She absolutely refused to wear jeans that did not cover her whole shoe with an intense, 1970s-style flare. It made her skin crawl to sit down in class, cross her legs, and have her ankle show. To her, someone catching a glimpse of her sock was equivalent to someone sneaking a peek at her midriff. Her parents would discuss bills and her ability to pay them someday, but the closest she had ever come to one was the Bill her brother hung out with. She had an inexplicable, giddy eagerness tiptoe all the way up her spine on the first day of a new semester. She never knew why, and she was always afraid to tell people, but there was nothing like the thrill she got when she entered a college course for the first time and the professor spent 50 minutes going over the syllabus. She would hear people discuss worrisome things such as politics, careers, and money, but her biggest concerns consisted of whether or not her boyfriend would text her, how on earth she was going to finish a 900-page novel by the due date, and whether to address her female professors by their first name, Mrs., Ms., Miss, or Dr.
She did have one female professor in particular that caused her a great amount of anxiety. She would duck into the nearest building when it seemed as though they might have to exchange pleasantries in the middle of a hallway or sidewalk. She feared this woman, this powerhouse, and she envied her peers who were able to converse with her as if she was just anybody. She was intriguingly intimidating, and she walked with a confidence that seemed out of reach for this young college student.
For this girl, happiness embodied a Friday night, a carload of her friends–preferably more boys than girls–the windows down, Neil Diamond living inside the speakers, and a Taco Bell run followed by Wal-Mart escapades. Looking back on it now, she isn’t entirely certain everything was legal, and it’s funny that none of that crossed her mind at the time. She was consumed by her social life. She had such incredible friends that they could waste an entire Saturday of valuable homework time hanging out in the cafeteria, waiting for the next meal to be served. Oh the things her friends could do with a shaker full of salt, ridiculous to her now. Boredom was not a word her friends were familiar with. If they found themselves in a 12 x 19 dorm room, all-encompassing bricks surrounding them, with nothing to do, they would invent a game as simple as bounce-the-ball-off-someone’s-head-and-see-where-it-goes. An outsider would have found it truly miraculous to observe the amount of laughter created by such a ludicrous activity.
She feared nothing and she laughed at everything. She smiled, flirted, and sorta bounced when she walked. She was happy, naive, and carefree.
Now, as I listen to some country radio, hoping Neil Diamond begins to play, staring at my skinny jeans, which reveal my entire sock, and then some, I realize that I just might miss this girl. This girl has become a home-owning, former teaching, bill paying, car owning, driveway shoveling, loan paying, floor cleaning, list making, email answering, freelance writing, money moving, grocery shopping, diaper buying, news watching, laundry folding, phone call making, disciplining, coupon cutting, blogging, appointment keeping, budget constricting wife and mother. Sometimes, I try to roll down my windows, crank up my radio, and belt out some Neil Diamond, but my phone always rings or a persistent worry resurfaces or my son becomes unhappy–causing me to turn down the radio and return to adulthood. Having a dance party with my son isn’t quite the same as dolling myself up and giggling my way to a campus-wide dance where boundless socialization awaits. The conversations I have with my friends no longer consist of boys and Friday nights, but instead of husbands, kids, careers, and faith. When I glance at the clock and see 3 am, I am not with my friends at Denny’s gorging myself on a late-night burrito; instead, I am crawling out of bed to tend to my son. My dad is no longer my car trouble go-to guy or my money managing guru; instead, my husband and I, alone, trudge through the muck of bald tires, cracked radiators, and unexpected house repairs.
It is safe to say this girl has fully immersed herself in adulthood. Sometimes, she can be resurrected at a wedding dance of a college friend or at a rare college get-together. But for the most part, I don’t get intimidated by powerhouse women any more, but still dream of becoming one. My bouncy and airy walk has become a scurried and heavy dash for the next thing on my to-do list. I am very familiar with bills and don’t remember the last time I finished a book, let alone a 900-pager. However, in the evenings, when supper has been prepared and consumed, the leftovers have been put away, and the kitchen is finally clean, my son’s uninhibited and cathartic laughter causes me to peek into my living room where I see the love of my life wrestling with him on the floor. As I dry my hands, walk into the living room, and settle into another episode of Wheel of Fortune, peels of laughter and squeals coming from the floor below, it occurs to me, life has never been this good and this is true happiness.