I learned the truth at sixty-one


After a wasted Friday, a perfect Saturday.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day hovering near the phone, waiting for it to ring. You think I’d be good at that, having been a chunky teenaged girl once, but I’ve lost the skill.

Does anyone else remember days of youthful, exquisite misery, staring at a silent Princess phone? I used to lock myself in my poster-plastered bedroom, with that seafoam-blue phone on the night table, and I would draw the blinds. Then, I would select the right piece of vinyl with which to immolate my soul.

Streisand could feed my misery, as she wailed “My Man.”

Roberta Flack could do the trick. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” would always convey the miserable countenance of whichever gangly young swain was neglecting to dial my digits, and defying destiny by not loving me “till the end of time.”

But there was one singer, and one song, guaranteed to send my  teenage soul into an abyss that would have frightened Dante: Janis Ian, perpetrator of “At Seventeen.”

As I type those words, my inner soul shakes, like a post-exorcism Regan facing a steaming bowl of pea soup.

No one, but no one has ever captured my angst like Ian! Even now, I’m afraid to play that song on You Tube, lest I identify again as one of those with “ravaged faces, lacking in the social graces.” She knew me, damn it—I was one of those “brown-eyed girls” whose name she couldn’t pronounce—and she broke my heart every time she intimated that no one would ever say “come dance with me.”

Jeez, I’m making myself miserable here.

Over and over and over, I would play this soul-sucking song while waiting for the phone to ring, until I either fell asleep, or called an equally miserable young and pimply friend to commiserate about the sad state of affairs in which we who weren’t beauty queens found ourselves.

Of course, the boys would eventually call, the commiseration would transform into gloating, and adolescence would continue… until it was finished and put away, like a vinyl record supplanted by eight tracks, and then by CDs.

So here I was yesterday, sitting by the phone…

But this time, I wasn’t waiting for a lover… or even a boyfriend… I was waiting to hear about a job. I wasn’t facing a future of lonely desolation…. just continued unemployment.

Instead of playing music that seared my heart, I turned on the TV set, and it was so soporific that it numbed both my mind and my soul between the hours of eight and five. I may have wondered whether my prospective employer had called someone else, but I felt no despair about this… not even a bit of jealousy. If they call, they call. If they don’t?

Well, as a wise audition coach once said to me, there’s something you need to believe: If they cast you, it’s because YOU are the best. If they don’t, it’s because THEY are stupid.

Meanwhile, when five o’clock came and went, I didn’t even bother to put the phone on the charger, since the only person whose calls I can’t do without came through my door.

I looked at him when he woke up this morning, and I had to laugh at the power of his funny old face to make me feel loved and secure and unthreatened by life. He got up, made himself some oatmeal, fed the cats, murmured a few vague obscenities, and went back to bed.

THIS is happiness.

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