Two Little Girls in Green Dresses and…

This is about two little girls in green dresses, families, a school dance and how it changed lives, and its reverberations.

Amazingly, at least to me, this story starts 50 years ago.

I grew up in Levittown in the era of large families.  It was a time of stricter Catholicism and an innocent optimism. Birth control was restricted and popping a pill was not yet a common thing. There were these huge, iconic families with children in every grade. People said that Levittown looked alike.  It wasn’t the houses.  It was the children, families of  little rubber stamps.  About 10 years ago, I went to a party of Levittown people.  One of the men asked, “Do you know who I am?”  An interesting question that I have heard throughout the years. There were at least 3 – 4 of them, one older than me, one my age, one my brother’s “You are one of the P brothers.”  We all laughed and he told me which one he was.  He was my age.

Another family was the Gs.  I don’t know how many there were but there was my age and brackets. B had a crush on  me when he was in kindergarten and I must have been in third grade.  Upon seeing me at a reunion decades later, he asked, “Don’t you feel anything between us?” “Yes, I do.  Your wife.”  His brother T was/is my age.  The family was large, popular and unbridled.  I remember Mrs. G writing a letter to the local paper about her children being able to look into what passed for a strip club at the time, at 9:30 at night!  My thought was why were they out then when that was my bedtime.  T was popular and arrogant with that teenage boy swagger.

He was part of a crowd of those boys.  Every school has them, in every year.  They band together in their adorable cuteness.  Girls love them, for the most part unrequitedly.  Teachers pander to them in order for their classes to be unencumbered with chaos and testosterone. They rule the halls, the classrooms and the schoolyards for that brief, shining moment in their lives.  It’s been my experience, for the most part, that those charmed boys and girls, once school is behind us, morph into fatness, polyester and, for the guys, baldness. I had liked T in 2nd and 3rd grade but outgrew it.  By the time junior high school rolled around, I steered clear of him and those boys. They weren’t part of my world and I didn’t want them to be.

I met Sue(no initials here, we share the same name) in the fall of 9th grade. She had transferred from Catholic school.  We were introduced because we had the same name. 9th grade is a cusp between the child and the young adult.  We shared a name so we must have similarities. Well, we did both have brown hair, wore glasses and were “nice” girls.

There was a holiday dance that year.  These were simple affairs. It was in the cafeteria.  There may have been crepe paper.  The lighting was dimmed.  There were records with pop tunes.  I had attended the end of school dance the previous spring, worn white lipstick for the first time and had had fun with my friends.  We were nerds although the term was not in use then.  I believe we were known as  weirdos.  We were the advanced class and in many cases had known each other all our lives.  When you grow up as closely as that, you have a defined role and place.  However, there was still the remote possibility that things might change. A dance held magic, unnamed possibilities for a girl like me.  Glamour was an undercurrent. It was still the era where girls could not wear pants, let alone jeans to school.  Mini skirts had arrived but were not yet micro. 

The afternoon of the dance, E asked me if I wanted to go?  Sure. I didn’t take it as a date.  My first real date happened on the last day of 11th grade. I had known E since we were both  7.  He was funny and nice.  He liked comic books.  He was thin but was gaining a bit of weight  He was blond.  I don’t particularly care for blond guys.  Apparently, E saw it as a date, as I found out later.  We were driven separately.  In those days, once you arrived at the dance, you stayed.  Your coats were taken and left in the gym.  It was only E and I from our regular set that night.  As soon as the coats were locked and we entered the cafeteria, E had a severe asthma attack and had to go home. This apparently was brought on by the pressure of the “date”.  Instead of telling a teacher, we had come together which would have allowed me to call my parents and leave; I was adolescent, awkward. embarrassed and found myself to a folding metal chair at the edge of the dance floor.

I had been excited about going to this dance. It was an occasion.  Since, it was late notice, my mother let me wear her green sheath. Since it was hers,  I felt it was the height of sophistication.  She gave me a long chain necklace with green stones.  I had graduated from white lipstick to pearlized pink.  I have always had my own specific sense of style. In my mind’s eye, I was adult and glamorous. Teenagers at that time in Levittown went to Mays Department Stores for their clothes.  Everyone wore the same thing.  This was not me.  It accentuated my differences. The houses may not have been the same but at times, it appeared the people were uniform.  So, there I was in my version of sophistication, sitting on the edge of the dance floor, counting the hours and minutes until I could escape.  Counting the minutes is something that I later learned from Sue to do correctly.  A group of about three of those boys approached.  The only one I remember after all these years was the ringleader, T.  Those boys mocked me, asked me to dance, grabbed at me, made apelike motions.  It was awful.  I sat there, mortified. The chaperones didn’t materialize.  A was a stocky boy.  Boys are not fat.  A was middle of the road.  He was smart. A was also brave.  He stepped up to those boys.  “Leave her alone.  Just leave her alone.” They were stunned. And then, Sue swept in.  “You are in a green dress, so am I.  C’mon and dance with us.”  Sue was in a moss green chiffon dress that had been cut down, if I remember, from a wedding. An age of glamor, mystery and possibility. Two little girls in green dresses;  she led me by the hand to a circle of girls dancing .  The evening eventually ended.  I went home, cried hysterically and threw up.  My parents declared I was never to go to another dance again.  I never did until I reached college.

the green dress

It was the start of a decades long friendship for Sue and I.  She has taught me so much about how to live my life.  I carry those lessons with me. Counting the time lets me cope with infusions and MRIs.  Okay, I also sleep through MRIs. She taught me about connecting to life and to others.  Reaching out and being brave can change a life.

We ran into A at a reunion some years back and thanked him for that evening.  He remembered! He also remembered that he was slightly scared because he, too had to go against those boys.  It was the right thing to do. He is still a lovely man.

T is in my life.  We saw each other at our 10th reunion.  We spoke.  I met his wife.  He was adult as was I. Years later and I don’t remember how, he asked me to read a play he was writing and subsequently had produced.  He knew that I read tons and attended lots of theater.  We became distant friends on Facebook.

All three of us have faced  significant health issues and situations.  It has been a true and deep comfort to share with people who knew you when and before. We weren’t always broken.  When we talk, I picture us as we used to be. We are young and healthy.

T is now my health insurance broker yet we speak of many things.  “Of shoes — and ships — and sealingwax —. Of cabbages — and kings —. And why the sea is boiling hot —. And whether pigs have wings.”  We have a common past.  It’s not only a shared geographic past but of a certain time and place, a shared youth.  We have never spoken of that dance.  I don’t even believe he remembers it.  We talk of people.  And if you are reading this T, this is what I want to say, not what I should say. We have had conversations around that topic. I love that my life moved on and can still include that boy.

I recently came across that green dress.  Yes, I still have it although I had forgotten.  It looks so tiny.  It’s hard to imagine my mother wearing it; let alone me.  I kept it for all it represented to me – sophistication, pain, strength, deep and abiding friendship.  Two little girls in green dresses at a dance  and a lifetime.

Mortality Musings

I am a woman of a certain age.  I remember someone at a high school reunion almost twenty years ago saying “We are in the last third of our lives.  We need to make the most of it.”  Mortality looms,  even more so with this condition.  Time is becoming more finite.  It’s not morbid or depressed.  It just is. If you have read me, you know that I have lost old lovers and husbands in the past.  Dead friends are no longer as surprising.

This month I have learned of two people from my youth that have died.  Somehow, these have hit me.

This weekend, I saw that HV had died. I hadn’t really known him in high school.  We mixed in different circles.  He was a year older. He wasn’t quite fat but rather pudgy, the type of guy, I call vanilla pudding, bland features swallowed in his face, outstanding only in his vanilla-ness.

I graduated college and ran into TM, definitely not my set, also a year older.  He was a football player.  I was a nerdy hippy type.  TM asked me out.  Fourth of July 1977 was on the horizon.  There were going to be a group from high school going to Montauk for the weekend.  Montauk at that time was still definitely, the un-Hamptons.  We were Levittown, still gritty and blue-collar middle-class.  HV was a charter boat captain and he had a house there which was to be the base for the weekend.  T and I drove out early in the morning.  People were already there.  It was a crowd from high school that had never been  my friends – football players and cheerleaders.  Since I had left high school and Levittown, I had blossomed.  Well, everyone does, don’t they?  You leave behind high school, teenage hormones and expectations.  I had shed my glasses and emerged from my chrysalis.  They saw me as a new thing.  I grew up in the era in Levittown where everyone drank.  It was a fact of life.  You went over someone’s parent’s house and you were given  a drink.  My mother’s boss, when I was 15, asked me what I wanted to drink and said, “And don’t give me any of this Coca Cola shit.”  Vodka stingers!  Even given that background and mindset, I had no interest in drinking before the early afternoon.  We walked in and were immediately handed beers.  I realized that the weekend was going to be longer than I thought.  At that age, I was very good at holding onto a drink and/or pouring it out.  I was still fascinated and slightly intimidated by the former cheerleaders.  I remember Crosby, Stills and Nash on what appeared to be a continuous loop on the stereo.  In those days, there were record players and probably everyone was too drunk to change the record.  I hated “Dark Star”.

H had also undergone a metamorphosis.  He was tan, lean, bleach blond long hair, deep, startling green eyes, gorgeous and charming.  I was stunned, tongue tied.  His girlfriend was one of the cheerleaders and so friendly to me. At some point during the now evening, H approached  T and suggested that we leave and go to the boat.  People were bleary and passing out.  The air was thick with cigarette smoke.  Levittown and jocks during that era was all alcohol and no weed.  We went to the boat.  Remember the excitement and newness of being “adult” couples?  We drank more and then T and I retired to a berth. Hormones, alcohol, excitement.  What can I say except to the inevitable outcome?  I hadn’t the experience I was to later acquire, starting with T, to understand that sex with football players is a non-starter.  T, especially T drunk, had all the technique of a stray, horny dog.  My outstanding memory of the evening was looking through the portal and seeing the 4th fireworks.  I said something about it and T thought I was seeing fireworks because of him.  I was too amazed to rid him of that notion.  He then declared that he was looking for three  things in a woman – she had to be pretty, good in bed and know how to cook.  H had already checked two of the boxes but didn’t know if I cooked.  We all passed out.  The beer started again at dawn.  I never ran into H again but still see his dark green eyes, deeply tanned legs and remember his kindness.

T and I continued for the summer.  It was the Son of Sam summer.  We were in a NYC  suburb.  T, big jock that he had been, was deathly afraid of spiders.  So, that combined with the fear of sitting in a car, led to me being practically thrown out of the car with the motor running.  Romance was not in the air.  Mercifully, I never cooked for T.

The ramifications for the weekend did not end there.  I had a high school boyfriend who I have always loved and adored.  He was an artist.  He had moved to California.  We stayed in touch in a distant way.  A few years after the Montauk party, B came for a visit from CA.  The first thing he said after we walked out of my parents was “What’s this I hear about you sleeping with H on his boat in Montauk?”  “I slept on his boat but not with him.  I was there with T.” “T, even worse!”  The world is small.  B was working temp at a factory in CA as was one of H’s brothers.  They got to talking…. And I guess it was a better party than I thought.  B and I got straight after some difficult awkward moments.  We are still friendly to this day.

The story doesn’t end there. There was a reunion of 70’s classes from my school in early 2001.  An H brother was there.  He had a few brothers.  Reunion, Levittown, alcohol.  Someone introduces me to the brother.  I go off on him.  “And you, you had the nerve to tell B I slept with H!  How dare you!  It wasn’t true and even if it was how f’ing dare you!”  Uh, wrong brother?  Levittown was like that back when we were growing up, huge families where all the kids looked the same. And we held and hold onto those associations.

The second death preceded the first death and is a different story.  A family moved in diagonally from our backyard.  There were two girls, M and C, M, a year older and C, a year younger.  The elder was fragile, tiny and stooped as she had had polio.  The younger suffered ridiculously bad acne.  High school was almost 2 miles away.  We were just under the bussing line.  I used to walk home sometimes with M.  She was terribly slow.  Children and teenagers are cruel.  As I mentioned, I was in the nerdy, hippie set.  I was bullied which made my later acceptance by T and H odd.  However, much I was bullied,  it was worse for C and M.  I have always felt it important to be kind.  It’s one of the adjectives most used to describe me in recent years.  It’s been part of my life.  Being “other” offers choices.  You can either reject or embrace the world.  I go for the positive.  As with younger siblings of odder elders, C tried to distance herself from M as did my brother.  It didn’t really work.  However, she was stronger and bigger so superficially, at least, she was better able to stand up for herself.

It is said, revenge is a dish best eaten cold. C went on to work for unemployment.  It appeared that all those years of bullying and childish spitefulness had taken a toll on her.  She was now in a position to fight back.  Unemployment is difficult in the best of circumstances.  C certainly got her own back in that position.  Nasty and unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe it.  I remember once telling her but I was nice to you!  I moved out of the neighborhood and stayed employed.  They passed from my existence.

Then I saw a notification on my high school FB page from a former childhood neighbor that C had passed away.  Sad.  But.  People who hadn’t known her expressed sympathy and condolences.  Fine.  I don’t understand that but it’s the intent.  The guy who posted was also her age; she lived directly behind him and he was also distinctly odd and bullied.  I have no idea of the depth of their relationship. What did amaze me was the comments of the people who had known her.  One likened her to a “shy kitten” yet despite this I remember him being one of her tormentors. The family had a name that was similar to a brand commercial.  Some people remembered calling this out to harass the sisters.  Most of us grow up.  What disturbed me was that these people expressed no regret only an “I remember doing that to them.”  Now, written  in my yearbook as well as in later years, I would run into people and they would express regret or that they wished they had known me better or they went along with the crowd.  I was horrified that there was none of that for C. So, how much has really changed for some people since high school?  Are we stuck in a high school/childhood loop?  How and why do some of us change?  I like to think that I have but maybe not?  The childhood neighbor wants to friend me on FB but I have no interest. Yet, I am close on line with childhood people that I had issues with in high school.  I remember working on my 10th reunion and a mean girl was on the committee and she told me I was no longer weird.  I told her I was the same as I ever was.  I believe I am except I had contact lenses, a good hair cut and an enviable job.  I always told people after high school that perception changed just as long as you were well-groomed.

Two passings.  Two different lives.  Carpe Diem.  What will be said after I’m gone?  Will I be remembered as the Montauk girl?  High school nerd?  Or the woman who can’t really walk, the disabled? Or the woman I see myself as?

4th July Independence

The Fourth Of July was not my mother’s holiday.  She grew up in another country. As with Thanksgiving, she would state, “This is not my holiday.  I did not grow up with it, but I will do it for you children..” So, we would have hot dogs and hamburgers and most importantly apple pie.  She would laugh and say the garden knew it was a holiday as it was red, white and blue -hydrangea, roses and daisies.  We’d sit out in the backyard to catch glimpses of the fireworks from the park.  It meant ice cream.  Sometimes, sparklers.  Illegal, illicit glittery sparklers with the other neighborhood children.

As time marched towards adulthood, it became a day to sleep late and not work, followed by the requisite barbecue and pie.

The summer I graduated college I was looking for work.  I went to my local neighborhood dive.  Most of the people there were people I’d been at school with.  I was an introverted nerd who had blossomed in my time away.  I was shocked when a football team jock invited me to spend the 4th with him in Montauk, at another classmate’s house party.  I told him I had to ask my father.  Said father was furious, not that I wanted to away for the holiday with a boy; but rather that I had said I had to ask.  So off we went.  I remember getting  there early in the day.  Just about everyone was from high school and the cool kids no less.  Despite my blossoming, I felt as if I was in a foreign land.  We all grew up drinking.  It was the era.  But these people had started way too early in the day for me.  When it was dark, H the host, suggested that T and I join him and his girlfriend and sleep on his boat.  I don’t do boats.  My grandfather was a ship’s pilot and drowned.  Yes, this was over 50 years later but I had and have an innate antipathy towards boats.  Evening falls and finds us in bed.  Hey, red blooded American twenty somethings! So, lying on my back and thinking of England and see fireworks.  Yes, they’re exploding in the harbor or wherever the hell we are.  I say, “I am seeing fireworks.”  Poor thing took it seriously.  The romance was short-lived.  It was the Son of Sam Summer and that coupled with his fear of spiders cooled things down quickly. The other takeaway was that my high school and forever boyfriend was in California at the time.  Some years later, he returned to NY.  The first phrase out of his mouth was, “What’s this I hear about you sleeping with H on his boat?”  Uh, wrong guy and it’s a truly tiny country.

Next decade(30’s):

“Paris was a place you hide away if you felt you didn’t fit in.”  from  “Every Picture Tells a Story”

I found myself in Paris for July 4 for pret a porter and my job.  I knew I’d get a comp day.  Imagine being paid to do this?  I love Paris and it was not my first trip.  I went all over the city.  My employers had a “rule” that I couldn’t come home without a roll of film.  It was unusually  cold and I wasn’t prepared.  On the Metro, a gentleman thought I was homeless.  One thing, whenever I travel, I note what makes me an American.  If I hear the Star Spangled Banner, it gets to me.  “land of the free; and the home of the brave”

Next decade – the Millennium

I find myself on July 3 starting at a monolith which I call the Bank, in all its omnipotence.  The HR orientation woman tells me, “There is no early leave at the Bank.”  I look at her quizzically as why are they discussing retirement when this is my first day?  She explains that early leave means for the 4th.  This is good because I am already planning my own early leave of staying just a year.  So much for plans.  I end up staying for 15 years through a new marriage, the death of both my parents and the onset of my lack of mobility.  Yesterday was the 18th anniversary.  So much of me was tied up there and still is.

Next decade (40’s)

I am at the Bank.  I have been seeing the man I will marry for about 9 months.  He has a room in a house full of guys.  The owner is a friend of my brother’s.  He has AIDS, which he denies; smokes copious amounts of weed and drinks heavily.  He  is one of the sweetest guys I have ever met.  We barbecue in the backyard.  And of course, we drink.  Everyone laughs as I discover I have drank a whole bottle of rum.  They laugh again as I try to get up the stairs into the house in my dizzy flipflops.  Tom and I sit on the lawn and watch neighborhood fireworks.  I am happy

Same decade(50’s):

We move.  We laugh as our house is close to the police precinct and the display of fireworks emanating from that direction is spectacular.  We sit on the step and move back and forth between the front and the back.  The noise continues till morning.  My reflection is that we are lucky to live in a country where the explosions and the lights are not bombs

Present Day

It’s hot and steamy.  Normally, this my weather.  Instead, the heat has made me captive in home and body.  The fans spin and the A/C is on.  I look out windows and at security cameras instead of being outside, half dozing, reading in the afternoon heat.  No barbecue, no apple pie, no fireworks of any  kind.  I have been told that currently I am grieving the Bank or more precisely my work there and my life.  A couple of things -it may be illogical but I see not being at the Bank, the beginning of my current decline.  I became complacent.  I didn’t learn enough new things.  Most importantly, I didn’t make a plan.  Even if I had, there was no plan to lose mobility.  Today, for now, I am dependent rather than independent.  However, I still have my mind! So, land of the free, home of the brave.

 

Teeth and Age

I read a long time ago that if you dreamt of losing your teeth, you were dreaming about age.  In a non-coincidence just before my 30th birthday I dreamt all my teeth fell out.  Now I am older and definitely have teeth issues.  In fact, I believe teeth are at the root (Ha, not ha) of my present predicament.  The hole in my mouth.  Recently, the bridge and crown covering that rogue tooth was removed.  The remainder has to go but I have been trying to hold off as I have an important meeting with the head of my company July 31.  I need to be able to talk and look healthy.   And yes,  my health is important but if I have no job or a miserable one, my health will also be impacted negatively.

Today, I took our 12 year old niece to a bracelet making class for her birthday.  Just the two of us at an adult class.  She told me how she feared 13.  It’s the end of childhood and she will be a teenager.  A child after my own heart as she has 11 months to go.  Today is also the day of my high school picnic. SUSAN GRADEvery year on this weekend in July, my high school which closed in the 80’s has an all class picnic.  I grew up in Levittown and as I explained to my niece not only were there people in your class but whole families you grew up with.  I literally was in the same class with one boy from second grade through my first year of college  I went two years and then stopped.Susan and Jerry Dumas July 2012  I find I revert to high school and try to disappear. I was quiet and odd.  Now I am louder and odd.  I explained to my niece when I was at school being smart was not looked up to.   I also hate looking the way I do.  The first year I went without the brace.  The second year I had to.  Now, I have to use a cane.  I can’t STAND the OMG what happened to you!!! And the pity.  Don’t tell me it’s in my mind either.  Because of mobility, it’s hard for me to get up and move around.  The first year we went my husband was anxious as he thought he wouldn’t know anyone.  He is younger than me and grew up several towns over.  You can tell where this is going.  He recognized more people than I did.  Recognize is relative.  We are older and balder and broader and greyer. Me,  I am the gimpiest next to the guy that my husband knew who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. So,  when I think I see someone I recognize I can’t walk quickly enough to talk to them.  And here’s another reason I don’t go anymore, every year after the picnic someone dies!  First year someone got run over by a cab, 2nd year a guy who grew up behind me was hit by a garbage truck, last year someone from my class was killed by a wrong way driver.  Why tempt fate?

So jewelry with niece, leather wrap bracelet, nicer than hippie ones, safer than picnic.  However, all the nostalgia and seeing things again through 12 year old eyes.  We leave the class and part of the rogue tooth crumbles and comes out.  Irony and age.  Now I have another hole in my mouth, more poison loose in my body.  A stunning reminder of aging on a reunion day.