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Posts Tagged ‘teenager’




Now I love biology—the how of
life, the what of cell, the physiology of why—
but I was so bored in ninth-grade biology class
when Bill Williams stood at the front of the room
with his rumpled hair and brown corduroy blazer,
chalk dust on his fingers, chalk dust in his drone,
chalk dust chafing on my teenage thoughts.
I wanted to know about boys. And kissing them.
I wanted to know what it would feel like
if that blonde across the room cornered me
against the wall with the anatomy posters
then let his fingers experiment
across my bare skin. But I was bored
by Mr. Williams’ boring biology, bored
by his black-and-white boring film strips,
bored by the clock that slowed on the wall.
Bored in that windowless room that smelled
of his coffee and formaldehyde.
Sometimes I’d write notes to friends.
I’m so bored, I’d write. As if boredom
were news worthy of sharing. As if biology
weren’t everything.

I would love to go back to that girl
in that junior high room fidgeting
in her metal chair at the shiny black lab table.
Even then, her own biology was riotous,
her estrogen surging, her pituitary gland raging,
her body and mind controlled by forces of nature
she couldn’t begin to understand.
I wouldn’t tell her to pay attention
to Bill Williams, no, but to be more curious
about her own feral hows and whats and whys—
the miracle of her own biology
untethering everything she thought
she knew about who she was
and her place in the biome,
all that dark curly hair springing up
in surprising places, her blood pitching
with a wild and red pulsing
that years later is still her best teacher.

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That was the day

I asked everyone I met,

Have you had a teenager?
Do you have advice for me?

And the woman in line

in the store told me,

You survive. And the cashier

said almost the same.

Sometimes we search

for what we want to know

in the strangest places.

At the gas station,

I hesitated to ask

the gruff old man

scraping paint, but

I asked my question again.

He looked at me

and shook his head,

you love ’em.

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for Amy Irvine

 

 

I didn’t know then we were lucky,

that day when we rode down the hill

on the sleds with our kids. They were cold

 

and crying and reluctant, and the hill

was small, and the thrill was mostly

missing. And I remember you saying,

 

“There will be a day we look back on this,

and think how easy we had it, how

silly we were to think this is hard.”

 

And I remember not quite believing you

as our children continued to scream and

whine, as we dragged them inside and

 

removed their soggy mittens and boots

and socks that had fallen around their arches,

as we made them hot chocolate and

 

talked in the kitchen about sleepless nights

and two-hour tantrums and the loss

of time to ourselves. How could I have known

 

that twelve years later, how sweet that looks,

how innocent, how fun, the kids banging

on the piano, their hands sticky, their faces bright.

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We’ve heard the story of the woman

who lifted the car to save her child,

and though it is hard to believe,

 

it happens. Faced with saving a life,

we find the hysterical strength

to do what seemingly can’t be done—

 

I think of those women today,

and I think of my son, trapped beneath

the chassis of teenage torment.

 

It may not be a two-ton car, but it feels

no less urgent. We save a life in seconds

or we save a life in years—

 

of course I’d lift it right away

if such a lift were possible.

I’d hold that Chevy up until

 

he could roll right out from under.

Instead I try lifting other impossible things:

The crush of being misunderstood. The weight

 

of should. The press of daily surviving.

And I think of those mothers who lift cars.

And I bless them, and keep on trying.

 

 

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What was the best advice you got as a teenager?

Question asked in the Positive Youth Development Training

 

 

Sitting in the old one-room schoolhouse

and trying to remember any piece of advice,

I come up blank, which makes me think brain scientists

are right: the prefrontal cortex had not yet kicked in.

Makes me think, why give a teen advice?

They won’t listen now. They won’t remember it later.

 

But then, clear as a clap, I am standing on stage

in my pedal pushers and my fake Izod shirt, and I hear

John Klug’s voice howl from the theater’s back row,

“I can’t means I won’t.” That is right before

he strides to the front of the stage, picks up the easel

and throws it into the empty audience,

 

where it lands in the training I attend thirty years later,

and I stare at it beside me, astonished he threw it,

but even more astonished at how simple it was,

the way he changed my life, how that afternoon

he guaranteed that every time I hear the phrase I can’t,

I see the chance to say instead, I can do it. I’ll try.

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I was fourteen, Richard was eighteen,

and he was Romeo in the high school play.

 

He was Romeo and I was chorus, and

every song I sang, I sang for him.

 

Every song I sang, a love song.

I had never been taught any other,

 

I had never been taught to be hard,

I longed to give him everything,

 

I longed for him to want to kiss me,

to give me everything, and when

 

he kissed me, which he did, he gave

me mono. I was somehow proud,

 

was proud of getting sick because

he kissed me, as if it were a badge

 

that I was worthy of being kissed,

kissed by Richard, Richard Smith, who left me

 

shortly after, who left me crumpled, weeping

in the green cement block halls,

 

halls that rang back all my emptiness.

I didn’t know then love could end.

 

I was a girl who knew only beginnings,

a girl who trusted in happily evers,

 

a girl who wanted to be chosen. Years later

I’d learn there are many kinds of love,

 

how all of them depend on one thing.

Years later I’d learn to choose myself,

 

to show up at my own balcony,

roses and poems in hand.

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There are many kinds of love, and I have lived some of them.

—Katherine Gallagher, Distances

 

 

You’re too restrictive,

he shouts at you,

and the fist of his voice

connects with your most tender parts.

There was a time

when loving him looked

like holding him, letting

the small question of his body

soften into yours. There

was a time when loving him

looked like kissing a knee

or playing Monopoly

a third time or singing

to him in the dark. How

easy it was to love then.

Now, love is a war

with no winners,

ammo without a gun,

a wall you wish you could

tear down. That’s right,

you say. I’m restrictive.

That’s my job.

He stomps away

and slams his bedroom door,

leaving you standing

alone with your horrible,

fierce love.

 

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