School shopping was kind of a big deal in my family. A few weeks before school started, my mother would take us shopping for new clothes — new jeans, new shoes, new sweaters that we wouldn’t be able to wear until the weather actually turned cold in another month or two. And we didn’t just go to the boring old mall in Madison; no, we’d go to a fancy mall like the Mall of America in Minneapolis or Woodfield Mall in Chicago, and after shopping all day we’d go to a hotel and swim in the pool and eat at TGI Friday’s.
But while the new clothes were nice, what really mattered was the potential they represented. Every year, you’d have the chance to reinvent yourself. Maybe this would be the year when you finally figured out how to deal with your weird hair, and your new jeans would fit exactly as current trends dictated, and you’d finally look just like the girls in Seventeen magazine, all fresh-faced and hopeful. Or maybe you’d become the outdoorsy girl next door and go hiking all the time with your dog and meet some cute rugged boy who always carried his tattered copy of On the Road because he was, like, so deep.
And maybe a few weeks into the school year you’d admit that, okay, you were never going to pull off the just-rolled-out-of-bed-effortlessly-sexy-bad-girl look, but maybe you’d cultivate your own unique look, and maybe that cute boy who always looked sleepy in Spanish class would finally notice you and appreciate your unique thing, because anything could happen! This could be the day when things take a turn for the amazing! Your life could turn on a dime!
This is why I write about (and for!) teenagers.
There’s something so great about all that newness and potential — and yes, anticipation – that makes for great stories. Your first job. Your first kiss. Your first true love. Your first broken heart. All the waiting and longing and questioning and dreaming, and never knowing — never even being able to guess — what might come next.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to be out of high school. But as an adult, I don’t have too many days when I wake up thinking, “Maybe this will be the day when everything changes!” (More like “maybe this will be the day when I finally manage to call the insurance people to sort out that bill” or “maybe this will be the day when I find the time to re-organize my closet.”) I don’t spend a ton of time wondering about my future, because at some point I stopped daydreaming and started planning. And when I buy new sweaters, I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that the girl who wears them will just be me, in a new sweater.
But every now and again, there’s a crispness in the air that whispers of falling leaves and autumn bonfires, and I find myself thinking maybe this is the day when everything turns amazing.
And then I think I should write a story about that.
What do you remember about high school? A handful of great moments with your best friends, an influential teacher, a crazy party that got out of hand? The best (or worst) first-day-of-school outfit ever? Was there a day when everything changed?
(ps. Because I’m sure you were wondering…. This post was written to a playlist called “Angsty High School” – lots of Tori Amos, Smashing Pumpkins, the Cranberries, Ani Difranco, Dar Williams, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Cure, with a sprinkling of Fiona Apple, Belly, Hum, and the Doors. Viva la 90s!)
M. Molly Backes
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