Gagging on her fresh perm, Rhonda cracked the window of Jeff’s red Chevy. He was yammering about the movie—Texas Chainsaw Massacre–but chances were, they wouldn’t be watching. She eyed the plaid blanket in the back and the way he rested his right hand sloppily on her left thigh. It didn’t matter. She despised horror movies, anyway, and Jeff had full, red lips, which split into a sweet smile. So what if he was in Vo-Tech, tinkering on cars, while she dreamed of Harvard? He had warm hands and an eager bulge, and she had tired of being perfect.
Darlene took her time, reluctant to emerge and discover today’s torture.
Emily poked her head back through the locker room door. “Not bad, Dar. Just indoor soccer.”
Relief. She could run around, pretending to vie for the ball for 45 minutes. She walked across the gym floor and sat one over from her friend; Ms. Stevens always counted by twos when making teams.
Forty-three minutes in, Darlene looked up and froze. The ball veered toward her, struck her head forcefully, and accidentally flew toward the opposing team’s goal. Cheers. For her. And no one noticed her scrimmage vest was on sideways.
- Be ready for anything. Best case scenario: you are well-rested and patient, have a sense of humor and a full tank of gas, plenty of cash and Kleenex on hand, complete flexibility with your time, musical preferences, and volume tolerance, endless appetite for YouTube videos and Instagram feeds, a copy of Twilight, a portable charger, tasty, plentiful snacks, a working knowledge of 8th grade common core math concepts, endless sympathy and advice for tricky social and academic situations, and you don’t mind being completely ignored if none of the above is needed. Worst case scenario: you have a flask.
I remember it all like it was yesterday.
Acne, drama, self-doubt. Excessive mooning about. A variety of binges and very bad decisions.
I behaved irrationally, irresponsibly, disrespectfully, and the one I treated the worst was me.
Yet having a teenager may be even more terrifying.
Still plagued by acne and self-doubt, my lingering woes are compounded by close proximity to this raw lump of developing human–one who wears her disdain, depression, euphoria, and ill-founded bravado at the very surface. Nothing I can say or do will serve as salve. It is what it is–a tough row to hoe.
Miss Twelve is about to turn thirteen.
That means the station wagon we purchased in anticipation of her birth is already a teenager. Believe me, I can tell.
Here’s what’s good about the family truckster: it runs.
The trouble started a year or two after we bought it. The doofus replacing our cracked windshield re-mounted the rear-view mirror upside down. It took us a few months to figure out exactly what was wrong; I suppose that’s why we didn’t just call him back and make him fix it. Though it works, God help you if you try to adjust it. One touch and that thing will be swinging against the dash—leaving you to wonder how to get home without killing anyone. I’ve tried taping it up there, of course, but when the car heats up, the tape peels and dangles like streamers. Adding to the festive ambiance, the two pieces that were supposed to hold the mirror up are tucked in the side of the passenger door, making a little music with the random forks and pens when you open and close it.
Sadly, the mirror was just the beginning of a long, steady decline. Now, over a decade later, the dash and seats are scarred from endless bike and lumber hauling. A hairpin got caught in the cigarette lighter, shorting the system. Knobs were pried off by toddlers when I got tired of watching them destroy the house. The ashtray was kicked one too many times, leaving a gaping, crumb-filled hole between the front seats, and milk has dribbled from abandoned sippy cups into every nook and cranny.
Eyeing the disaster, a friend once mentioned that she kept her car clean by forbidding all food and drink. This confused me. “When do you eat breakfast?” I asked.
But certain issues are especially indicative of its teen years:
It’s sullen, sluggish, and difficult to steer. This vehicle would prefer to lounge at home at all times. When forced to move, it goes where it wants to–making it difficult to park, hurry, make a U-turn, and, of course, avoid disaster.
It needs constant refilling: gas, oil, and especially coolant.
It smells funny. Unlike my child, I am able to bathe it now and then, but for the past year and a half, coolant has been dripping onto the engine block and boiling away, releasing the noxious fumes into our choking faces. As the leak worsened, clouds started to pour through the air circulation system, a development which rendered the windows alarmingly and persistently foggy. (The spouse likes to squirt a bottle of water on the windshield first thing, which does clear it a bit–and might work well with the kid, too, now that I think about it.)
After the fourth unsuccessful trip to the garage, the mechanics gave us an ultimatum: pay two grand to have the entire system ripped out and replaced, or shell out a couple hundred bucks to bypass the whole climate control system. We opted for the latter. The first time, they put the hose in wrong which led to another issue:
It is unexpectedly soggy. Just as thirteen years of bottled emotions erupt in a lake of tears, we discovered about a gallon of chemistry had pooled on the floor of the passenger’s side. I have mopped and scrubbed, but it refuses to be clean or dry, so no one is allowed to place books or bags on the floor. And now that the hose has been properly installed…
It’s permanently unbalanced. Although the fan works, there’s no air conditioning or heat. When it’s hot outside, we’re trapped in a hair dryer; when it’s cold, the North wind blows.
What’s more, our car is dangerously volatile. The wagon has a new trick, which I unfortunately discovered a few days ago. The struts on the trunk gave out just as I was cheerfully stashing backpacks in there. Suddenly the trunk and my face got well acquainted. Not surprisingly, that has caused me the mother of all headaches. Note that the trunk doesn’t always collapse, so we are constantly, gingerly maneuvering around it–dreading the worst, and only slightly placated when it manages to stay open long enough for us to grab a bag without getting a black eye.
The spouse was on the freeway recently when the car in front dropped some large, vital piece onto the roadway. It was sucked up under our wagon, destroying two of the tires. Remarkably calm and clear-thinking under pressure, he managed to steer the car safely onto the shoulder. Later, he put his head in his hands. “Why did I do that?” he asked. “I had the perfect opportunity to steer right into the guard rail and get us a new car.”
He’s got a point. This kind of teenager will never go to college.
When I was in high school, the Rocky Horror Picture Show came to my Midwest hometown for a screening or two. Since there was nowhere to go and nothing to do for persons of a certain age, hundreds of teenagers erupted into the theater, ready for anything.
Keep in mind that this was before the Internet had made such cultural phenomena ubiquitous. There was no shared cyber understanding of what Rocky Horror might mean or require. We just knew Rocky Horror was a Thing. We knew you were supposed to bring stuff and do stuff.
So people brought whatever they found lying around.
People dressed up, too–wearing next to nothing, or robes, or goth-wear, or ripped jeans with chains made out of safety pins. A bawdy girl from the Catholic high school was savagely drunk and dressed as a nun. “I’m here, bitches!” She barreled down the aisle as the movie started, laughing maniacally.
It took my breath away. I’d never seen anyone but a nun sport a habit.
The movie began.
Audience members didn’t know what to yell or do or throw, so they yelled and did and threw whatever occurred to them.
As toilet paper comets launched across the room, and raw eggs and soda dripped from the screen, I saw the theater manager start pacing and muttering, “What to do? What to do?”
A guy in the front row clutched a ginormous box from Mr. Donut in his lap for no apparent reason. “Do you want a jelly donut?” he offered the distraught young man.
The manager grabbed it, chewing, while continuing to pace and mutter, his agitated shadow head joining Tim Curry and the rest of the cast on screen.
Even today, when I think about Rocky Horror, this is what I see: a donut-wielding twenty-something-year-old, poised to lose his job, a blob of grape goo in the corner of his mouth. There he was–the victim of our ignorance.
At one point, as the Brad and Janet characters were driving through a rainstorm, hundreds of people started throwing water around the theater. Squirt guns, bottles, cups, spit, whatever they had.
A drunken woman in her thirties lurched to her feet in front of me.
“What are you guys? A bunch of amateurs?” she yelled, completely hysterical. “They’re still in the car, fools. THEY CAN’T GET WET YET.”
Saavy woman. She must have been from Minneapolis.
Mrs. Steinbeck taught ninth grade English; Mr. taught social studies across the hall.
They were constantly feuding.
While we were diagramming sentences, she would moon about, saying things like, “If only I’d met Ted Danson before marrying Mr. Steinbeck.”
During tornado drills, we crouched in the hallway with textbooks over our heads, while Mrs. Steinbeck dropped bombs. “It would take a pretty big wind to lift you up, wouldn’t it, Mr. Steinbeck?” she yelled, trying to get a rise out of him. He narrowed his eyes and tightened his jaw, but always kept his cool.
Then one day, Mr. marched right into our class, raging that Mrs. had stolen his desk chair.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, shrugging. “I’ve had this chair since the beginning of the year.”
She tried to continue our lesson.
“I know my chair,” he huffed through clenched teeth. “If I pick it up, the back right caster falls off.”
Mrs. Steinbeck sat very still. Nobody breathed.
“If that’s really your chair, Mrs. Steinbeck, you wouldn’t mind if I tried picking it up, would you?”
Mrs. Steinbeck stood very, very deliberately, staring him in the eye all the while.
He grabbed and hoisted it triumphantly in the air.
It hung there for a long, silent moment.
Then, lo and behold, the back right caster hit the floor.
Nobody said a word as he wheeled it out the door.
Now, back to dangling participles.