A while ago, during a series of lovelinks roundups, a group of writers started thinking about high school. Some of us with horror, some of us with actual fondness (amazing but, apparently, not everyone was miserable in high school) …and that led to the wonderful Stasha offering up her Monday listicle for high school lists. You see that jazzy button down there? It’s Babes in the Bleachers…think Rizzo and Sandy and Greased Lightning…or, in my case, foofy hair, bad sweaters, and clothes made exclusively of polyester.
I’m writing this post from Jaipur, however, which has the effect of making high school seem even further away–and more surreal–than it usually does. Every cliche you’ve ever heard about India–the crowds, the colors, the filth, the poverty, the beauty, the grace–they’re all true. Here’s just one snippet: today as we made our way to Johari Bazaar down a street crowded with tourist buses, commuter buses, bicycle rickshaws, motor-bikes, and tuk-tuks, we saw heading towards us a mahout on an elephant, whose forehead was painted with pink and yellow swirls.
This picture, which is the only thing I could find digitized on my computer, is me, on the occasion of my senior prom. Please note that my hair looks like a solid rectangle around my head. What you can’t see is the amount of hairspray needed to maintain that cube and my attempts to create a Farrah-curl down one side. My hairspray usage meant that I really shouldn’t be around open flames, but alas, I was a heavy smoker. It’s a miracle that I didn’t immolate myself, ala an Indian widow.
So. With India in my head and the scent of jasmine in the air, I’m taking advantage of my high-tech wifi at this lovely hotel in Jaipur and writing about high school.
1. High school was, for me, about hair. Good hair: you got in with the “cool” crowd. Bad hair? You were watching “Fantasy Island” at home with your parents on Friday night. In fact, I spent most of high school worried about my hair. I have worn the same messy braid for a week and my hair has been washed…um…once? Maybe?
2. My prom outfit is a white spaghetti-strapped pantsuit with a little black bolero jacket. The pants are sort of balloony harem pants. The zipper on this charming ensemble will break approximately 45 minutes after we leave the house, necessitating an emergency stop to buy safety pins to hold the damn thing together. I will need an aide-de-camp in the bathroom any time I want to pee (the zipper is in the back of the pantsuit). There is not a natural fiber within ten feet of this little number, needless to say. Now I regularly carry a shawl to cover my head and/or shoulders, and because I’m also carrying an extra five (okay, ten) pounds, the thought of a jumpsuit fills me with dread.
3. “Getting ready” in high school, whether for prom or a regular school day meant mascara and blush and lipliner and lipgloss and eyeliner and eyeshadow. Now if it’s a Big Night Out, I put on mascara. If I can find it.
4. What you don’t see in this picture is my prom date: the boy I adored, who is sporting a picture-perfect mullet. The epitome of mullet. I loved that mullet.When I fell in love with Husband, he sported a glossy ponytail, a shorter version of that moment in the movie “The English Patient” when Juliette Binoche sees the Sikh take off his turban and toss back his hair. Yeah. Like that (but Husband doesn’t wear a turban). He just had the anti-mullet.
5. Another thing you don’t see in this picture? How much pot I was smoking to fill up the hollowness I felt inside. Later (much later) I learned we might call this “self-medication,” but at the time I just thought I was being totally cool and independent. Now? I blog (and I spent most of my thirties in therapy).
6. Under all this hair is a girl who wanted to be a writer and who wrote poetry about everything, but didn’t tell anyone how serious she was about her love with words. Then I went to graduate school and got the creative shit kicked out of me for the better part of a decade (the same decade I spent in therapy…which I’m sure is just a total coincidence). All those words started to seep back in once graduate school became a distant memory.
7. I dreamed about traveling the world beyond the edges of my rust-belt Midwestern town. Did I mention I’m in India? And that I’m living this year in Abu Dhabi. Good dreaming, girl, good dreams!
8. At the moment this picture was taken, I was sure my parents were Ruining My Life. That they had, in fact RUINED my life with their insistence that I come home on prom night, that I apply to college, that I suffer the consequences when I skipped class or came home drunk. TOTALLY unreasonable, right? Now my mother is one of my best friends and I’ve made my peace with my dad (see above, re: therapy).
9. Was sure that no one had misery like mine. Just watched a man bathe himself while he squatted in his “camp” — on a traffic island in the middle of Delhi.
10. Thought my four inch Sbicca jute-wrapped wedgie slides were too cool for words, especially when worn with my skinny “nothing comes between me and my Calvin’s” Calvin Klein jeans. Now? Well, this one is a little more complicated because those shoes were WICKED cool and I wish to god they’d surface in some storage box somewhere. But those jeans? Long, long gone. And good riddance, too. My dad once said, of those pants, “your butt looks like two cats fighting in a sack.” Which, while perhaps accurate, is not what a teen-age girl wants to hear as she sashays off to school of a Monday morning.
11. The girl in this picture kept herself silent, or tried to, because she thought she lived in a world where “pretty” and “smart” were mutually exclusive categories. It’s when I think about high school that I am grateful I don’t have daughters (an absence that usually makes me wistful) because I think the world of adolescent girls hasn’t changed that much, unfortunately; I think girls still get the message that it’s brains or body, not both. One of my most important goals, as a mother, is to raise sons who (if they’re interested in girls) look for the brains under the hair.