“I learned the truth at seventeen;
That love was meant for beauty queens;
And high school girls with clear skin smiles
Who married young and then retired.”
Such a brilliant and hauntingly beautiful song. I hadn’t heard it for a long time and as I was about to google the lyrics, I realized there was no need. I could quote this song, and many of its sentiments, by heart.
Janis Ian had the courage to pen the words that reflected the real high school experience for so many of us who didn’t fit in. That was me, for sure. I can’t really say I was an “ugly duckling” teen; I was more or less invisible outside of school. In my circle, I was not seen as dating material; more of a colleague, and sometimes, the competition.
The academics were always on point; I was to graduate 4th in a ranking of 600 students in my baby-boomer class. I assumed a leadership role in many extracurricular activities; honors clubs, foreign language groups, student government, and best of all; I was city editor for an award winning newspaper.
There was no real social life beyond these activities at school. I chose my friends carefully. Friend is perhaps the wrong word here. I chose my companions and acquaintances carefully. I had very few real friends, but that was deliberate.
Strangely enough, I had a thriving love life away from school, but only during the summer months. I was drawn to a young man that was from the other side of the tracks. I was an AP college prep student; he was in Vo-Tech. I had dreams of college; he couldn’t wait to enlist in the military and go fight in Vietnam. He rode a motorcycle and drove a really cool convertible; I used my family’s Country Squire station wagon. He fit in with the guys who hung out on the street corner by the soda fountain where I worked. That is how we met.
But that is also where I left him. Anytime there was a social event at high school, proms, formal dances, football games, pep rallies, etc.; I always found an excuse not to go with him. He didn’t fit in with my over-achieving high school associates. For the most part, almost no one ever suspected that I had a boyfriend outside of school.
It was wrong for me to use someone this way; but I guess it was fun for both of us while it lasted. We broke up for sure during my freshman year at college. The following year, I saw him briefly one summer evening, he invited me to meet up with friends at the shore. I declined. I never saw or heard anything about him again.
We both knew that we were headed in a different direction. It was never meant to be.
I took on high school as a sort of job; a job which, if done well, would lead me to a better future, and one which was as far away from my claustrophobic home town as I could get.
It seemed to work. I left for college with scholarships in hand, and never really returned. I chose a large college campus, 40,000 students, as a way to get lost in the crowd. It was also a few hundred miles from home; another way to insure that I would indeed be starting a new life; a life of academic success and social anonymity.
If I was trying to postpone a love life in college; it didn’t work. I met my husband in the dormitory dining hall the first week on campus. He had a girlfriend that he left behind at home; so he was safe for me. It was a love/hate thing at the beginning. Then, he dropped out for a semester and I found myself missing him, and the aggravation, the flirtatious teasing, the banter and arguments.
When he returned in the Spring, I saw a gentler, more sensitive side of him. We had mutual friends, attended the same parties, celebrated our weirdness. And we got together.
We like the same music, have the same attitude toward finances; we come from similar blue collar families, proud of our ethnicity and heritage. We are both stubborn, opinionated, fiercely independent; but respectful of our differences. We share the same warped sense of humor; can quote from the same favorite books or movies; have the same level of interest in sports.
When he surprised me with an engagement ring, I said “No, thank you”. Seriously. But he kept coming back; realizing it was not him I was rejecting, but the whole concept of marriage. I had not seen it work so well and I was proceeding with extreme caution.
As always, fate intervened. We were being pointed in the same direction. This time, I paid attention.
Four decades and two children later, we are still here.
We found each other on that crowded college campus. There are no accidents in life. We were meant to be. And we are blessed.
I was not meant to find love at seventeen. There was something much better for me to come. We always end up where we are supposed to be.