Memories… the Way We Were

Andi, aged 71, meet Andi, aged 17

And what a lovely accidental numerical palindrome: 7117!

I hope you’ll forgive a post that’s totally off-subject. (The word Parkinson’s appears but once.) Sometimes, ya just gotta spill. In this case, it was a thorough housecleaning that led me to today’s topic.

There’s such a thing as a time machine and it’s called….a diary. I stumbled on mine, which I hadn’t looked at in years, while doing some major tidying up. I wasn’t even sure of the time period it captured until I opened it. My personal “wayback machine” ( 50’s TV reference) would transport me to 1968, my junior year in high school.

No doubt we’ve all dreamt about reliving certain periods, or even just moments, in our lives. But the laws of physics dictate that time moves in one direction. The diary began around the time I met my first real beau whom I’ll call “Mark,” continued through our courtship, and ended with my pronouncement that I’d somehow lost interest in him.

I’ve sometimes imagined seeing Mark again (it’s now been 50 years) and apologizing for dumping him so unceremoniously. “But I was just seventeen, you know what I mean….”

A lot of the diary revolved around who gave whom a ride home from school; it was essentially a chronicle of my social life, such as it was. Also, I seemed to spend a great deal of time riding around the east side of Providence. I have no recollection of ever driving my mother’s car to or from school, much less transporting my boyfriend, his brother, and other friends but the diary tells me I did. I frequently mention a girl who was a platonic friend of Mark’s and who the diary tells me I believed posed a threat to my relationship with him despite his protests to the contrary. I remember the girl, but have no recollection of spending ten seconds in her company. Here’s a weird thing: I can’t conjure up Mark’s voice. And what the hell was H Period?

Perhaps I should mention that I’m known for my unusually strong memory, especially for names. It’s diminished due to aging and Parkinson’s, sure, but it’s still not too shabby. So I’m wondering why so much of that year has disappeared from my memory bank. To quote Dickens: “It was the best of times (falling in love for the first time) and the worst of times” (according to my diary, pretty much everything else). Perhaps my brain’s deletion of the memories of that year is a self-protective measure against an ordinary case of adolescent PTSD.

An elementary school friend and I sometimes compete in a game we call “John Howland Trivia, ” (the name of our school). The principal’s first name? My friend won that round but I bested her on the name of the fourth grade teacher with the exceptionally black (dyed) hair.

I figured that the diary would fill in some blanks about that year, but what it did was reveal the vacant lot in my brain. I might as well have kept a pillow in my locker and napped away the days for all I recall of that seminal time. What were Mark’s opinions on, well, anything? Why did I throw away my lunch one day and then ask Mark for food? ( He gave me a Twinkie.)

But the two characteristics applied to me most frequently, by myself and by others, as recorded in the diary, were “dumb” and “funny.”

Let’s get dumb out of the way as quickly as possible. I wrote: “When I said something dumb, BoyX said, ‘You’re cute but you’re stupid.’ Although it’s not true, it’s great to hear,”’ was my horrifying response. I assume the “great” part refers to the compliment and huh?? I let the “stupid”characterization just fly right by without comment?! By the way, I wasn’t at the tippy top of the class but I was a pretty good student. And yet, here’s another entry: “GirlX was talking to me and BoyX about how dumb I seem and BoyX said that if he didn’t know I was smart he’d think I was real (sic) dumb. Oh, well.”

“Oh,well?” That’s all I had to say about my friends calling me dumb? I’m rendered dumb for real, in the sense of speechless.

However, I believe I know the origins of this perception of me as not terribly bright. Lacking self-confidence and at the same time hungry for belonging, I adopted a ditzy, dumb blonde persona. After all, we grew up with Gracie Allen, Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe as the reigning queens of comedy, usually at their own air-headed expense. One of the few things I remember (and maybe wish I’d forget) is (shudder) acting a little crazy behind the wheel and writing “I drove like a maniac to be funny.”I cringe thinking about my teenage self who lacked the self-assurance and emotional intelligence required to develop a better way to forge friendships than to nearly kill my classmates with a two-ton machine.

The “funny” was the other side of the same coin. There were dozens of diary entries on the order of “He laughed at everything I said.” “I was funny in bio today.” Being perceived as funny was clearly important to me, though I didn’t seem to care much about actually being funny. No junior Seinfeld I, up until all hours polishing my jokes to ensure they “landed.” Perception was what mattered. I seem to have believed that my lame humor, in the unfortunate form of clownishness, was my ticket to popularity. The alternative – I was actually quite shy- was invisibility.

The funny thing is…I wasn’t particularly funny then and I’m not especially funny now, except maybe in writing. In person, not so much. I had a conversation about this recently with a childhood friend who calls me after every blog posting to tell me how funny I am. I recently replied, “You know, I’m not really funny in life. It’s much easier to be funny on the page. And if you asked my friends to name my top five attributes, I don’t believe “funny” would appear on the list.” My old friend replied, “You know, you’re right. You’re not really that funny.” I wasn’t insulted because….I think she’s correct. I’m certainly not cocktail or dinner party funny; in fact, I’m rather reserved in such settings. Fortunately, I retired the wacky girl act senior year,

Maybe I have a heretofore unknown muse who allows me to be amusing for the few hours a week it takes me to write the blog. There, I’ve used up my Lucy allotment for the day. See ya!

While I can’t remember most of the events recounted in the diary, I am very much able to recall my emotional state, especially my attachment to Mark, with many diary entries beginning or ending with “ I love Mark.”

Mark’s senior prom night

And I am certain that I did love him, madly for a while. But I wrote explicitly about other boys I considered dating, including one who declared that he was “stuck on” me. I told my diary that I was “all mixed up.”

“I’m depressed today” began many a diary entry, Causes ran from my difficulty finding a prom dress to wondering why Mark hadn’t asked me out yet for the weekend. Like most teenagers, my emotions were all over the place. From where I sit today, the past doesn’t feel like such a wonderful place to live.

The problem with the Time Machine diary is you won’t know you wanted it until it’s too late. So maybe consider suggesting to all the twelve year olds you know that they should start keeping one.

Although some of what I read in my little brown book makes me sad for the insecure, often misguided girl that I was, I feel tremendous compassion for her… and for all her friends who I’m sure had their own struggles. On the whole, I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to get acquainted with my younger self, warts and all. And glad that she had the chance to grow up… and out of some of her worst impulses.

Insert here the scene in the movie where Older Andi tells Younger Andi that she’s going to be okay. But the truth is that sometimes she will be just fine or even deliriously happy, and sometimes, like me at 17, she won’t be. It’s called life.

Bye bye 17-year-old Andi. Thanks for the tour of 1968 and good luck with your journey! ❤️


Peggy Sue Got Married

Think back to your high school sweetheart (my Mark) and imagine yourself transported back to the prom 25 years ago. That’s what happens to Peggy Sue in this charmer that stars Kathleen Turner, Nicolas Cage and a young Helen Hunt. Very sweet, especially if you like nostalgia or you have some lingering “what ifs” about some of your choices.

Back to the Future

Another journey to a different time period. In this case, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels to to the past to meet his parents, and to ensure that they meet each other so he can be born. Needless to say, as a fellow “parky” (person with Parkinson’s Disease) I have a warm spot in my heart for Fox and the incredible work he’s doing through the Michael J. Fox Foundation to eradicate this stinking disease.

Inside One’s Memory Bank

The brilliant cartoonist Roz Chast explains why we can’t remember stuff. Now you know.

9 thoughts on “Memories… the Way We Were

  1. Robin Dite

    That was fabulously written, fabulously funny and fabulously poignant. Boy, how I wish I wrote a diary when I was a teenager!


  2. art c

    Very enjoyable read!….after a year on JV Baseball, it became apparent that unlike my best friend George M, I could not see the fast ball and could not hit the curve ball (“Trouble with the Curve”)…so I transitioned to driving my Mom’s ’57 Pontiac Super Chief to and from Hope games every weekend ……my stress release from the study grind!…great memories from 67- 68 – 69… c

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