Almost Thirteen

When we walked out of the orthodontist’s rooms she couldn’t contain her smile. With the news that she’d have her braces off by May, she was beyond excited about running her tongue over a smooth braceless surface on her thirteenth birthday.  “Yay! When I go back to Australia for the holidays I’ll have no braces, my ears will be pierced and I’ll be thirteen!”

My “yay” wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as hers. I’d almost forgotten the promise of ear piercing as a thirteenth birthday present, thirteen felt like so far away. How did we get here so quickly?

I watched her walking ahead of me. She was the epitome of twelve. Swinging pony tail, converse sneakers, jeans with a rip in each knee, and a stripy t-shirt that appeared to bounce with each step she took. Her arms had become a living amateur art exhibition in the form of peace signs and love hearts drawn in pen. Some of it was her own work, some of it her friends.

“Why do you guys all draw all over each other?” I could remember drawing on myself but I wanted to remember why. In my case I think it was boredom.

She shrugged “Just for fun.”

I tried to picture adults in the same way. G in the office with colleagues, his cuff links off and his sleeves rolled up while a colleague scribbled out a landscape. I imagined meeting with an editor, or having breakfast with friends, here take my hand, feel free to doodle.

I find myself in a continual game of stepping back into my twelve year old shoes. Looking for understanding, remembering the confusion and emotion. There’s a fine line between ignoring a teenage grunt, while not putting up with rudeness. A world where “I can’t find my shoes” often translates to “It’s all your fault that my shoes are not here.”

Gentle suggestions are made, patience is exercised, and then one day it is just too much to ignore. This is the day you find yourself on the side of the road screaming “Do not speak to me like that. This. Is. Not. My. Fault. Speak to me like a normal person.” You are anything but normal. You are a crazy woman.

The silence that follows is filled with a damp, noxious cloud that engulfs you all. You continue speaking but your voice is not normal, there’s a shake, a waiver, an undeniable difference. Your hands are the giveaway, they’re not completely steady. As the car pulls up at the school gates you turn to remind the others about pick up times and lunches and the door clicks. She’s gone. You watch her walk into the distance. The pony tail is not swinging, her shoulders are slumped. You don’t need to see her face to know that in that moment, she is completely miserable. And so are you.

You drive maybe 50 metres or more when you realize she hasn’t closed the door properly. As you pull over to the side of the road, you catch sight of a woman in a car with small children seated in the back. She is gesticulating wildly in your direction. She’s shouting some form of abuse to you while her hands make angry motions towards the back of your car, she has the ferocity of Italian Football coach in the height of a bad decision. You’re in the way. You’re upsetting her morning. You close the door, walk towards her car, tap on the window and explain that you’re not stopping, you’re just closing the door. She looks flustered, she has a full face of make-up in what seems to be an attempt to hide the fact that it’s been a long week. As you return to the car, it occurs to you that maybe her morning has been as delightful as yours. And as you drive away you begin to cry.

It makes sense that the biggest love affairs will provide the hugest emotions. And we all know that teenage love is the most intense of all.

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