I am a nice girl. I smile at babies. I engage wait staff and the elderly in conversation. I write thank you notes. I say “pardon me” in grocery store aisles. People’s parents love me.
There are times, however, when being a nice girl gets boring—when instead you wish you were a mysterious girl, or maybe a tortured genius girl, or just a cool girl. These sort of urges can be dealt with now by wearing a certain pair of shoes or listening to a specific CD. However, these pangs are harder to ignore in the throes of puberty. Especially when you are fifteen and have just discovered that there are radio stations other than the top 40, and that you don’t necessarily have to buy your jeans at the Gap. It’s this kind of thinking that frees a person, and it’s also this kind of thinking that makes a person think they are the first person ever to have this realization, and the world had just better fucking watch out. It’s this kind of thinking that makes the world loathe teenagers, as they rightly should.
The summer I was fifteen was a landmark summer for me. It was 1992. I had just finished my freshman year of high school, which I’d mostly spent taking honors classes, going to second base with boys named David and Brian, and hanging out at the mall with girls named Jennifer and Mandy. I had some Blossom-esque bangs and some newly straightened teeth. For my fifteenth birthday on June 10, my mother took me to the mall where I picked out a pair of Birkenstocks and my first underpinnings from Victoria’s Secret. The bra was cream-colored lace and the panties had pink and blue roses on them.
Things were going to change; I could feel it.
I spent June working at our neighborhood pool all day and holed up in my room all night, listening to the only three tapes I owned: U2’s Achtung Baby, Nirvana’s Nevermind, and the Violent Femmes’ Why Do Birds Sing? I had been listening to these tapes since Christmas; I didn’t even like them anymore. I also spent the nights writing in the only notebook I could find. It had a pink cover, so I colored it black with a Sharpie. Sometimes I’d write poems, but mostly, I just transcribed song lyrics I liked.
I know what you’re thinking: ouch. You are so right.
Late one night, I happened upon the college radio station that broadcast music like Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Soup Dragons from midnight to 2 am. Suddenly I had a whole new world of lyrics to transcribe. Now my schedule involved falling asleep with a blank tape in my stereo, catching any coolness that might escape while I was unconscious.
I went to the mall in July and bought Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction and Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. I decided to quit hanging out with Jennifer and Mandy, on account of their being so lame. I woke up every day and drew a tattoo on my ankle with my mother’s Almay liquid brown eyeliner. It was an intricate desgin. It involved a yin-yang.
I got in big trouble for writing the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do” on our foyer wall. I got grounded for a week when, after my mother said there was no way in hell I was getting dreadlocks, I decided to just stop brushing my hair. This culminated in an ugly Sunday morning pre-church fight wherein I actually yelled the word “fuck.” My little brother cried.
I took to spending my evenings on the front porch, curled up with my notebook and pen, another Tom Robbins book, and my portable tape deck. On July 4, I drank half a can of Coors Light with the private school kids across the street. I woke up the next morning excitedly anticipating a hangover.
I kind of liked one of the lifeguards at the pool, despite the fact that he was a blonde football player. In a misguided effort to impress him, I painted yin-yangs on my cut-offs and wrote Tori Amos song lyrics on my concession stand receipt pad. He picked it up and read them while eating a sno-cone, laughed, and I forever crossed blondes off my list.
My parents went out of town for a week in August, and I got to stay with my best friend Stephanie. We spent the week watching Monty Python movies and sneaking over to my empty house to drink vodka and orange juice with Brian, the former second-baser. One day we all walked up to the corner drugstore and bought condoms and blue hair dye, just because we could. We didn’t use either.
I took to wearing a lot of hand-beaded necklaces, gifts from David, the other former second-but-now-promoted-to-third-baser. They smelled like patchouli. He wrote me letters from his summer job at Boy Scout camp. His hair reached his chin and he parted it down the middle. One time we made out in the rain in his parents’ front yard and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
I rented the movie The Doors a lot.
I had planned my first day of school outfit for weeks: Levis that sat on my hips, a gray T-shirt, and my new black Converse. I accessorized with my favorite beaded necklace and a black bandana as a headband. I realized that I should probably start talking to Jennifer and Mandy again, since Stephanie and Brian went to different schools and how was anyone going to be in awe of my new coolness if I had to sit alone at lunch?
I spent hours decorating all of my school notebooks with song lyrics and intricate doodles that resembled my summer eyeliner tattoo. I was forbidden to wear the tattoo once school started, per my mother’s orders.
In September, David took up with some ethereal hippie chick who was a junior. She had hair down to her waist and wore ankle-length tie-dyed skirts. Her name was Marissa. I cried.
Jennifer and Mandy took me to the homecoming game where we talked to boys named Andy and Patrick. Everyone asked me where I got my Birkenstocks. Sometimes I wore my Gap jeans. I grew out my bangs.
I took all of my summer’s earnings from the pool and bought a 5-disc CD player. My first CD was Temple of the Dog. My second was the Singles soundtrack. My third was The Best of Don McLean. It wasn’t until after Christmas that I actually had enough CDs to fill my stereo.
It was, without a doubt, the best summer ever.