A Note to My Teenage Self

With 40 (and my twenty-year high school reunion) on my horizon, there are a few things, once outside my field of vision entirely, that are starting to come into focus. Hardly antiquity, 40 (38 to be exact; I have a tendency to round up), but still, a viable, die-able age, as Arundhati Roy puts it. At this point—if I’m lucky, it’s a halfway point—here are a few things I now get.

I get why my high school biology teacher once showed up to class with eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara—a beautification hat trick—applied to one eye only. At the time, with pity sheeting off me, the act seemed so inconceivable, so beyond all comprehension, that she was blowing my vain teenage mind as I sat there not listening to the mitosis lecture. But now the mother in me imagines with ease her harried morning routine, her house and mind bursting with the bustle and responsibilities of a working wife and mother, her mid-career husband, her two jumpy teenage children, and maybe a pet or two for good measure, all conspiring to confine her grooming regimen to the three minutes she spent at the red light outside the school that morning. I also get that at lunchtime, when she finally found a free moment for an overdue trip to the bathroom and looked up mid-hand-wash to notice her omission, her reaction was most likely a good chuckle, a wry shake of the head, and maybe a thought or two about the many mild humiliations of middle age. (A far cry from the deep mortification I imagined at the time.)

I also get why my dad continued to wear those horrid orange sneakers throughout my middle school years, despite my urgent protests. I’m guessing it had to do with the fact that they were there, in his closet, and not overly falling apart in any way (and not $35 at some store in town with an over-helpful clerk and not enough customers), valid attributes that were entirely lost on me then. That orange was a fine (enough) color and NOT ridiculous for a shoe (a color that was, in fact, considered quite desirable in men’s athletic footwear only five, OK maybe ten, years prior) were arguments that—having stunned my brain at the time with their absurdity—now make perfect sense.

There are a few other things, as well, such as what makeup is really for (and it’s not expressing one’s sudden-onset but deeply felt Goth sentiments), or why the slogan at Amy’s Ice Cream is “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” Not huge epiphanies, I grant you, but still, it is nice to have some of these little conundrums cleared up. Life’s way of compensating, perhaps, for that saggy skin around my elbows.

Of course, there are also a few things I still don’t get, such as why vaginal plastic surgery is a booming business, or why we don’t just pile all the world’s automatic weapons into a big ol’ bonfire, Sleeping Beauty style. (We could melt the twisted remains down and reshape them into prosthetic limbs for land-mine victims.) I don’t think even doubling my age, however, is going to solve these mysteries. Some things will just never make sense.

© Amy Daniewicz

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