One of the two details I clearly remember about Friday is I wore new black patent flats with nude beige silk stockings snapped tightly by garter belt hooks. The rest is vague. On the other hand, perhaps my imagination is working overtime to create a believable story of my teenage years' chock full of social anxiety, so part of growing up.
This particular Friday night would be my lucky night. All young girls growing up in the 60s dreamed the identical dream. A dark-haired, handsome guy would sweep me off my feet and take me away to live happily ever after. (Later, that impossible fairy tale would shake reality into my brain like many other women who first championed feminism in the 70s). That's not what transpired. I remember sinking like silk stockings sliding down my legs, accidentally getting unsnapped from its hook. I rushed to the restroom and hid in mortal embarrassment in the far-left stall. If there was a window at eye level, I would have escaped to where I don't know.
Dad sold stockings in his linen store. I had the distinct advantage of always being with a pair for Sundays or special occasions. Often my girlfriends would moan in jealousy when their stockings would develop a run, which meant springing for a new pair out of their allowance. Still, dad would question me if I came in sheepishly asking for another pair - stockings were sold by the pair, half-dozen or a whole box of twelve - and he would ask if I was putting them on properly. There was a way to do that, too, and more gently than putting on tights or leggings today.
The local Moose Club held dances for teens on Friday nights with a DJ spinning top 40 records. The joy of letting the week's confinement to high school got expressed through Elvis, Johnny Mathias, and Buddy Holly blaring from the turntable.
The legal drinking age was eighteen. I was too naïve at fifteen to notice the parking lot filled with seniors milling around with younger girlfriends enjoying a beer. Mom or dad would drop me off by the door and wait for me to enter. I assumed this was a safe environment for socializing with my classmates and never thought more about it. Like other parents, mine checked the appropriateness of places, and I knew they kept a watchful eye from a distance. The primary forms of entertainment were the movie theater, church activities, drag races, and school dances.
I furtively glanced around the room - an essential concrete building with minor frills - for a group of girls huddled together. It went over to my safety net. Boys in my class were shooting pool or hanging around the DJ, hands in their pockets as awkward as we girls. For some reason or other, the older boys came later individually, and we all waited to see their timed arrivals. We passed the evening by gossiping and sipping cokes slowly while hoping for a boy to ask us to dance. It was frowned upon for girls to partner together, and only two or three of the more assertive dared get out on the dance floor without caring one hoot if others were whispering about their daring natures. The chaperones walked among the dancers, especially during slow dancing, tapping boys on the shoulder if they were too close to their partner.
About an hour into the evening, a light blond-haired guy wearing a leather flight jacket sauntered in as if he owned the joint, and I thought my heart would crash to the floor. My hands tingled, and I clutched my Coke for dear life while he went to the bar area to be greeted by other guys. I fixated my eyes on this college-age freshman who had returned home from music school for the Thanksgiving holidays. We had a little history of a couple dates at the end of his senior year to the movies and for a soda, as my parents approved of him. He was polite, which was the extent of our relationship. However, my diary was covered with yearnings for him all fall. Here he was in living color, and I was desperately trying to figure out whether or not he had spotted me. I stood slightly away from the others. That didn't work. I was too shy to walk up to him and say hello, which would have been the natural thing to do in that circumstance. The other girls didn't know anything happening in my head, and I decided not to share my thoughts.
The lights dimmed. The DJ put on "Chances Are," As the floor filled with couples, I saw him move across the room with a gleam in his eye. I straightened my skirt and smiled at him through the haze with my eyes piercing his blue ones. He nodded and, like all guys of the era, pointed with his hand to come dance. I took two steps forward. Suddenly, a senior girl pushed past me and took his hand. He wasn't coming to dance with me.
Being on the fringes took a toll on my self-worth that evening. When I got home to my bedroom security, I peeled off my silk stockings with a vengeance. I rolled them into a ball before hurling my patent leather flats into the closet haphazardly. I hastily plunged my diary and movie magazines into the trash. No one would ever know how much I beat myself up with humiliation.
Possibly I am exaggerating my embarrassment and lack of a social nature.
The first and last time
The furthest thing from my mind was having my parents find out. I naively thought that I had an air-tight excuse when I bolted down the stairs after exchanging my prom dress for my comfy blue jeans and sweatshirt. I was going on a sleepover to a not-so-close-friend’s house with a couple of other casual friends from my senior class. There was my first mistake. What happened next, I’d prefer letting slip into my lost memory.
Frankly, I didn’t know why the popular circle of seniors invited me, and I suspected that they were a lot more daring than me. I’d heard stuff in roundabout ways and I was uneasy when my not-so-close friend honked her horn in our driveway. Like all teenagers with boundless energy wanting to let their hair down, partying would go on into the wee hours of the morning celebrating the ending of one final major event in our high school years. In a couple of months, I would be heading to college and leaving my hometown behind.
My senior prom was not a highlight of my final year, and I don’t recall the boy who was my date. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t picture his face. So, nameless date and I went through the motions awkwardly in the high school gym chaperoned by the usual teacher volunteers. I recall much better my plain white sleeveless tulle dress with tiny pink ribbons buds scattered throughout the full-length flowing skirt.
My not-so-close friend drove me to her house along the edge of the river, and instead of heading inside, she motioned me to the dock where the other casual friends were waiting in the family bay cruiser. One of the casual friends pointed to a brown paper bag that rattled, and when she pulled out a can of Ballantine, I got my first impression that the not-so-close-friend and the casual friends had not let me in on their plans.
During the late evening, my not-so-close-friend navigated us out of reach of the dock and into the stillness of the starlit night. It got rowdier and rowdier as cans of beer and chips were consumed. I will admit that I did not shy away from imbibing to feel like part of the group, and it wasn’t long before I must have fallen asleep not able to handle the alcohol.
When I woke up we were at the dock and I felt like a sledgehammer had hit me squarely on the forehead. The others seemed to take it in stride, and the not-so-close-friend drove me home in broad daylight. She acted like she couldn’t wait to get rid of me either. I walked up to our driveway with squinting eyes and the worse aches I could possibly imagine never having experienced a hangover.
Both my parents were waiting for me in the dining room. My father offered me some coffee, and just the thought of it made me want to throw up. I didn’t get The Lecture until I had slept off my hangover. Nobody needed to tell me that I had overstepped the boundaries.
The Origin of Clams
i. My Philco portable radio and Casey Kasem were my teenage escape route. I spent an excessive amount of time holed up in my bedroom with the Sunshine Band live from New York City in the 50s. The Top 40 saved me from being left on the outskirts of friendship and awkward dating. As long as I pretended that I was floating along with the magic of the airwaves, I managed. My mother held secrets, and somehow the rest of the family learned to isolate themselves, too, for survival. That's how I became the dreamer I am today.
ii. Clam is a common name for a bivalve mollusk. Clams spend most of their lives half-buried in the sand of the seafloor.
iii. During the 2020 pandemic, I relished those hours in my office without any obligations in the world. Sweatpants. A cup of coffee. No makeup. I stayed relatively undercover, so to speak, free to write on new projects. Sometimes unstructured time is not the most productive, though. Thoughts can hide away and tease me elusively. It would be so easy to pick up the phone or email a friend to stay connected. I didn't.
iv. When I came home from elementary school, my younger sister was under the dining room table, cutting out paper dolls from designs that she had made from the newspaper. That was her portable art studio. She might stick her head out before diving back into her hideout. Later she would study art in college and become a painter. However, her work remained hidden mostly in her studio and not out for a broader public's viewing. She kept that she was dealing with the complications of cancer a secret from acquaintances, too. She lost her life prematurely.
v. I am a fine specimen of a person who falls into a half-hypnotic state, and no one has a clue that my mind is elsewhere. I don't open up what secrets lie beneath the surface, and if I do, those valves are clamped shut quickly.
vi. Clams are shellfish that make up an essential part of the web of life that keep the seas functioning, both as filter feeders and as food sources for many different animals.
vi. Occasionally, in the summertime, my mother would take my sister and me over to the south side of the island to buy fresh clams for clam chowder at the market along the bay. She would never cut us in on her plans ahead of time. All we heard was her telling us to hurry up and get in the car. Where? We would find out shortly. After hours of smelling of soup simmering on the stovetop, the end result would be a giant bowl for dinner. The next day the leftover clams would be minced and put in egg batter for fritters. Nothing went to waste. Even the clamshells were crushed for our driveway.
vii. When I go out clamming, I wear holey sneakers that have seen better days and light pants rolled up to my knees. Searching for clams is a solitary task. Frequently my best ideas surface while the gentle waves cool my calves, and the early morning breeze rustles through my hair as a seagull skirts past on an updraft.
viii. All clams have two calcareous shells or valves joined near a hinge with a flexible ligament.
ix. I was a shy kid. I would get harassed by other schoolmates, and I would clam up when I should be speaking out. Once on the playground, Carol, a bully, threaten to beat me up on the way home for no earthly reason other than she could. She taunted me and had me shivering all the rest of the afternoon, dreading my walk along Roanoke Avenue. How carefully I stepped on the pavement in between the cracks expecting Carol to be lurking behind a maple ready to pounce on me. She never showed up. I avoided Carol for days after that. She moved on to other girls, apparently having lost interest. I never told my parents and kept that secret deep within as another one of my supposed failures.
x. What got bottled up within me came out later. Mostly non-fiction. Pages and pages of a memoir. It did me a world of good if for no other reason.
For no particular reason…I
crave southern smoked barbeque
porch sip a glass of wine on a Monday
clean out part of my garden (and get stung twice)
wear long pants on a Tuesday
launder the runner from the dining room table
read three books simultaneously
scan local Groupon sales
write this piece of nonsense
virtual-stalk a friend of a friend of a friend
check the temperature for 4 pm
rearrange the pillows on my bed
block all incoming calls