Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Dreaming on Main Street

I heard a song while I was at Cold Stone picking up a surprise ice cream cake for a co-worker's first day back from sick leave. I hadn't heard it in years. IN YEARS. Maybe decades. It gave me pause and took me back as it always does.

To small town Iowa. High school days. A small town like a billion others with a Main Street. We would drive up and down the street, only a few blocks in length, waving at others out too. We called it cruisin' Main.

I remember that feeling. Being seventeen and this close to college, freedom. I was never one of those kids who wondered if I wanted to go to college or not. I was dying to get there. I was sure of the life that I wanted. I could see it in my head. Four years of college. I had scholarships to three colleges, so it was just a matter of picking one. It took me a while. I didn't want to go anywhere that my high school friends would be. I wanted to be fresh and new and clean and not encumbered with old friends.

I dated. Everyone dated. Well, most of us. Some of us didn't, I suppose. But, I always had a date for everything, usually with the same boy. I liked him fine, but I never understood it when my friends would go on and on about some guy who made them crazy. My blood never boiled for boys. Or girls, really. I wasn't stupid. I knew that I was different. Knew that I was attracted to both boys and girls and in my private mind, I felt that there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. I knew it was unusual. But, not wrong, I believed. I did know that it would be a very bad idea to tell anyone about this, though. I could mentally see the girls skittering carefully away from me, pretending to be worried that maybe I liked them that way. I also knew that those same girls would be offended if I didn't like them that way.

I loved my family. My Da had died long ago and my mother was adept at running the farm alone. I don't think that she was happy, but she was incredibly involved in our the point of making me join a club called The Legion of Mary. I hated this club, but most of my female classmates were in it. Our mothers made us. Every other Saturday morning, we visited an older member's home and sat around tables as scripture was read. Then we all said a rosary. Some days this seemed to take hours and hours. I would wobble the beads, losing place, not caring. After the rosary, there was a light snack of apple slices or fig newtons. We'd all politely take one and begin edging towards the door. I was almost always one of the first out.

I yearned but I wasn't sure what I yearned for. I knew that I wanted to love and be loved, but I was years away from understanding just what that meant. I think, more than being loved, I hungered to be sexual. Feel what all the fuss was about. What that forbidden book, Peyton Place intimated at. I knew that I found most kissing slightly annoying. The boys involved seemed intent on swallowing me whole. Their hands became sinuous snakes, slithering around seemingly innocent and then suddenly taking a handful of my breast. His heavy breathing would start and the tongue invasion and I would concentrate on enduring. I was a "good girl" not because I had high morals, but because I could not imagine letting a boy touch me there. ICK. And yet, they seemed to practically live for that.

I never understood the loose girls, the ones who came to school giggling and wearing their white blouses with the collar up because they were hiding hickeys. The thought of letting a boy suck on my neck didn't appeal to me even slightly.

Yet, I keened for something. For a life other than this. But, I also sank into the comforts of my home, mostly my sisters. Patrice was eight years older than me, already the mother of three. Celia was four years older than me and also married, with a daughter. They had married right out of school instead of going on to college. Patrice would go to nursing school after her own children were in school. Celia never got past the twelve grade. Jessie was eight years younger than me, barely nine years old. I was the first to attend college and everyone pretty much agreed that it was best. I was certainly not going to get any offers of marriage since I didn't even bother to put makeup on when I had a date. My sisters loved me but didn't get me. Patrice once told me that the highlight of her life was taking her husband's name when they married. I burst out laughing, thinking she was kidding. I felt badly when I realized that she was serious. The thought of marriage and children was almost repellant to me.

I did care about someone in high school, but we never hooked up. It was one of those danger spots for me. He was not Catholic and I knew my mother would NEVER let me date a non Catholic boy. He was also from a poor family. Ditto. But, with him, I did feel my first stirrings of attraction. I also went out with a Catholic boy exclusively my senior year and I did like him a great deal. I just wasn't crazy for him.

I would sit outside on the rails around the horse pen, far away from my family on summer and spring nights and smoke cigarettes and feed apples to Cassidy and Mr. Spock, our horses. In the winter, I would sit with my tiny stolen ashtray from the parish hall and smoke my cigarettes next to my bedroom window, which would not stay open on it's own, so I would stick an eraser in it to prop it up.

I earned good grades. I went to games. I hung out with friends.

I yearned to get on with my life.

There was so much I didn't know,that I couldn't have known. So much would happen...


I would go to school and become someone known as fearless. I smoke and drank and if a drug was offered to me, I tried it. I learned how to work a bong. I met a group of friends, some lesbians, some not. College was a revelation to me.

I read Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Lanford Wilson. Strayed from my own generational music and got lost in The Reaper, Layla, Light My Fire, and Jumpin' Jack Flash. (And oh, was such a gas, gas, gas....)

I discovered sex. Not love. Sex. I realized that, when it was done correctly, with the right was incredible. I didn't care if it was a woman or a man. As long as it was interesting and engaging and there was lots of laughing following all that heat. I wasn't easy, but I wasn't hard either. I was discriminating. I drew the line. Would not have sex with anyone I thought was stupid. Or a Republican. (Because, yes, I also discovered politics and knew exactly where I stood, which was far, far to the left.) If a man or woman could make me laugh, make me think or better...both..I was happy to make love with them.

For the first time, I realized what it felt like to be comfortable in my own skin. This is not to say that I always made good choices. I decided that since I didn't want to settle down with anyone or have children, I should go into medicine instead of teaching English. I wanted to have the money to have a good lifestyle and if I was going to be on my own, well...I needed to support myself. I still wanted to do something that interested me, though. And psychology interested me. Better...I excelled at it and barely had to try. I discovered that I had an inward talent for reading people through body language and their vocal tones. Their faces. Psychology played right into that. And I knew that I wanted a career where no one would ever see me as an underachiever. I wanted to do something big. I chose medicine.

Okay, it was a wrong move. I know now that I should have stayed where my heart was, which was teaching English. But, it felt right at the time and it has served me well, so I can't complain now.

College was eye opening for me. I liked the person I was becoming. Unfortunately, my mother did not. No matter. I kept my back straight when I was with her, refusing to back down, refusing to give in. She told me on more than one occasion that I infuriated her and must I argue with Uncle Jimmy?

College started the ball rolling but, I kept in motion even after. Finding my way to me. Others were faster at finding themselves. I took my time. Got lost for a few years. Found my footing again.

I look back on that girl sitting up in her bedroom, smoking and dreaming of what the future held. It held so much.

A lot of surprises.

I think the young Maria would have been shocked to know that I would not find true love until the ripe old age of 45. That having a child at age 41 would change me in ways so incredible that it would be indescribable. That I would take to motherhood like a duckling to water.

That I would almost become an addict. Tiptoed close to the edge more than once. Tempted fate more than once. Indulged in dangerous behaviors (leaving a bar on the back of a motorcycle with no hat helmet with a man whose name I didn't even know for sure...and then not only sleeping with him but had unprotected yi yi!)

Rose high in my career somehow in spite of the fact that I was getting drunk way too much.

That I would decide to go completely straight and narrow (not sexually, but I stopped drinking/drugs/recklessness) and try to get pregnant. At the age of 38.

Failing over and over again until I stopped all the shots, all the in vitro. Just stopped. Told myself to let that dream go.

And then having Liv. A result of a silly, totally random one night stand with a man almost half my age. Well. I was 40. He was 22.

Deciding to use up all of my savings to be a stay at home mother until Liv was old enough for school. This, as a result of trying to put her in my work's onsite daycare and not being able to concentrate because I wanted to be the one giving her her morning bottle.

Going through men and women like water before I had Liv and then going dry as a desert for almost five years after her birth.

I wonder what that Maria sitting on the rails would think about me now? She'd surely be surprised. Maybe a little proud. A little ashamed of some of the carelessness with which I broke some hearts that didn't deserve that.

Back then, all I knew was that I felt on the verge. Like I was on the precipice of something big. I just had to take those running steps...


I love this song because it says it all right. The yearning on Main Street. The aching to be out but the terror of the moving.

And always wanting that elusive...something.


sybil law said...

I want to comment, but I don't have the words for this perfect post.

Fiona said...

Oh Maria, I just love reading your words!

Vinita said...

The last post and this one leave me almost speechless. Your stories not only touch my heart but keep going around in my mind, making me think and reminisce about my own childhood. Nice song!

Kass said...

Love your spirit and honesty.

Earth Muffin said...

This is a great post.

e said...

Happily we have survived our youthful indiscretions!

Life is good...