Unwives Tales

This morning a cardinal alighted on one of our patio chairs, his feathered tail bobbing like a lure. As a girl I would've held my breath, beginning a silent recitation of the alphabet. I'd read in an enormous tome of American folklore - one of many acquisitions from school book sales, where I'd find the book with the best amount of pages for my (mother's) buck - that when you saw a red bird land, the letter on your lips at the moment he flew away again was the first letter of the last name of the man you were going to marry. I would never have admitted to cheating, but the haste with which I spoke my As, Bs, and Cs or the languid lines of L and M and N and O and P had everything to do with the unlucky classmate I fancied and nothing with the familiar melody of the alphabet.

My romantic superstitions were not restricted to girlhood. In high school I bent the tabs off of Dr. Pepper cans while repeating the same, and kept a chain of letters on a cord around my neck, spelling the name of my beloved. Why pearls when you can have aluminum? K and I also revisited the book, our Avonlea sensibilities satisfied by the sweetest temptation of them all: swallow a thimble full of salt before bed, and dream of the man you will marry bringing you a glass of water.

I imagined, so ardently did I love at sixteen, that he would bring me whole lengths of rivers in his arms.

And so we did just that, of course, not the stupidest thing we'd ever done but certainly the thing with the farthest reaching consequences. Though I did not learn to cook for years, it was many years even after that I would consent to season anything with salt. We didn't see anything, and none of these boys grew up to be the man I married.

No matter how much growing up I do, there are still so very many ways to be foolish about love.

Greased Lightnin'

My general malaise regarding my CD collection has driven me of late to FM radio, though there are little gems to be had. Namely, the sweet nostalgia that launched me from the confines of my car into the street artist exaggerations of the opening credits of Grease. The movie was a perennial favorite of my childhood and adolescence, though I haven't seen it in years and found the ending bittersweet with every subsequent viewing as a teenager. Sandy and Danny float off in their car, singing and cuddling and sweet, but where are they going? As a child I was content that they were together, mouths busy with kissing and made-up words. At a sober seventeen, I knew they wouldn't be together forever, and even if they were so cursed, they'd just get married, have babies, and argue over who was meant to do the vacuuming. Love wasn't something experienced by my contemporaries, I felt, or worthy of any more of my attention than could be diverted from the truly important things: college, graduate school, and a killer job writing for a magazine. I wasn't picky about where I went to school or which magazine I'd write for, only when all of these things needed to happen, and the answer was Right Away.

Grease was the musical of choice in the spring of my senior year, and for all I was pure as the driving snow in virgin white and carrying a torch for abstinence until marriage, what I wasn't was a soprano, and so I was cast as Rizzo. I wanted the part, and in retrospect, I had more to learn from her than just her lines. I recall blushing at the notion of getting one's kicks while still young enough to get them, but I was in a hurry to grow up for different reasons. I've had the suspicion for years, whatever my degree of emotional stability in high school, that somehow I missed out on something. Probably making mistakes, but what I haven't got now is what I had then: an excuse.

Still, I'd like to think Rizzo ditched Kenickie after she'd had her way with him, invested in reliable birth control, and went to college. Or at least got a killer job in publishing.

Laa Laa Nostalgia

"What is this?" My husband and I are hauling Christmas decorations, at long last, into the storage room in the basement. The whole basement may as well be considered storage for as tidy as I keep it, but in this particular space he could be referring to absolutely anything.

"What is what?"

He thrusts forward a Teletubbie, his look incredulous.

"That's Laa Laa," I answer, holding my arms out, into which the yellow critter is deposited. M continues to eye me suspiciously, necessitating further explanation. Namely, that she was a Christmas gift from my mother. When I was in high school.

I haven't grown up any more than I had then, and am overcome with as much desire to squeeze her cute alien brains to bits as I was at sixteen. There's a photograph of me and one of K's cousins on her water bed, Laa Laa between us, each of us with eyes half-lidded not from the dope other girls our age might have been smoking but from the delirium that follows too many cans of Dr. Pepper consumed and the liberating atmosphere of teenage girls in the company of other teenage girls. I'm wearing a scratch-and-sniff Chinese take-out t-shirt from Gadzooks and my hair is a riot of ringlets. I am young and thin and imagine myself someday to be rock star, for all I spent just as much time on that water bed sitting across from K and writing as we did curled on the floor, playing the same songs over and over again on our guitars. Hers was big and blue and beautiful and the name, I feel like, started with a B. Mine is neglected now in our spare room for all I can still play, if poorly, "House of the Rising Sun" or "Wish You Were Here" when asked.

There's a shelf downstairs, too, wide and deep enough for two rows of the journals I kept between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. I don't like to open them, but I made sure to store them high enough that should the basement flood, they'll be the last of things to go.

I brought Laa Laa upstairs and added her to the small collection of toys we keep in the living room for the increasing number of friends and cousins with children. Her laughter was meant for the young.