When Michelle asked us to write about what we were like in high school, I figured it’d be easy; I had lots of material. I could write about the dichotomy of my teenage persona:
The goth chick who was a cheerleader for two seasons.
The Salutatorian who failed P.E., skipped much of my senior year and got suspended for swearing.
The National Honor Society member who feigned an obsession with knives in order to seem more tortured.
The Student Council Vice President who was impeached for orchestrating an unfortunate pep rally which ended in a riot and at least one broken bone.
The overachiever who, during the same grading period, was asked by one classmate whether I was, “Saving myself for Jesus” (uh, no) and accused by another classmate of being a serious druggie (negative on that one, too).
I was in marching band, pep band, jazz band, concert band, chorus, drama, Student Council, National Honor Society, Mock Trial, cheerleading . . too many pins to fit on my letterman jacket. I didn’t drink or do drugs (okay, maybe once). I had some sex (okay, maybe more than “some”). I was too smart for my own good and too mouthy for anyone’s good (just ask my parents).
I planned to share lots of embarrassing high school photos (check). I planned to apologize to my parents for the mouthiness and all the drama that accompanies a teenage girl (Sorry, Mom and Dad.). I planned to write about karma coming back to bite me in the ass, about how I am destined to have too-smart, mouthy teenagers myself. I was going to imagine my antics from my parents’ point of view and discuss how I might handle these same situations now that I’m the parent.
But beyond all the funny stories that I have from high school, the one thing that kept coming back to me, overriding all the levity, was the memory of having my heart broken for the first — and dare I say worst — time.
As an adult, it’s easy to mock teenage “love.” “You’re sixteen, what can you possibly know about love?!” You can laugh at the barely-pubescent pop idols who sing about heartbreak. Shut the hell up, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, you Jonas Puppies.
But I remember what that feels like. Teen melodrama or no, it feels real. When it ends, it feels like the world is ending. More than twenty years, a happy marriage and two great kids later, that boy from high school is still The Boy Who Broke My Heart; that will forever be his official title. At age seventeen, we fell in love to Peter Gabriel’s “Say Anything.” We bonded over a shared love of The Cure. We played house by babysitting his toddler brother. He wrote me amazing love letters and painted me pictures. We would go to the same college and live together in off-campus housing. I was going to love him forever. He was going to love me forever.
Then life happened. He went to college a year before me, and like any great cliché that proves the rule, we were over by Thanksgiving break (Side note: this is SUCH a cliché that it actually has its own official name — the TurkeyDump — and its own website). I was devastated. For a brief time, the world came to an end. I couldn’t bear to hear that Peter Gabriel song and I went around singing Go West lyrics (“I’ll get over you/I know I will/I’ll pretend my heart’s still beating/And I’ll tell myself/I’m over you/’Cause I’m the king of wishful thinking”). Eventually that wishful thinking came true and I got over him, but it took a long time. Even today, I would probably drop to the ground in a dead faint if I ran into him on the street. Luckily for me, I know where he is (thanks, Google!) and there’s about a zero chance of that happening.
So even if I don’t handle my sons’ teenage years as well as I want to, I want to remember how it felt to be a teenager. I don’t know whether teenage boys (or adult men, even) feel the same way, but I’m going to guess that the power and the depth of feelings are the same, even if the outward expression is different. I’ve written before about wanting my boys to know that I had a life and loves before them. I’ve said that they need to experience love and heartbreak. I still want those things for them, but I want to always remember to put myself back in that place, to honor and acknowledge their feelings as real. I don’t ever want to shut them down because then they will shut me out. Hopefully, they will share their feelings with me and I can gently guide them through the heartbreak and past the Sirens who caused it (and hopefully I’ll restrain myself from drowning said Sirens who messed with my baby boys). If my sons are the Dumpers, I’ll tell them what it feels like to be the Dumpee and teach them how to be gentle and respectful but firm. They may — and should — still have their own Ones Who Broke Their Hearts, but they’ll come out the other side with no permanent damage. May they always know that Mama was their first love.