I was home late at night again; I was thirteen going on thirty. The dining room fixture shone brightly down onto the table, like a beacon of sorts. I sat there with my copy books and my pens, and wrote. It was the summer before I was going to start high school.
High school: the thought of it made my stomach sick and my skin crawl. I could actually feel the anxiety down, down deep in my gut. I was too young for high school, and yet I was too old for high school. Either way, the whole thought of going on a bus to school at seven every morning consumed my summer.
There was also the battle with my parents about where I was going to go to school – public or private? At the time I had a very strong religious conviction. I prayed a lot; I asked God to intervene on a daily basis in my life. Imagine. How tough could my life have been at thirteen? But there you go: we often think children don’t deal with stress, but they do.
So do my parents send me to private or public? I really don’t think they had the money to send me to private school; I think they were waiting for me to put up a fight about private, and I was torn. I really wanted to be with my friends as they were what was important to me at the time. The bond I had with my friends in elementary school was so strong to me (whether they felt the same way, I don’t know). But for me my friends were what got me through my days. And so I decided I would go to public school just as all my friends were doing.
My mother and father both supported this decision and so my summer was spent worrying and contemplating what high school would be like.
At thirteen my life was pretty limited as to what I could do. I spent most nights that summer at home. My parents were often out at parties or events and I was designated babysitter for my elderly Aunt.
“Martha, we are leaving now,” my mother yelled from downstairs.
“Okay,” I replied. Then there would be a pause and my mother would continue on.
“Don’t forget to check on Gert, Martha. Make sure she hasn’t fallen or anything. Alright, your father and I are going now. Good night. Don’t wait up for us.”
“Okay, I will, bye mom.” I answered back to the voice. Engrossed in a book I didn’t want to put down, I continued reading. Most days and nights were spent doing things like that: reading or writing or watching television. That would pretty much sum up my summer.
So while I had those free moments at home I would do what most teenagers do; I would wallow in self pity and teenage angst. Fawn over boys who probably never even knew I existed, and listened to music. Music and dancing, neither of which I am good at but both of which I so immensely enjoy and rejoice in!
I would put on Frank Sinatra. Man, how I loved Frank and that big band sound! And I memorized every lyric to every song on his Greatest Hits album. I would belt out My Way and Summer Breeze and I would often become the conductor, orchestrating when and where each instrument would come in. It was a good thing my aunt was deaf.
I listened to other pieces of music as well, from classical to pop, but Ole Blue Eyes was one of my favorites. I would also invent dances and dance around our living room as though I were a fair maiden gypsy dancing for gold. I would dance till the sweat dripped down my forehead and I would wipe it off with my shirt sleeve, get a drink of water and start over again.
Dancing made me feel whole. In that living room there was just me, the dance and the music, loud music, and I would be lost in it. Lost in the movement of my body, and in how perfectly everything worked, how my hand softly creased upward or downward, how high I could kick my leg up in the air, how softly I could pivot down, down till I lay sprawled out on the carpet exhausted and filled with absolute joy.
At thirteen you don’t realize just how marvelous life is; it’s too hard to see it’s beauty. Writing this piece I feel the urge to weep for that young woman who so loved to dance, and who loved the sound of any type of music and how miraculously the music and the dance fit together. How awesome was that, that your body could move so passionately to music! At thirteen it moved without effort without fatigue.
Summer at thirteen was a time of gathering up the strength for what was to come. Long days of rest – of reading in the back yard, sitting under a tree in the quiet shade. Walks to girlfriends’ houses to hang out, and chat and experiment with cigarettes.
“Hey Marth, want to go down to the bowling alley and buys some cigarettes?” my friend Al asked me one day.
“Oh, okay. Do you have any money?” I asked her.
“Well, I stole a couple of dollars from my mom’s purse. Do you think you could get the rest?” she asked.
“I’ll try. Wait here,” I said to her at our front door.
“Martha, who’s that at the door?” my mom yelled from upstairs. We did a lot of yelling in our house.
“Oh, what are you two doing?”
“Nothing, mom. We’re just going to the park or something. I won’t be long,” I yelled up to her while I rummaged through her purse looking for loose change.
After discovering the bottom of my mother’s purse was like a gold mine I managed to scrounge enough nickels and dimes in order for Al and I to buy our first pack of smokes. Export “A .“ We told the man at the bowling alley that the cigarettes were for my mom. Thankfully both of us looked a lot more innocent than we actually were. We opened up that pack of smokes and sat by the train tracks and smoked the whole pack in about an hour.
“I don’t get what is so great about this do you, Marth?” Al said to me.
“No, I think your right; it kind of hurts the throat eh?” I responded, probably looking rather green as I did.
“Your parents smoke, so you must be used to this?” Al asked me
“Yeah, I guess so,” I replied, not really knowing what she meant. Most parents would have tortured their children by making them smoke a pack of cigarettes and here we were doing the torturing all by ourselves. We were, I suppose, a bit masochistic when it came to smoking. But it would be something to tell our other friends. Wouldn’t they be impressed that we smoked a pack of Export “A” in about a minute and half?
“Do you have any gum, Marth? “ Alison asked me
“No, but we better get some,” I said and went back into the bowling alley and bought some gum. We ate the whole pack of gum too on the way home.
Watching old black and white movies on our new color television, mostly musicals, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Carousel, and West Side Story. And I would write.
I would write long wordy poems about war, about love about the trees. I would write and imagine myself as a great poet one day, reading my poetry in front of large crowds who would weep and cheer and understand exactly how I felt at that moment of writing. I would spend many nights with my copy books, thinking of rhymes and hoping I could find a rhyme that fit. Cool, school, hope, dope. My poems were anything but fancy but they had a rhythm and to me they were masterpieces of extraordinary genius. When I finished my writing I would gather all my books and hide them under my bed so my brother or my parents wouldn’t find them. They were private and none needed to know what I was writing about, except the imaginary audiences that I would conjure up.
Those poems and stories are still with me. The books are hidden away still. To read them makes me feel sad – so many years ago, so many words ago. And the words have kept on coming, and the years have too. The years have come too quickly it seems. When did I become middle aged. How did that happen? Yet Frank is still around, those songs embedded in my brain. Those moments in the living room performing for nobody but myself, with absolute abandon, waving my arms around conducting the orchestra or holding something in my hand that resembled a microphone and belting out “ I did it my way. “ Content that Frank would have been proud of me.
And I must say there were times when I would get caught in the act. Times when my parents would show up early out of the blue and there I would be in prefect pose, my eyes closed, and my lips pursed singing something and I would hear, “Marthaaaaa, turn that down. How can you listen to music that loud?” It would take me a little while to even notice someone was there. And when I did, oh, the embarrassment, the feeling I had been caught at something horrible. It was as though all the joy and intensity of the moment had deflated in an instant.
“Why are you home?” I would ask, turning off the stereo.
“Oh.” Then I would go up to my room and quietly listen to the radio, praying that my parents would not go around telling everyone about how Martha pretends she’s a singer.
When the time finally came for me to get on that early morning bus I was crushed, my spirit broken by the confines of high school. No more, music, no more dancing, no more freedom. At least I still had cigarettes. Jr. high was nothing like I thought it would be; it was worse, and it got even more anti-climactic as I continued on. But I had the summer to look forward to again: the music, and the dance, and the words, which over time and years really did improve, unlike my dancing or singing. I always had words, those I read and those I wrote.
Photo by Martha Farley. All rights reserved.