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Creative Nonfiction

                                           Taking Stock

Adolescence, as far as I’m concerned, is a tumultuous period of insanity. I would never want to relive those days. Thank God, when faced with a dilemma, I was miraculously able to make one wise decision. Healthy choices were rarely the norm.

 In 1965, when I was fifteen, my best friend Brenda and I, enmeshed like conjoined twins, did everything together. We bought identical winter jackets, skated at the High Park rink every weekend, hung out in greasy-spoon restaurants to gossip, and fantasized about the popular boys we had crushes on. We’d huddle in our favorite booth, drop coins in a jukebox, and choose songs that matched our unpredictable moods. “Dancing in the Street,” by Martha and the Vandellas, matched our fleeting euphoria if a “dreamy” boy had actually spoken to us. When jilted or ignored, we’d play “It’s My Party,” a Leslie Gore hit. We’d commiserate with mutual tales of woe, nursing colas, sucking on cigarettes, and singing along to the lyrics, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.”

Because Brenda’s curfew was more lax than mine, I convinced my parents to let me sleep over at her place every weekend.

We plotted, schemed and daydreamed non-stop. At the top of our priority list was a rigorous program of self-improvement in our quest to find the perfect boyfriend. We back-combed our hair compulsively, splitting ends in the pursuit of height.

 My bedtime routine was torture. I’d tightly wrap strands of infuriatingly thin, straight hair around brush rollers. Then I’d skewer each prickly roller with a sharp plastic stick, lodging it firmly into my tender scalp. Cramming my pin-cushion cranium into a hairnet, I’d hang my head over the side of the mattress, determined to create an alluring coiffure, and willing to forgo sleep if necessary.

In the morning, I’d yank out the curlers with anticipation. The upward flip always flopped and my limp locks prevailed, even when doused with oceans of hair spray. Oh, how I hated my hair! Perpetual neck spasms added to my exhausted sense of defeat.

Another issue was body shame. Brenda and I, both on the chunky side, aspired to look like Twiggy, a popular and emaciated model.

 “I feel so fat!” I’d lament, fishing for a compliment to offset my anxiety.

“You’re not fat!” Brenda soothed. “Look at me. I’m the one who’s fat!”

“No you’re not. You look fine. Does my hair look all right?”

“It looks fab. Just tease it a bit more.”

“Want to borrow my cherry-kiss lipstick?

“Yummy. Lend me your mascara, too. It’s thicker than mine.”

We spent hours primping and fussing with brutal self-condemnation. Our solution was to go on a diet.

After a week of starvation, we both lost six pounds. The second week, feeling dizzy and faint, I “cheated” and only lost two. Brenda lost another five. My jealousy was the beginning of a rift in our tight bond.

The third week, I gained the weight back, but Brenda kept getting thinner and thinner. I felt betrayed. She was becoming svelte, while I was rounding out again.

Her weight loss continued. Cheekbones, elbows and knees protruded as her flesh melted away.

“Maybe you should stop losing weight,” I ventured.

“Why? I want to get into a size two petite. I happen to prefer the new me,” she added, looking me up and down with a critical eye.

Brenda started hanging around with a different crowd. Some of her new friends, over sixteen, had quit school, and I tagged along. On weekends, we hung around park benches or restaurants.

“You’ve got to meet my new boyfriend,” she announced one Saturday. “He’s so dreamy!”

 As the three of us sipped cherry colas at the Woolworth counter, Brian, tall, blond and tattooed, dominated the conversation. Mute, I stared at the coat of dark hair that was growing on Brenda’s forearms. Had that been there before?

“Nobody fucking messes with me,” he said, referring to some argument he’d had. When he slammed his fist on the counter to emphasize his point, cutlery went flying. The owner told us to leave.

“Gonna make me?”

“Get out, or I’ll call the cops!”

“Ass-hole!” countered Brian. He slid off the stool and sauntered out. Brenda raced after him. I followed them, a third wheel with nowhere else to go.

One night, Brenda coaxed me into double-dating.

“Brian wants you to meet his friend.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Vicki, you’ve GOT to come! I thought you were my friend!”

Ignoring a queasy stomach, I climbed into the back seat of a rusty jalopy, next to my “date.” His oily hair was slicked back into a ducktail, and he sported a studded leather jacket.

Brian lurched away from the curb with a screech. Looking at me in the rear-view window, he commanded, “Hold my seat up with your feet, or it’ll fall backwards.” I did as I was told, because I didn’t want him to collapse onto my lap. How would he see the road?

We raced down a one-way street. Grinding my teeth, I braced my feet against the back of his seat with all my strength. Suddenly, he shrieked to a halt, catapulting me forward.

My “date” jumped out and snatched something from the trunk. I heard rattling, swearing, banging. Then he dove back in beside me. An overpowering reek of gasoline assailed my nostrils. My eyes watered. His eyeballs rolled like marbles. Then he belched

“I shwallowed shome fucking gas!” he slurred. “I’m done syphoning, Brian,”

I peered over, terrified that, at some point on our so-called date, he’d want to “French kiss.”

Brian stomped on the gas pedal, and as we sped ahead, I again used all my leg strength to keep his seat in an upright position. We rounded a corner and screeched along another one-way street. To my horror, I heard the warning whoop of sirens, and turned to see flashing lights out the back window. “Fuck!” Brian screamed and sped up.

Another squad car cut us off at the corner. We skidded to a halt. I was thrown forward, slamming my head. A policeman yanked the car door open, grabbed Brian by his armpit and hauled him onto the curb. My intoxicated “date” rolled out of the backseat into the gutter. The second cop lifted him to his feet like a rag doll. Both were cuffed. Brenda and I crept out of our seats, and I stood, shaking, on the sidewalk.

“You girls have any idea who you’re hanging out with? Did you know this vehicle is stolen? Don’t let us catch you with these deadbeats again!” The boys were shoved into the back of the squad car, and we were told to go home and stay out of trouble.

As soon as we were alone, tears tumbled down my cheeks. Brenda looked annoyed. “Stop being such a square!” she snickered, as she nonchalantly chewed her bubblegum, and blew a pink sphere out of her mouth until it broke with a crack. When she invited me back to her place, I faced a dilemma. Lose my best friend, or get in more trouble? I declined her invitation.

 The loss of my bosom buddy left an empty hole of loneliness, but new friendships eventually emerged to fill the vacuum.

 As for Brenda, I imagined her continuing to shrink, like a macabre Alice in Wonderland, until she disappeared entirely.

May 23, 2021 16:13

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8 comments

Sharon Kretchmar
00:30 Jun 09, 2021

This is a delightful short story which, through the use of both humour and historical detail, transported me back in time allowing me to be a curious observer of the authors’ formative years.

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Wren Braaten
16:20 Jun 06, 2021

Wow Victoria, you drew me in completely with this story. My relationship with food has taken twists and turns myself, especially when comparing myself to my sister. But most of all I identify with the need to fit in at all costs. I even remember a time that I was in the bed of a pick up truck, and my date slammed on the breaks and sent my head slamming into the back cab, where my date was driving. He found it amusing.....I made so many poor choices of who I dated and who I spent my time around in attempt to fit in or feel loved. I was very l...

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16:54 Jun 06, 2021

So gratified you were able to identify!

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Cathy Current
14:08 Jun 03, 2021

I 💯 relate to this story. My best friend in my earlier years and I used to tease our bangs so high when we were teens. At camp they used to call us the hairspray twins. Every time there was a water sport, we’d rush back to our cabins to spray our bangs back up again. 🤦🏼‍♀️ There was also so much pressure on young women to be thin, and I’m so glad that this is finally starting to change. Twiggy is a terrible role model! I wasted away a few times myself, and what I put myself through was just abysmal. Never again. This same best friend...

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14:57 Jun 03, 2021

Thanks for reading my story, Cathy! Sounds like you could really identify! That is the point of writing! Your support means a lot.

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01:39 Jun 03, 2021

Loved this story! Was great fun to imagine life back then!

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19:51 Jun 02, 2021

I love this story! Actually brought back so many memories of my own...back in the day (and close calls)...! So well written and interesting for sure.

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20:53 Jun 02, 2021

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!

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