But there were one-person adventures.  It was an adventure to walk down to the gas station convenience store in the middle of the dark freezing night for a pack of smokes.  It was a solitary adventure to walk on a side street and notice a tiny little babbling brook  that nobody else said they knew about.  It was an adventure to walk across the street from our should-have-been-condemned $650 monthly house to the graveyard with the radio tower in the distance. It was an adventure, and a most wonderful and flattering thing to walk around and run into people I knew.  But I was a cutter and, in many other ways, a dime a dozen.  These boys needed their time away from us girls to practice their Pete Seeger cover bands and their Peter Pan shrugs.  We used our time for beautiful creations as well but allowed too many visits during these fits of epiphany.

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