epitome of cool

I can't remember her name. She was a senior in high school when I was in junior high. She was tall, dark haired and confident. Her cool seemed effortless. She drove a black Trans-am. She was the first person I knew with a car phone- literally, one of those bag phones that you could only use in the car. She was applying to colleges while I was still trying to figure out how to apply mascara. I caddied for the summer at the local country club where she and her friends sunbathed, ordered diet cokes and appeared both bored with and interested in the ever changing array of lifeguards and tennis pros, who all looked exactly the same to me. I was envious not of the attention she received but rather of the way she seemed so comfortable with herself. I emphasize seemed because I did not know her. I do not know if she ever looked in the mirror unable to understand the image staring back. I don't know if she felt pressure to excel at everything, afraid her popularity, her "friends" would turn on her otherwise. I do not know if her mother paid too much attention or too little to her every action.

What I know is that she represented everything I did not feel. I hated my body, soft in all the wrong places, outgrowing me. I hated the short tan shorts and red polo I wore as a caddy and the way men looked at me when they thought I couldn't see them. The only bathing suit I wore that summer was a dark blue one piece. I swam at night after the pool officially closed for the day. Unofficially, the crew was allowed free reign. I wore a shirt until I hit the water. Then I would peel off the wet material and swim laps. Those night swims were the only times I felt comfortable in my skin. I loved the hot night air and the cold water. I felt alive, collected, confident when I swam. Outside of the pool, however, I shrank.

I think a lot about that summer. I remember the books I read, the poems I wrote. I remember feeling that there was something significant about those summer moments when everyone had gone home but the crew. The boys were kind to me, especially the grounds kids who mowed the expansive property. They told dirty jokes I barely understood and never teased me when I looked puzzled. They laughed a lot and talked about the kinds of lives they wanted. Most of them were in college or just out of high school. I was the youngest crew member who stuck around. I had no where to go except home.

The summer of 1990 was significant in many ways. Stevie Ray Vaughn died. Iraq invaded Kuwait. The Smurfs and You Can't Do That on Television were cancelled. Madonna's Blond Ambition Tour caused controversy after controversy. Pretty Woman premiered. And it was the last time I would really feel innocent or young.

I was talking with a friend about puppy energy, how I'm learning from Adia the kind of innocent energy that some of my friends have had where they don't believe a snake will bite them, as my father says. Typically, I found this kind of energy so opposite to my own that it was difficult for me to really connect and get along with these people. I think it's one of the reasons I struggled to find ways to connect with my brother's now fiancee. I've spent so much of my life protecting myself that when I come across people who see the world differently, I often feel unsure of myself. And I feel very "uncool." I think of that girl in the black Trans-Am and wonder if I'd find her "cool" today.

I bet not.