Fifteen

jessie

A photo of me at 15, which is now considered vintage 

And now, for this week’s column on a trip I took to teach a writing workshop to classes full of teenagers where I mentioned mixed tapes and records and a time before the Internet and felt old.

When I was fifteen
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“Oh, you’re going to feel so old,” my husband told me as I explained that my plan for the week was to drive across the state to conduct a few writing workshops for high schoolers. “Just remember, you were their age once…like twenty years ago.” And then he took a drink of his coffee, laughed and turned out of the room.

Funny. Real funny.

But twenty years ago? That can’t be right.

teenage jessie

Wasn’t I just fifteen last week when I was grocery shopping and gave in to the nagging instinct to buy the Double Stuffed Oreos?

And I was certainly fifteen the other day, walking down the hallway at work with my hair flat ironed, new boots, feeling pretty good. Until my coworker said she saw me coming and didn’t recognize me with my new “do.” “Who’s that lady?” She wondered to herself.

And I wondered when I became a lady.

cousins

Me, on the right, about thirty birthdays ago…

Wasn’t I just fifteen, swearing I would never forget what it was like to be fifteen and then all of the sudden I woke up to find myself standing in front of a room full of teenagers talking about record players?!

“And yeah, I know, record players are vintage cool now, but this was before the Internet. And YouTube. And, have you ever heard of a mixed tape? Well…anyway…”

I spent an entire day in that high school, talking and guiding students through creative writing exercises, sharing my career path, drinking chocolate milk out of those little cartons and listening to snippets of their lives play out in the hallways: A paper is late and there’s an excuse. Her sister didn’t put her clothes in the dryer last night and she was so annoyed. Someone’s not pulling their weight in the group project. A sign needs to be painted before tonight’s game. Did you study for the test? What are you doing this weekend?

And suddenly I was transported back to a time when so many things were out of my control, my sensitivities were heightened, I simultaneously knew everything and nothing, and, what I probably remember most, was just being so completely unsure of myself.

I was reminded of that uncertainty because of the juxtaposition of the kids sitting before me that day. They did not appear unsure at all. I mean, yes, there was hesitancy in completing what I was asking them to do, which was to be vulnerable, to write down memories, to approach their identity, to open up their creative vaults, which was big. But these kids were open to it. They were given the task and they spoke up and shared things out loud, in the open, that I’m not certain I would have been brave enough to share when I was in their shoes. And now, I just wish I could really remember if that was true. I’d like to think I was more like them.

teenage jessie

I doubt any one of those teenagers would have been caught dead in this for $5.15 an hour. 

But what I do remember is that when I was fifteen I thought there was a magical time when you suddenly became an adult and that uncertainty made way for self-definiteness. Like, I am 35 and this is my house, this is the way I wear my hair. This is the cut of my jeans. This is my job. This is my plan.

But that’s not the way it goes is it? I know that now, because I’m not fifteen. I am thirty-five and I’ll tell you there are some things the years just don’t change. I just didn’t know until now that I would be glad for it.

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3 thoughts on “Fifteen

  1. Jessie….Today I am 86 and I can’t remember things about when I was 15. I do remember finding some remarkable pieces of your writing in my desk at the lake. You were 15 or younger at the time. I love what you do…your writing, your singing, your observation of life. Thanks from your Grandpa.

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