Saturday, September 01, 2007

seventeen

My youngest brother, the Mississippi farmer, writes to me asking if I have a potion to restore him to his 17 year old self. It's a wistful response to a more serious note I'd sent him about my partner's health, and the healing measures I am taking.

Made me think--would I even wish to be restored to my 17 year old self?

Sometimes, as I look back over the scraps of my life, I hardly recognize the person I was at a given time. If I were to meet my 17 year old self along the road...would I know her? Well, probably, and I'd probably smile, but it has been a long, long journey.

I lived with a view of palm trees when I was 17, in a beach town. I walked the beach a great deal, when I could, sneaking out of my house in the middle of the night, foolish and fearless.

When I was 17 I walked barefoot and sang in the rain and wrote letters in code to my boyfriend. We met while cast in the school play as husband and wife--a husband and wife struggling with their relationship; my character was icy and scornful and the script called for me to smoke cigarettes with nervous disdain. Alas, the cigarettes were written out, but the disdain kept in. By the play's end my character melted and fell in love with her husband yet again. Kiss and curtain.

We had a lot of rehearsals. He counted his lines--he had a lot more than I did. He noticed that I usually carried books of poetry with me to read on the bus or between classes and asked if I also wrote poetry, and if I did, could he read some? I think I gave him a sheaf of 50 poems--oh, I was prolific in my youth, and didn't revise much; the stream of poetry gushed forth onto my careful typed pages at three or four bad poems an evening.

He returned the sheaf to me with corrections.

Nonetheless I fell in love, and he wrote poems to my eyes, my lips, my hair, my hips, and so on.

We were such innocents, the two of us, happily exploring lust and connections, constantly getting into trouble for our blatant display of public affection, and causing both our sets of parents much concern, since he was Jewish and I was not, and both sides were doubtful of the wisdom of this alliance.

But when I was 17, sweeping my long blonde hair out of my eyes, I wasn't worried about what anyone thought. Certainly my father and I had raging political arguments, and I got in trouble at my church for questioning doctrine and for teaching the little ones about the wonders of nature (somehow planting of mustard seeds led to accusations of sex ed for the 4 year olds). But the world was pretty shiny and bright, and I was very self absorbed.

When I was 17 I learned to bake, and planted a wild garden my father threatened to mow down. "Weeds, nothing but weeds". We had another argument.

When I look at photos from the period I see a barefoot, slender, and somewhat tense young girl staring at the camera. Opening a Christmas present. Standing in a family group. Holding her white cat in her arms.

I didn't know it, but it was just before the storms. My parents would divorce--ah, but by then I would be in my little beach house, struggling with my first suicidal depression. My competitive and critical poet boyfriend would be on another coast--well, we would meet again and again, and travel together. My poetry would get better. I would write and destroy two bad novels.

My hopeful heart would be broken countless times, and I would see love and loved ones die, and I would want to die myself. When I was 17 I would walk through the city streets and cry, thinking everyone I saw was doomed, that life was fragile.

And when I was 17 I wrote on all surfaces, in chalk, "Life is beautiful" and embarrassed my poor brothers by skipping and dancing in public, reciting poems, singing songs in my best off tune soprano.

Ah, I was innocent. Or blind. Towards the end of the year I started reading Emma Goldman. My arguments with my father were harsher still. I made plans to somehow get to the university; I longed to leave my family home, that home that would soon shatter.

I was very young. Younger, it seems to me, than my daughter was when she was 17. Perhaps a bit more tender. Probably a lot more naive.

I do remember one illicit arranged meeting before dawn at the beach. It was cold. My love and I shared a green pepper and stared at the pinkening sky. We thought we'd be in love forever, and forever young. We had no idea the pain we would cause each other, or the strange new twists our lives would take.

The kisses were pretty sweet. But no, I don't think I'd go back.

9 Comments:

Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Not me neither. Puts me in mind of that old Janis Ian song...and life's so much more fun now as a young crone!

4:41 PM, September 07, 2007  
Blogger Amy Branham said...

When we were 17... Life was a blank book before us to write in it of our adventures, dreams, loves lost and experience gained. If we go back to read that book, what will we find?

Thank you for making me think this night. It'll be a new moon this weekend, a very good time for contemplation.

Peace,
Amy

7:30 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

I'd go back to my 30's, I suppose. But teens and 20's are painful years. (How old was Justine?) I have the same sort of sensation about my daughter--that she's wiser and more balanced than I was. Of course, we try to instill the things that we feel were missing....

9:14 AM, September 11, 2007  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Yes, lori, young crones rule!
Amy, thank you for stopping by, I am honored.
marly dear--hmm, your 30's eh? I wonder...well, they were interesting in my life, but no, I think I'll pass on that decade as well. Justine is in her 20's.
We do try to fill in our own gaps as we teach our children, you are right. This morning my youngest, the one with Down Syndrome, announced to his dad "I am good. I am smart. I know the truth".

9:38 AM, September 11, 2007  
Blogger nyx said...

If I'm blessed with a long life, one could say I have reached the middle by now... My dear aunt, who is in her 70s, keep telling me that the best times are yet to come, so I'm looking forward :-)

10:46 AM, September 16, 2007  
Blogger Robert said...

I have often said to my children that I feel exactly the same inside as I did at 17.
But would I go back? Certainly not to relive every moment, if I could pick and choose, fast forward some bits and make different decisions where necessary maybe.
There are quite a lot of moments that I could relive again and again but I will not divulge any details!
Your story Javenpa is dreamily romantic, I hope at least you would rewind and live one or two moments again once or twice!

10:01 AM, September 18, 2007  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

I am good.
I am smart.
I know the truth.

Now that is satisfaction!

9:40 AM, September 19, 2007  
Blogger John Eaton said...

Lovely post, J.

And I second Lori's invocation of Janis. Will have to go and sing that one now.

John

9:49 AM, September 30, 2007  
Anonymous marly said...

You know, I think you must mention POEMS in your descriptions of your "other blog." It is too bad to let them lie hidden as "oddments."

9:22 AM, October 16, 2007  

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