The fall of 1987, I was 14. A freshman in high school, my friend Lynda’s mom drove us to and from school every day. My mother didn’t like this. Since we lived just a few blocks from the high school, I was supposed to walk, but Lynda’s mom passed our house on the way so why not pick me up? I was spoiled rotten, my mother said.
There were eight of us in the van, including me. Lynda was tall and blonde, but had only recently turned beautiful. Before that year, her claim to fame was starring as Dorothy in our fourth grade production of the Wizard of Oz. That year we were 14, she didn’t care about that anymore. She cared about styling her hair and wearing the right clothes. Also, she was love in with a boy named KC, who treated her like dirt.
There was Jeanne, who was very smart and would later go to Harvard; Lisa R., who was short like me and had huge brown eyes. There Lisa V., a tomboy and the one KC really loved. There was Cyndi, who at 5’10” modeled part-time till in college she became a born-again Christian and married young. There was Nicole – vivacious, obnoxious, a ballerina who would suddenly decide to become a painter. Twenty years later I’d find out she had died, at 33, of cancer, leaving behind three small kids.
There was Norman, the one boy and Chinese like me. There were hardly any Asians in my town, and I was ashamed that he was one of them. Skinny and spastic, he was the quintessential geek who said weird things in biology class. “Don’t you know about passover smoke?” he chided a girl well-known for ducking out for ciggies. He meant second hand smoke.
Finally, there was me. It was not a good year. Compared to my friends, I felt very plain. I was short, I didn’t have huge eyes with long lashes, and my hair hung flat. At the mall boys didn’t look at me the way they did my friends, and none at school showed any interest, or if they did, I thought it must have been some colossal joke. My mother and I fought all the time, mostly about my attitude. She nagged me constantly about everything, and sometimes I got fed up. “You’re just like your dad,” she’d spit. He could only put up with so much nagging as well.
So I withdrew. When the year before, I was chatty and social, now I was taciturn. On the van ride home from school, listening to Crowded House, I stared out the window at the darkening sky while the others talked about this or that. They were tired of me, I knew. I was a bore.
Things changed of course. Things got better. My family moved to a town with wall to wall Asians. Suddenly I was cute. Boys really did look at me. I tried staying in touch with the old gang, but by graduation we had all lost touch. I’m not sure where Lynda is. Lisa R. I think is an architect; Lisa V. might live in London. Jeanne is an archaeologist; Cyndi, still Christian. Nicole, dead.
Twenty years later this song still makes me think of that fall and riding in that van, wallowing in self-pity. It reminds how quickly things can change, though it often seems like they never will. The old cliche: growing up seems to take forever while growing older happens so fast.