Friday, 31 December 2010

Learning to know

At sixteen there was so much you didn't yet know, so little you could face with confidence.

You were still learning how to watch the others, picking up the right words to say, the right things to talk about. You were beginning to understand their reactions, starting to see when it would be better to laugh off a clumsy comment as a failed joke. You almost knew when you shouldn't say what you really thought, or felt.

You already understood that it was better if you looked ok. So, as you got ready that New Year's Eve, you applied the lilac shimmer eyeshadow, oh so carefully. You stroked the black mascara over and over your lashes, eyes staring, mouth wide open, glancing every now and then at the dress hanging on the cupboard door. You still weren't quite sure about the dress, even though you'd saved for weeks, setting aside the money earned from your Saturday job in Woolworths; even though you'd taken the number 3 bus up to Oxford Circus and spent almost a whole day browsing through the racks downstairs at Top Shop. You'd practised how to use the hair tongs, how much hair to slip between the metal jaws, how long to hold it before your hair would singe.

You'd told your Dad you were going out, but not where you were going. He hadn't asked, hadn't really paid attention, seemed quite relieved. You were too wrapped up in your own plans to wonder what Mum was doing, who she'd be spending New Year's Eve with. You didn't even think about your sisters.

There was no need to hesitate at the door of the Railway Tavern, you knew the others would already be in there, that someone would offer you a gin and bitter lemon as soon as you arrived, so you didn't have to go to the bar yourself. You had no cause to worry about being under age, this was already your regular pub, where the landlord valued his 'young crowd' and didn't ask any questions.

Before long it would be time to leave the pub, pile into the orange Hillman Imp that waited outside and head off to Streatham. To the Cat's Whiskers, the one-time Locarno Ballroom, the only place in South London to spend New Year's Eve. You'd never met the boy squashed in next to you, though you'd heard his name at school. He didn't try to talk to you, but shared a friendly smile that reached his eyes, that made you feel ok.

You didn't know then that he'd stay by your side all evening, that he'd be the one who'd kiss you when the clock struck twelve, the one who'd ask for the last slow dance at the end of the night, the one who'd walk you three miles home and the one who'd take you to the pictures the following week.

And you didn't know then, that it wouldn't get any better than that. That for the next year you'd try so hard. That you'd turn up at the Railway Tavern every Friday and Saturday, knowing he would walk you home; even though he hadn't bothered to take you there himself, or call to see if you were coming.  You'd be so ridiculously pleased, so grateful, on those Thursday afternoons when he'd telephone, just after you'd both finished watching Little House on the Prairie, when he knew you'd be at home, that you'd pick up the phone, that he wouldn't have to explain himself to your sister or your Dad.

You didn't know that you'd spend fifty-two weeks putting a circle round the days in your diary, the days when you saw him or spoke to him. Marking the days to show this was something, each circle a proof that he must really like you. Not wanting to ask any questions of him and not brave enough to talk to your friends. Telling yourself this was how things should be.

-----

At seventeen there are still so many things you don't understand, but you know a little more.

You know that there will be another New Year's Eve and another night at the Cat's Whiskers. You know that there will still be a quiet boy. By the time the clock strikes twelve, you will also know that however carefully you get ready, however hard you try, his friendly smile will be for another girl, not you.

24 comments:

Philip said...

Wow. That was you at your very best. For ten minutes there I was that 16 year old girl. That, madame, is an immense achievement. That may well be my favourite thing any of our circle has written this year. Thank you.

Bth said...

Sharon, this is magical. We are all this girl, we have all done this before. I love the way you wrote this, holding the New Year's sparkle at a distance from her, so she could just glimpse it, but not touch it. Marvellous writing.

Mr London Street said...

You saved the best for last this year, didn't you? This is a knockout post. I am really looking forward to seeing how you top this next year, because I know you can.

Starlight said...

This is magically written. I felt like I was that 16 year old girl. This is really impressive and I think this is the best post you've written so far. Amazing.

caterpillar said...

I had the feeling of reading through someone's personal fairy tale...very beautifully written. The anticipation, nervousness, the joy...every emotion has been beautifully described...

Pat said...

Thanks for reminding me of the horrors of past New Year's Eves.
I shall count my blessings as I sip my cocoa and crunch the orange dark chocolate thins.

Baglady said...

Simply stunning. I love the image of her getting ready to go, the make up, the dress, the hair. I can picture her exactly as she gets ready as if I am sat on the bed while she prepares. And then the triumph of hope over expectation - so familiar and real.

Beautiful.

The Idiot Gardener said...

Great, simply great. Orange Hillman Imp? You raver!

Liz said...

I was there with you.

Schmutzie said...

This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday:
http://www.schmutzie.com/fivestarfriday/2010/12/31/five-star-fridays-132nd-edition-is-brought-to-you-by-patti-s.html

Jane said...

I think this is your best post ever.
Your writing enabled me to see her getting ready, feel her emotions and brought to mind my 16 year old self.
I'd forgotten about the symbols in the diary. Thank you.

Cydney said...

Don't you wish you could relive 16 with all the wisdom age affords? But then perhaps 16 would be pretty boring, I suppose...
Wonderful post. Well done.

Maxine said...

that was precious, thank you! :')

Far said...

I emailed a link to your blog to a friend I thought would enjoy it. This is what she wrote back:-

"This made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and bought a tear to my eye. Think i'll have to have a lie down now".

There's not much higher praise than that.

Leah said...

Oh so poignant. So desperately relatable. And beautifully written in the second person.

By the way--"bookcase" resonated wonderfully as well.

Glad to make your writerly acquaintance!

Happy Frog and I said...

I have read and re-read this post it is so well written and so good. Outstanding post.

Sharon Longworth said...

Hello and a very Happy New Year to you all.
I've been bowled over by your comments on this post - thank you so much - each one has given me something to think about and savour.

Philip - you know how much it means to me when you like what I write and I couldn't imagine any higher praise than this, thank you.

Bth - I'm so glad it rang true - I don't think there's anything better than being told I've written something that people can relate to - thank you.

MLS - your praise counts right up there with Philip's and I'm so pleased you liked this. I'm also now completely stumped about what to do next - but I'll try to live up to the challenge you've set.

Sharon Longworth said...

Starlight - I'm really glad you liked this so much. You are always so supportive with your comments - which is very much appreciated, thank you.

Caterpillar - I'm thrilled that you found so much to like - thank you.

Pat - I'm sorry if I triggered any unwelcome memories - I guess we've all had less than successful New Year's evenings. I hope yours was everything you wanted it to be this year.

Baglady - I dead chuffed that this prompted such an image - thank you so much for your kind words.

Sharon Longworth said...

IG - thank you. I passed my driving test in a Hillman Imp (I'll leave you to imagine how long ago that was), so I will always have a soft spot for them - even if it does my image no good at all.

Liz - thank you :)

Schmutzie - I am really honoured and pround - thank you.

Jane - I've really appreciated your comments on my previous posts and I'm tremendously flattered by your response to this one. Thank you so much.

Sharon Longworth said...

Cydney - thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to go back and re-live past events, I guess that's partly why I try to do it on this blog.

Maxine - thank you so much!

Far - I'm so flattered that you not only read my blog, but also sent a link to someone else. Thank you for sharing the feedback - as you say, high praise indeed.

Leah - I really enjoyed my first visit to your blog - thank you for coming to have a look at mine - and I'm also very glad to make your acquaintance.

Happy Frog - thank you! I'm chuffed that you've read this more than once and I very much appreciate your kind comments

Pat said...

It's not unpleasant realising that one doesn't have to jump through such hoops anymore, so really, thank you:)

otherworldlyone said...

Why I waited so long to come around here, I don't know. You are one hell of a writer.

This took me back. Lovely, hopeful, and sad. I've been that girl...I think a lot of us have. The paragraph about the dress and getting ready is my favorite bit.

Sally-Sal said...

Sharon, this was so evocative, it brought tears to my eyes.

I think we've all been that girl, wanting to be good enough, if we just wear the right thing and pick the right dress, maybe he'll pick us.

Absolutely loved it.

Sera Phyn said...

I can see why that's a popular post. Beautifully done! So much said in such a tight space. Brava!