Friday, July 27, 2007
I spent my formative pubescent years in a private school that was almost too picturesque to be believed; lots of old stone buildings interspersed between quadrangles of ancient trees and broken stone paths. It was the kind of place where our teachers would wear academic gowns and you would frequently hear bagpipes in the distance. Of course, the plaid ties and blazers of prep school vintage were replaced with dirty second generation hippies and kids in the latest J.Crew fineries, but the overall vibe still felt like one of those mid-century novels filled with angst and teen suicide and bully lacrosse players.
The school was on top of a small mountain at the tail end of the Appalachia, and for some strange reasons, mired in geology and the Jet Stream, every autumn that mountaintop turned into the underside of a dark cloud. Fog would roll in so thick that you couldn't see twenty feet ahead of you. I fully expected to round a corner some days, and see a turn-of-the-century London bobby racing past, hot on the trail of some murderer in a waistcoat and tails. It was just that evocative to my lurid imagination. Also, a dreadful bitch to drive in.
Those foggy days, surrounded by the towering trees once tended by monks, and dark buildings that stood impassively in the grey soup, it was hard not to feel a bit on the Byronic side. There was slightly drizzling rain, and cold, stark air, and you lost the gorgeous Fall sunsets to a Gradual Darkening. Is anything more eerily romantic than a Gradual Darkening?
It was in this atmosphere, choked with chilly fog and the trappings of some weird, fictional, prep school melodrama, that I first fell in love. She was foolish enough to show me attention and mild kindness, and I rewarded that with slavish devotion and emotional demands the likes of which have never been seen by man or the angel Moroni. Now, the question is, was it simply that I was needy and overly dramatic, or can I blame the Pre-Raphaelite setting, colliding with the thunderstorm of teenage chemicals in my brain? Looking back, it's all very embarrassing and horrible, but along with the shame there is a hint of nostalgia, and the sad, sad realization that I will never again experience that particular mix of hormones, desperation, and foggy evenings ever again.
Puberty is rife with hot emotions and hyperbole, all stomping in your brain like the eternal Marching Band of Sex and Desire. Every trip to the movies is the first leap on the path to marriage or multiple orgasms. Every touch of the hand is loaded, and crushes you with the weight of a thousand erections. Every heartbreak is a vast abyss that drags you to the ground in an exaggerated fit of sorrow and despair. Had I known that actual love and commitment would be the sexy equivalent of handshakes and compromise, I would have more fully savored that Grand Guignol of gut-wrenched adolescence, and enjoyed the effects of hormones and unrealistic expectations while they were still fresh on the vine.
First Love was so very real and important that it reverberated in the rest of one's young life like atomic aftershocks. Food either tasted like sweet ambrosia, or turned to ash in one's mouth, depending on the state of romantic affairs. Music took on a whole new meaning, and songs that seem silly and forgettable now were once the most vital pieces of poetry ever composed and sung by the angels above. (Be honest; how many among us cried salty tears whenever the mix tape rolled around to "Romeo and Juliet", as warbled by Mark Knopfler and/or the Indigo Girls?)
Morning to night, filled with High Drama and Opera Bel Canto! Ahhhh, young love! Is anything ever so cataclysmic? All fourteen year olds are living through Shakespeare, every day, and we adults move on, forgetting that there was a time when every furtive glance between crushes was a matter of life and death.