BEGGING FOR ANSWERS

I came of age in the era
of argyle socks
and plaid shirts
stolen from your father’s closet.

We stopped before school
to fill Super Big Gulp cups
with frothy Orange Bang!
which we kept in our lockers all day.

We didn’t realize
that MTV would soon cease
to be music television
and would peddle us “Jersey Shore”.

There was no comprehension
of intrawebs and internets,
and the smart phones
our children gobble up like Candy Crush.

I think about the pivotal moment
when he filled three pages of my yearbook
with a break-up message
that I didn’t fully comprehend until age 38.

I sometimes remember
the way he smelled like Play-Doh
and combed his hands
through my wet hair.

Then I wander to the artist
with the wire-framed glasses
who tasted like Budweiser
and smelled like paint thinner.

They tell us not to look back,
but they also say if you don’t examine the past
you’re doomed to repeat it.
So which is it, huh?

THE INNOCENCE OF BEING OBLIVIOUS

The summer the Idaho potato fields
lay spread out before us
and the world was ours for the taking,
we met the tall one in the mall parking lot.
There were no smart phones or Google maps.
We didn’t even have a paper map.
Talking Heads was on the radio
and it was the summer before our senior year.
I should have had sights set on the dark-headed boy,
with the slight lisp and sincere eyes.
Instead, my focus was
the broken-hearted, harder to crack veneer.
He’d been my mission since day one.
We spent inordinate amounts of time
in his basement that trip:
listening to music,
making each other laugh,
cuddling on his water bed.
We didn’t know where his parents were,
and we didn’t ask.
Even though it was innocuous,
it felt like we were pushing boundaries.
Doing something daring.

We went ice blocking down Simplot hill,
a vast swath of property in the midst of Boise
with a mansion perched atop.
A city conquered.
Security must have been lax,
because the more we slid down the hill
with our hair flying behind us,
and the more trees we climbed,
the freer we felt.
No sign of a reprimand.

The river flowed around us seamlessly.
Our inner-tubes bobbed along,
like Halloween party apples in a bucket.
But there was an unspoken surface tension,
that I mistook as the thrill of being on the river.
Your first kiss
should have been with someone better,
someone who didn’t claim to be “rebounding.”
Knowing the situation now,
the pictures speak volumes.
I often think about the innocence
of being oblivious
and frequently wish that was
a more recurrent state of mine.

POLK AVENUE, 1992

The summer after we moved into the red house on Polk Avenue with the weepingest weeping willow tree, I took over lawn mowing duties from my father. Being the eldest, I slipped right in to the feeling that yard work should somehow be my responsibility. I’ve always had a fear of anything with a whirring blade (table saw, garbage disposal, lawn mower). I knew a kid once who accidentally lost two of his toes, but isn’t that what one deserves for mowing the lawn while barefoot? Despite that underlying, nagging fear; I felt a sense of calm in making perfect paths of clipped grass. If my father was upset that I mangled two sprinkler heads during that time period, he never mentioned it directly to me, but likely muttered heavily about it under his breath.

We had an above-ground pool in the backyard at the house with maroon siding. Our excitement was palpable at the time, though I’m certain now my sister would call this type of backyard adornment “white trash”. Anytime the water temperature was above 68 degrees, which was indicative by a tiny thermometer, my sisters and I warranted it worthy of a swim. I would skim off the water skeeters and the leaves fallen from the nearby tree and once we were in suits and had our fluffy towels, we played games and did somersaults into the shallow depth. We swam almost daily during the summer of 1992.

I sometimes secretly (or not so secretly) miss the days when my friends and I would go to the video rental store and browse the shelves. We would wander the aisles looking at new releases and cult classics. It often took hours to find a movie that wasn’t “all rented out” AND all of us wanted to watch. My friends had certain fall-back movies they always deemed worthy of renting; one of those titles was “Groundhog Day”. I love Bill Murray, but never cared for Andie McDowell. Something about her acting struck me as disingenuous. I can’t imagine waking up to the same day every day. That movie still gives me anxiety.

My freshman year coincided with a centennial celebration for the high school. While the castle-like, art-deco building had only been around for fifty years, the high school itself had existed for ten decades. The innocence of that year — of painting the football field for homecoming, of having a street named after the school, of spending late nights watching “Saturday Night Live”, of having a new crush almost every month — produces in me a sense of happiness and longing for the days of yesteryear.

LIKE IT REALLY EVEN MATTERS

Recalling the time
You called me a dyke
As if that were
The worst thing to be like.
Sticks and stones
And broken bones,
I never wanted to see
You down on your knees,
Begging pretty please
Or forgiveness nonetheless.
Of course you were Mormon,
Sling arrows, then turn and run,
Light switch is off
Everything’s better thrown with a scoff.
Wanna-be punk —
But truly straight-edge junk,
Playing guitars in the attic
Never pragmatic.
You were upset we didn’t bring
The Polish exchange student queen.
She was foreign enough
not to be your fool,
Time to wipe the drool
Then lose your cool.
Direct it at me
Let the words fly,
Set them free.
I can take it.
And I did.
You’re nothing but an immature kid.
Draw your cartoons,
Play distorted tunes.
I will write this poem
And remind you, he who is without sin
Let him cast the first stone.

TEENAGER DROWNING

One of the worst things to happen to me as a teenager was the two weeks of the swim unit in gym class. That statement makes me sound like a huge baby, like I didn’t have any “real problems” as a teen, which isn’t true. But read on, and you’ll gain a better understanding of my plight.

As a youth, I was athletic. I wasn’t a star athlete in any sport, but I was capable at pretty much every sport I tried. Not only that, but I was extremely competitive and was coach-able. I could easily run a mile in less than eight minutes. Bouncing a tennis ball on a racket 200 times in a row was a cinch. My dad taught me well how to throw a softball and I did NOT “throw like a girl.” When I was in middle school, nearly everyone played basketball in the gym during lunch hour. Shooting three-pointers was my favorite thing in the world, and I was better at it than almost anyone. During my sophomore year, I trained and traveled to play games with a Junior Olympic volleyball team. Nearly every sport felt natural to me. However; when it came to swimming, not only was I terrible at it, but I also had a fear of deep water.

Gym class was in the mornings, so you had to schlep from the main building over to the pool with your swim gear in tow, plus everything required to get ready for the day. Fortunately for me, I was not the type of girl who wore a lot of makeup or had to blow my hair dry. I’m pretty sure the girls who did were late to their next class every day that we had swimming. I grew up in a conservative environment. Even people of the same gender didn’t whip off their clothes in front of each other in the locker rooms. “We’re all girls here, so it doesn’t matter,” was not an oft uttered phrase. This made stripping naked and putting on a swim suit an especially tricky task. You either had to try and hold up a towel for a make-shift dressing room (awkward) while you changed or you had to wait for one of the four bathroom stalls to become available so you could change in private. Is there anything worse than the wet, hair strewn floors of a swimming pool locker room? Not much comes to mind. At this pool, the women’s locker room was at the front of the building and the men’s locker room was at the back opposite corner. Every day, no matter how quickly we tried to change, the boys would already be waiting in the pool as we left the locker room. I remember the creepy silence of teenage boys ogling us as we made our way to the practice pool. Some of them could have used tissues to wipe the drool from their mouths. It was like they had never seen 15-year-old girls in swimsuits in their short lives. I do not get embarrassed easily, but this may have been a time when I felt my cheeks turn red as those boys’ eyes bored holes into us.

Our gym teacher was a football coach first and foremost. Teaching wasn’t particularly his forte. He was more machine than man. If I would have known back then what ‘roid rage was, I would have used it to describe him. You never knew what was going to set him off. He had a curly, short mullet and whenever we were in the weight room and he would get upset, you’d see a purple vein in his forehead pulsate as if it were trying to break free from under the skin. There were several times when people witnessed him hurling chairs (ala Bobby Knight). Once in class when a kid wasn’t paying attention to the instruction being given, the coach hurled a basketball at his head — going the speed of approximately 90 miles-per-hour. That kid shut up quickly and probably still has brain damage to this day.

During our swim weeks, I’m fairly certain the coach’s intent was to see one of us drown. He never got in the pool with us, and instead attempted to teach us how to do the strokes from his perch above near the bleachers. I still remember him standing there looking like a flamingo as he attempted to extol upon us the proper way to scissor kick. After we’d semi-learned the strokes, we then had to swim some laps. None of us had goggles or swim caps, so my long hair was always plastered across my eyes and getting into my mouth and making me gag. I can’t remember which day of the week it was, because it all blurs together, but the coach gathered everyone in the four-foot deep section of the pool. This was to be our lesson in water safety, undertows and what-have-you. Total, there were probably 75 of us and he made us jog in a circle. He did this in order to simulate a whirlpool. If you were about to be sucked into the vortex and attempted to grab the wall on the side, he would smack your hand away with a pole. Had I known what was to come later, I would have prayed to have died in our simulated undertow that day. For the next section of the course was diving.

I’d never been taught proper diving technique. I wasn’t a swimmer after all, so where on earth would I have learned how to dive? Swimming pools in the area of town where I lived were few and far between. I’d taken swim lessons, but not since I was about 11. We were expected to individually perform a dive and the coach then gave us a grade. He’d made it perfectly clear that you needed to have proper form. If you went to the edge of the diving board and did a cannonball or just jumped in, you’d get an “F”. The thought of getting an “F” terrified me even more than the thought of performing a dive. Everyone in the class sat and watched as each person made their way to the end of the diving board and performed their fete. If I ever end up in Hell, that’s what it will feel like. It will feel like this particular day in gym class when I was a nervous 15-year-old girl in a swimsuit, being forced to dive with 75 pairs of eyes watching me, including perverted teenage boys. As I made my way to the edge of the board, I recall taking a deep breath in and forming a triangle over my head with my hands. I tried to jump, get my toes to point up over my head, but all I managed to do was a huge belly flop. As I surfaced, I heard the collective snickers of classmates. The coach’s face looked like he was smelling something terrible as he wrote my grade down on his clipboard.

At the end of this punishing two weeks, we had to tread water for 30 minutes. I’ve never been more nervous in my life than I was that day. Somehow though, it ended up being the best part of the entire class. I kept my head up for the first five minutes or so and chatted with my friends. After that, I tipped my head back and imagined a pillow, while my arms and legs continued their circular motions. It was quiet under the water. Peaceful even. When I surfaced again, the 30 minutes was over, and it was time to dry off and head to my next class, and I lived to tell the tale.

REUNION PLANNER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Social media is the bane of my existence these days. Along with two other high school class officers, I’m in the process of planning my 20-year reunion. Back in 2005 when we planned our 10-year reunion, social media wasn’t really on the scene yet. We had a couple conference calls with the three of us, decided on a venue, hired an on-site catering company and put together some name badges. A few people used PayPal to purchase their tickets, but most people sent checks (remember those?) via snail mail. We called a lot of last known phone numbers and emailed even more last known email addresses. We tried our best to use the classmates.com website to track people down. We didn’t do too many surveys or ask for too many opinions. We didn’t have much of a forum for such things. We were in charge. We planned the event. Mainly word of mouth gave people knowledge of it. We held the reunion. People seemed happy with it. They moved on with their lives.

For having grown up in a red state, in a predominantly Mormon environment, I think of myself as a pretty open-minded, liberal person. I support gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose. But having to hear the opinions and (often) verbal diarrhea on Facebook of so many former classmates about each and every minute detail of what we have planned for this reunion has been exhausting. I sometimes want to ask people’s opinions, but then I want them to shut up rather spewing them at me or at the very least, give useful input rather than stating the obvious. I realize this is probably too much to ask. We’ve had some comments such as: “I wasn’t planning on coming to the reunion anyway, but here are all the negative things I’m going to tell you about what I don’t like about what you have planned….” You know what? Put a cork in it. Part of the issue may be that I don’t care a lot about what other people think, and some of these people I don’t know very well (and don’t want to) so I find it even more difficult to put their opinions into perspective, and to have a like-mindedness about their commentary. The other thing I wonder is why people care so much. I want to scream, “There are starving children in Africa (AND AMERICA) why do you care so much about whether or not your spouse is invited to the evening event?” People need to learn to focus their energies on things that actually have bearing. When we ask for helpful assistance such as photos for the slideshow, we have three people, out of our 270 classmates, respond. When we don’t ask for opinions or guidance, we get frequently negative, unsolicited spewings by the dozen.

That said, it’s a good thing I’m the only person on the planning committee who gets fired up about anything. I’m not offended by people’s words, disrespect, or ignorance of the planning process; it teeters far more toward…annoyance. I’m always trying to understand why people think the way they do and why so many people fail to be logical. I haven’t learned yet that I should give up, because it’s something I will never “get”. When my daughter is in school and has her various afterschool activities, I have time to watch a stupid TV show in the afternoon. My stupid TV show of choice is “Dr. Phil”. (Try not to judge.) I watch the show with the primary purpose of trying to figure out these people who come on as guests with their wide arrays of issues. (Side note: How does anyone fall for “catfish” scams? It’s unbelievable!) Most people would say they watch those types of programs to feel better about their non-screwed-up lives. That is not why I watch. I watch because I genuinely want to understand people’s behavior. I’ve known my ex-husband for nearly 20 years, and I’m still baffled by nearly everything he says, does, doesn’t do and says he’s going to do. I keep saying I’m going to stop trying to understand, but I don’t think that’s a quest that will ever cease.

The other two class officers involved in our planning talk me off a ledge at least once a week. I’ve threatened several times to fly or drive up to Utah and throat punch some individuals. It’s an action I still may follow through on. I’ve already established that I don’t plan to plan the next reunion. By then, I’ll be almost 50 years old. If I’m unable to tolerate the annoyance of Facebook and I don’t have patience presently for random opinions/rantings, imagine how much of a curmudgeon I’ll be in ten more years. Ultimately, I suppose I’m still trying to figure myself out too. Why did I put myself through this process? There are some people I’m interested in catching up with, but a great majority of people I wouldn’t give two shits if I never saw them again. Perhaps morbid curiosity about how people “turned out” has something to do with it. There are a couple of things I’ve learned: 1. I’ll be quite glad when it’s over. 2. I’m taking an extended hiatus from social media when it is.