High School ends like a blur. It seems that your life is about to open up into everything, and you are eighteen and you have your first real job working for a friend of your mothers in a little boutique. You were the girl who worked on the petitions in Junior High so that everyone could wear embroidered Levi’s. You and your intellectual friends who were all going to go off to Radcliffe.
It was something you wanted too, but fate didn’t send you there. It always has other plans.
Your jeans have a new design that year, and the seam runs up the back like a saddle, all tight-fitting curves. Your mother had sent you to Paris as a gift the summer after High School. You’d draped yourself in amber beads bought in little bazaars and saturated yourself with croissants. You tasted wine from caves. You’d seen the chateaux, and the garret rooms, and the pigeons flying in the high white light over washed clay roof tiles. You didn’t really belong here, folding jeans and smiling, but it was something you did that year.
She was older than you, that girl who worked alongside you selling clothes. She ran with the Harley crowd and the two of you played Springsteen on the little radio in the stockroom. You wanted to ask her about losing something, and you did, because you’d missed that part of school where everyone tumbled and fumbled in the dark together and found their first boyfriends. You’d missed everything, like dates and proms because it wasn’t cool to want all that if you were chic.
One had tried to knock at the door of your little parisian garret room one night. There was a skylight and you looked at the stars all wrapped in the comfort of blue and white toile in the tiniest room of all at the hotel — your little room was the way you thought about it. It would have been so adventuresome to have lost it there, or so memorable, but that isn’t what happened.
“Don’t come home,” your mother says. “Ask your grandfather for some money so you can stay there.”
She is on the phone with you in Paris and it’s 1975. You found the college of your dreams on a little street not far from the hotel. You wanted to stay. You wanted your life to open up in a thousand directions that all lead back to the Seine.
She has no idea how shy you are, or that staying would be so hard.
“Mom…” you say as your voice trails off.
“Don’t come home,” she repeats. “Or you will regret it.”
She must have been trying to push you from the nest, you think. It had to be that. But you did come home, that year. With your suitcases full of clothes from the Galeries Lafayette. They were filled with ombre dresses and scarves and everything that was so au courant at that time and nothing like your little beach town by the sea. There was nowhere to wear any of it.
You contented yourself folding endless pairs of jeans. Your uniform is blue, all-American, all girl.
“You should come out with us,” she says, in the stockroom while the music blares. She’s five years older and she lives with her boyfriend in a tiny cottage in the rough part of town and you hear the motorcycle roar up every night at five. He never lets her out of his sight.
“I’m so in love,” she says. “Head over heels.”
“He’ll find somebody to turn you out.”
“Come out with us.”
But you shake your head, smiling, lining up the jeans on the glass shelves of etageres and the little round racks and you outfit yourself in endless pairs of them with little jean jackets all buttoned up tight. All your friends have scattered into other lives by then. They are working or in school and everyone loses touch. You’re too young to go out, and it isn’t like Paris where everything was so exquisitely sophisticated.
You’re not even sure what you want yet. Is it a car? Is it a boyfriend? Is it more clothes?
Is it somebody older?
It was always someone older. Nobody your age was sophisticated enough.
Your best friend has been living with her boyfriend for two years, now. She’s settled into that role on the other side of town in a little shack and they live with his mother and his brother. She bounces in his lap like a toy. She’s planting a garden. She wants to get married. He’s like an Aztec the color of mayan chocolate. She tells you people stare at them with looks of disgust when they walk down the street.
He doesn’t want the baby. There is always an excuse in those days.
Years later you look at your jeans. You still wear this uniform, at times. You pull on your boots and your hats and your little jackets made of denim and you zip yourself into the reality that you have always lived. Free, yet fettered.
White girls know their places.
You’re sitting in Montmartre having a little coffee. The pigeons dance fluttering in the sky. You have no idea where you belong. You have fallen into life like so many sets of circumstances and there were never solid plans. There was never any guidance because you never had a father around to set things up correctly. You missed the proms and the dates and the corsages and the boy in the backseat of the car where you went parking by a lake and the stars gleamed overhead while he kissed you and you had to say something like “Stop.”
Years later you buy a bottle of spirits. It’s named for an attitude you’ve always had. It suits you, all curvilinear and Metro. You recall the room full of blue and white toile that night when there was a soft knock at the door and you could have but you didn’t. The bottle says “taste me” and all of a sudden there is the fresh sweet rush of elderflowers on your tongue. You mix it with champagne. It takes you back to St. Germain as you look at your paintbrushes and your pastels and your books and your easel and you serve it to yourself in one of your grandmother’s gilded glasses with a French motif.
You begin to take stock of yourself all over again in the middle of your life. Maybe it was because you were looking at photographs or you looked at your face in the mirror and you liked what you saw, suddenly. Maybe all of a sudden you had actually grown up into your face.
“Come out with us tonight,” she says as she folds the jeans in the stockroom. Her pants are frayed at the bottom where her boots have worn them thin from stepping on the hem.
You hear the roar of her boyfriend’s motorcycle in the parking lot and you wave her off. It takes you years to understand the parameters of what you really love. It takes you years to understand your own kind.
“fray” — copyright 2010 — by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved