Hello 90s fashion

I write about teens, for teen readers, yet I am definitely not a teen.

But I was once.

A friend posted the above photo on Facebook today, and I had to share. I mean, it’s from my junior year homecoming dance. It’s priceless.

(I’m in the red, in the middle. Fun fact: I wanted that specific dress because it looked like Rose’s in Titanic. I loved Rose’s dress.)

So that’s me and my friends taking pictures before the dance. Some of us had dates, some of us did not (I did not), but we all went as a group, and still found one another when the perfect song was on. And the best part? We’re all still friends. In fact, the girl on the right was not just one of my bridesmaids, but also one of the original readers of TNWSY. (You’ll see her mentioned in the acknowledgements.)

So that’s high school me. I wasn’t gorgeous, I wasn’t popular, I was just…me. And I was completely okay with that.

Take On Me

There’s this older Dreamcast video game called Samba de Amigo. It’s essentially Dance Dance Revolution, only with maracas. You stand on a pad and shake maracas in beat to the song (the favorite being Take on Me), posing in various position to gain points. It’s ridiculous. It’s amazing.

I played this game with my friends all too often the summer before my sophomore year of college. It was a weird, in between time for me. I was between the person I was in high school – shy and meek, and the person I was becoming in college – more outspoken, more me. Tallahassee had become my home, but I was spending the summer in Orlando with my parents and high school friends. I was both here and there, old Lauren and new.

It was the summer where I worked all day at Borders (RIP) and went right to Starbucks afterwards, where I knew one of my friends, if not all, would be. It was repetition, a daily schedule, and it felt right. With this group of friends, I felt like I was part of something bigger, something enviable. We were still young enough to make grand plans, but old enough to know that they might not come true.

Now, years and marriages and divorces and successes and failures later, we’re mostly apart, living in different states and at different stages of our lives. We’re transitioning again, and I wonder who we’ll become next, and if there’s something that’ll bring us all back together again. In a way, I know there will be.

Because in some strange nostalgic sense, we’ll always have that video game and the memories of playing it for hours when hours weren’t important and felt much longer than they should have. It’s weird to think how much joy we found in a video game, and how it brought us all together. And it’s weird to think that when I reflect on that time, and my becoming who I am today, I always, forever, hear Take on Me and shake my hands in time.

College Shenanigans

We played with tinfoil sometimes.

When I was a freshman in college, my dorm mates and I decided to jump into a pool on the coldest night of the year. (Yes, I went to college in Florida, but it was North Florida, where temperatures actually dropped down to the teens!) The pool was behind our building, so after submerging in the water, we ran back inside to the safety and warmth of our shared rooms.

To keep the tradition alive, we decided to do it again sophomore year,  only this time we were in different buildings, and this time we raised the stakes. With no pool behind our building anymore, we decided to race across the entire campus, jump into the fountain (which was normal to jump – or be thrown – into), and run all the way back home. It was far. We were wearing bathing suits under our jackets, and the temperature was around 14 degrees. We were stupid.

Still, five of us did it – three guys, two girls. We raced, we jumped, we screamed, we ran back. Icicles clung to my braided pigtails. I couldn’t stop shaking, and then everything hurt. I collapsed in the bathroom with my roommate as the water from the shower heated up the room and warmed our blood. About an hour later, the guys came by to check on us and we all had hot soup together, laughing about what we’d just accomplished. Needless to say, we didn’t try to recreate it the following year.

I’m still friends with many of these people, and oftentimes we’ll reflect on this event, along with the others that, in a weird way, shaped our early college years. (That time we dared him to eat all the cinnamon, that time we played assassins across campus with loaded water guns, that time she fell through the ceiling when trying to crawl from one room to the other, that time they rappelled off the building…). There are more memories, of course, more crazy nights, and it’s fun thinking about them, running them through my mind like a highlight reel.

A few of those dorm mates have kids now, just like I will any day now. I thought about this, while talking to one of them, joking that one day our kids will be in college and, maybe, running across campus in freezing weather. That they might replicate some of the not-so-smart things we did.

And that’s terrifying.

But also…we were good kids. Yeah, we broke rules, but we never did anything too bad, too dangerous. We knew what was right and wrong, despite the desire to break free. But most importantly – we had each other. And that was the most important part. We kept each other inspired, but also grounded. We looked out for one another. We cared, we loved.

So, yeah, it is frightening to think about my daughter going away to college in the future, to think about what she’ll get up to, to wonder if she’ll be shaking icicles out of her hair at 2 a.m., too. But honestly, if she makes a group of friends like I did, I know she’ll be just fine.

I Wanna See You Be Strong

Me, circa 2004.

By my senior year of college, I was able to do 13 consecutive pull-ups. I realize this is a weird thing to brag about, but for someone who could barely do one three years prior, I was really proud of myself. That was the thing about being in a circus – we had to train to be strong. And there was no guy training and girl training. Sure there were act-specific trainings (I had to do more ab work for my aerial act than, say, the jugglers), but overall we were all treated the same. We had to do pull ups. We had to carry the giant aluminum poles around the tent. I mean, even some girls did guy acts (and vice versa). It was hard, yes, but also nice being treated similarly.

I was used to this, though, because my parents – specifically my dad – never treated me inherently “girly.” Yes, I had dolls and Barbies and an awesome Easy Bake Oven (all of which I LOVED), but my dad also taught me to use tools and throw overhand and block my brother’s snapshot into our hockey net.

But being strong isn’t just doing a crazy amount of pull ups, and I learned that as I grew up. It was making decisions, and sticking to them. It was sticking up to others, something I wasn’t very good at for a  long time. (In elementary school I was convinced to trade one of my favorite stickers to another person in order to be friends. We didn’t become friends, and I never saw my sticker again. Sigh.) I was (and still am, to a degree) a people pleaser. It was how I made friends. I went along with things I wasn’t always pleased about, because I didn’t want to let anyone down. And whenever my parents noticed it, they would interfere and try to get me to stand up for myself. But I wasn’t that kind of strong. Not yet.

But after losing and gaining friends, I realized which ones were right, which ones i’d risk my life for, and which ones I knew wouldn’t last. And I realized these tried and true friends would never like me less if I said no. So I learned the word. I learned to embrace what I believed. And I never lost someone I cared about in the process. I didn’t go to parties I felt uncomfortable at. To this day, I’ve never smoked (nor done any illegal substance), even though I could have multiple times. I just didn’t believe in doing it, and found ways to say no. This was my new way of being strong.

In the books I write, you won’t find a girl saving the world. She’s never wielding an ax or the hammer of Thor; she’s never bringing down the government. But you will see her struggle. You will see her question what she believes. But, ultimately, you’ll see her be strong in tough situations, especially when with friends. You’ll see her make hard decisions. You’ll see her be scared and brave and do what she feels is right, even when it might not ultimately be.

Because, to me, that’s the ultimate definition of strength.

(Okay, that at 13 consecutive pull-ups.)

The Photo Not Taken

When I was in high school, I spent many a day and many a night at my friend Michelle’s house. Her parents were my parents. Her brothers my brothers. We talked about school and friends and boys there. We learned to sew. We had pool parties. We celebrated the year 2000   with little sips of champagne through gummy straws because we couldn’t handle the taste.

There was a group of us, really, who all found home at her house, even though we were all fortunate enough to have great homes of our own to go back to. We were, all of us, family.

Last night, ringing in 2014, we were back to that same house. A large group of us really, some friends from high school, some not. Some married in, some just new friends. But once again we were united and together and celebrating.

There was one moment when four of us were sitting on the floor and talking – me, Michelle, and two of our other close high school friends. We were sipping champagne (or, for me, water) and discussing baby names, and plans, and hopes for the new year. Nothing monumental, just something, and I couldn’t help but think about how we got here. How, 14 years later with some of us living in different cities and all of us a bit different than we were back then, I’m celebrating a new year in the same house. I’m hanging out with the same people I loved back then, and still do to this day. And I couldn’t help but feel eternally grateful.

We don’t have a photo of that moment, of the casualness of our conversation, the feeling of comfort just being there, with them. But i’ll remember it. Because sometimes the small moments make the biggest impact. The laughter, the sighs. Sometimes those are the ones i’ll continue to hold on to, and remember in days I need to smile. Because I’ll always have those girls. And I’m so lucky to say that.