American Girls

“Do you girls even know who Tom Petty is?” I teased, winking at Dee-Dee as she held the door for her seventeen year old niece and her niece’s best friend. They tossed their overnight bags on Dee’s living room floor and fell in a heap onto her couch, flip-flops dangling lazily off their toes.

“Uh, hello? Yeah, we know who he is! We wouldn’t have paid $45 for almost-lawn seats if we didn’t know who he was.”

Ally and her friend Kelly drove to Milwaukee to spend the day at Summerfest, which draws crowds from all over the area to gorge themselves on barbeque ribs, fried mozzarella sticks, and deep dish pizza. It is also the Midwest’s best opportunity to witness unapologetic displays of tattoos and chest hair, stretch marks and tan lines. To combat the blazing sun and record-breaking humidity, there are two options: $6 lemonades and any Miller Brewing product.

There’s also some music, I hear.

Before I drove up, Dee-Dee warned me that her house would be a bit crowded that weekend, but since Vivian was also going to be in town, we decided it would be like a big slumber party.

Shortly after they arrived, Ally and Kelly bolted out of Dee’s house to meet up with their friends at Summerfest. They wanted to allow themselves ample time to buy hemp purses and get henna tattoos before shoving into the damp crowd of concert-goers.

Vivian, Dee-Dee and I opted for a tamer evening of overpriced Mexican food and microbrews, and had all retired to our respective beds by midnight. Had it not been for the muffled giggles and hip-hop ringtones, I never would have known the girls had returned from their evening of sweat.

The next morning, Dee-Dee and I stepped over piles of shoes, overnight bags, and Tom Petty t-shirts to make our way to the kitchen. We told the girls that we were going out for coffee and breakfast, so they needed to get ready in ten minutes.

A look of panic flashed in Kelly’s mascara smudged eyes. “Oh god! If I don’t put some makeup on, we’ll be the only ones there because everyone will run out screaming!”

I looked at their smooth faces, their tan toned arms, their flat bellies, and remembered this obligatory insecurity of seventeen. You self deprecate, but you don’t really believe it. But you do really believe it.

“I totally have cellulite!” Ally declared, as she slid into her glittery sandals.

Dee-Dee rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah, right. You really have cellulite.”

“No, I do! If I squeeze my leg, I totally have cellulite.”

I laughed, “Well, that’s the difference. Call me when you catch a glimpse of the back of your thighs in a dressing room mirror and almost break down in tears. If you have to squeeze it to see it, it’s not really there.”

We met up with Viv at a local coffee shop by the lake, and waited in line as Ally and Kelly regaled us with tales of their evening of misadventures at the Tom Petty concert.

“Yeah, there were a bunch of hippies smoking pot right in front of us. They weren’t even trying to hide it!”

“I know! Oh my god! And… when that old guy…”

Kelly could barely talk in between bouts of silent laughter, “When he kept… turning around to high five you… oh my god! I almost peed my pants!”

Even though we could barely understand what they were talking about, it was hard not to laugh along with them.

We found a table outside in the sun, overlooking the lake. I put my sunglasses on and leaned my head back a bit, enjoying one of the rare perfect days of a Midwest summer. Just when my face would start to feel too hot, a cool breeze would come off Lake Michigan, or the sun would momentarily duck behind a cloud long enough for me to want it to return. A man sitting at the table next to us tried in vain to untangle the leashes of his two small dogs who kept chasing each other under his table. He breathed an audible sigh of relief when his wife and children returned, sipping lemonades and iced coffee, and bearing pastry gifts.

Ally and Kelly had everything figured out. They would share an apartment in Chicago after high school. Ally would study business, Kelly would go to design school, but she eventually wanted to open a boutique in New York City. I asked Kelly if she had ever been to New York, and Dee-Dee, who loves to brag about her friends, said, “Oh, you should totally go to New York and visit Vivian. She lives in New York, you know.”

“You do? What do you do there?”

Before Vivian could answer, Dee-Dee chimed in, “Viv is a famous writer. She just got published and she hangs out with other famous writers all the time!”

Both the girls’ eyes lit up.

A big grin spread across Ally’s face as she said, “Wait. We’re having coffee with a famous New York writer? Ohmigod, I totally need to text message everyone I know!”

Kelly laughed, and pulled her cell phone out of the pink argyle cell phone case that matched the blue argyle cell phone case on Ally’s belt. “Ohmigod, me too! Who should we text first? Wait. Normally I would text message you, but you’re here. So who should we text?”

“What about Derek? I’m totally gonna text Derek.”

Just as she was about to start thumbing in her message, Ally paused, put her cell phone away and said, “No, I’d better not. I get in trouble for texting.”

I looked over at the elaborate drink Ally was sipping and asked what she had ordered.

“It’s a white chocolate mocha with a shot of dark chocolate in it. It’s so good!”

“Wait – it’s white chocolate with dark chocolate added to it? So… isn’t that just a regular mocha?”

Ally got a puzzled look on her face, and then she and Kelly burst out laughing.

“Oh my god! You totally just blew her mind!” Kelly blurted.

I was still giggling when Dee-Dee started to change the subject to where they wanted to go shopping after breakfast. Kelly turned to me and said, “You’re just like me. I’m always laughing about stuff way after Ally stops laughing. She’s always like, ‘Why are you still laughing? That’s so not even funny anymore!’ I just always think it’s funny.”

I smiled back, “Yeah. Things are always way funnier in my head, too. They just don’t get us, do they?”

These are good girls, I thought. They have summer jobs at the lone A&W in their small Wisconsin town. I asked if they could get me free curly fries, and they promised to try. At seventeen, they already lamented the fact that their town was less idyllic than it used to be.

“We have a lot of gang problems in school. And all the girls in my sister’s class cut.”

I knew this wasn’t what Ally meant, but had to clarify, “You mean they cut class?”

“No. They cut themselves. Mostly their arms. Most of them aren’t even depressed – they just do it because they think it makes them cool. I told my sister I’d kill her if she ever did that.”

These are good girls, I thought.

I was a little sorry to see our coffee clutch disperse as we decided to get a start on the day. We tossed our cups and muffin wrappers in the mesh trash bins, and crossed the street to the parking lot. As we headed back to our cars, Ally linked her arm in Kelly’s and asked me, “Were you and Dee-Dee best friends in high school?”

“Me? No, Dee and I met during our last year of college. I only really have one friend from high school left.”

As soon as I said that, I wished I could pull it back, because I instantly saw the sad look cross over Ally’s face as she glanced over at Kelly. I tried to recover, “But you just need to try to go to the same college for at least one year. College is where you lock in most of your life-long friends.”

It didn’t matter, though, because there’s no rationalizing with the black and white extremism of seventeen year old emotions. They come fast and hard: I will never love anyone like this again. No one has ever been this sad. I will never have this much fun again. I will never forgive them. There will never be friends better than these.

We paused in front of our cars to say our goodbyes, and Ally looked at Vivian and me and said, “Aw, aren’t you guys coming shopping with us? Dee-Dee’s taking us to the cool stores on Brady Street. It’s Brady Street, right Aunt Dee?”

Vivian and I both shook our heads no. I was heading straight back to Chicago, and Vivian was flying to New York the next morning. We hugged the girls goodbye and told them to make Dee-Dee buy them some hoochie clothes on Brady Street.

As I watched the three of them pile into Dee-Dee’s car, I thought about my morning of laughing, telling stories, having fun. These girls were exactly half my age. So often we look at teenagers, see ourselves at their age, and feel sad. We think about the things we didn’t appreciate then, and wish we had back now. We look at them and regret our missed opportunities. But these girls looked at us, saw themselves at our age, and felt hopeful. They wanted to know the secret to our bond.

While pulling out of the parking lot and humming “Free Falling,” I felt a surge of seventeen year old emotions rise up in me. For a moment, the world became black and white as I looked into my rearview mirror and thought, there will never be friends better than these.

14 Responses to “American Girls”

  1. Dave2 Says:

    Funny. Every time I hear “American Girl” now, I think of “Silence of the Lambs.” It’s just like when I watch “Monk” and can’t see Ted Levine as “Lt. Stottlemyer” but as the wacky serial killer “Jame Gumb” from the film.
    I guess you could say that “Silence of the Lambs” had a profound affect on me?

  2. Jenny Says:

    That’s so weird, because I have the same reaction every time I fall in a well and put the lotion on the skin. Weird.

  3. FiorelloLaGuardia Says:

    Jenny – after reading “American Girls”, I’m definitely choked up. This was lovely!

  4. shari Says:

    That’s not fair. You caught me off-guard. I was not prepared for that — Fiorello is right, it was lovely. And now I’m teary. And I hold you responsible.

  5. jill Says:

    So sweet. Just gorgeous. There’s precious little in this world more important, more fulfilling than the relationships we have with our girlfriends. Regardless of age. And that I believe IS black and white.

  6. Dean Says:

    Bravo, Jen. A perfect post.

  7. kim Says:

    ah to be young and drinking a mocha

  8. Ally Says:

    Well Jen,
    it amazes me how you remember every little detail of that afternoon. Kelly and I (the emotional teenagers) cried after reading that one. i will remember that day forever.
    miss you the most! (it feels good to be famous!)
    just to let you know…brady street was a blast! you should have been there

  9. Darby Says:

    Yup, it’s true. This is a fantastic story.

  10. Jenny Says:

    Wow! Thanks everybody!

    Ally! How did you get here?! Now you’ve gone and got me choked up, too. You and Kelly are just the sweetest gals – I had a blast! Oh – and get ready for the paparazzi at your door. Fame has its price, you know… ;)

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    Yeah for Ally and Kelly! They’re my girl heroes!
    Now, you and Dee Dee need to come to NYC for mochas. My treat!

  12. Jessica Says:

    Great writing, Jen…and ‘aint it the truth re: those teenage emotions?? How we all manage to survive the “black and white” world, I’ll never know.

  13. Kelly Says:

    wow, I can’t believe you remembered all of that, I don’t even remember it as well as u do..haha it was so nice meeting you, and you are truly the person i want to be when i grow up, a great role model you are, and don’t worry because I am not, me and ally will be friends for life, we just have one of those bonds you know?keep in touch, I’d love to hear more crazy funny stories from you, you’re the best!thanks for everything, and I am almost certain that I will never forget that day, always a pleasure

  14. Jenny Says:

    Aw, thanks Kelly – you’re too sweet! And I’m not worried – you gals definitely have a life-long bond. Plus, you’ve already got the matching cell phone cases, so what more could you need? ;)

    We’ll have to do coffee again the next time I’m up in your neck of the woods. And don’t forget about those curly fries!