Thinking Makes It So:Ode to hairspray, hairballs and other useless instruments

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By Kelly LeVan

Since March, since China, my trips have taken me into the past, no Delorean required. A couple of weeks ago, I revisited the Adirondacks I knew when I was 7, accompanied by the best music, the best adventures, the best family dog.

Then last week, I mentioned high school. I touched lightly, like a ballerina landing a huge jump so quietly because she has the light bones of a great hawk. I didn’t go into any serious detail, because most of my readers have been to high school and already know how the details add up.

I wish all of us could have gone to the Adirondacks instead.

“But I liked high school!” some of my readers might say. “I met the love of my life there and won a lot of trophies.”

Well, I didn’t. I could never have been one of those incredibly lucky people, even if I had grown up here in Los Alamos, which arguably has a much better high school than the one I attended, which didn’t even have an orchestra, and at that age I still really liked my violin, my useless violin that nobody ever wanted me to march around playing at a football game.

Beyond my ungainly personality, I had a few legitimate setbacks that might even have obstructed the indomitable Kelly LeBaron, a beautiful, hairsprayed jewel who always sat right in front of me, due to alphabetical seating. She looked like a Nintendo princess. To rescue her would mean to win. To even speak to her would mean only a few monsters to go, but we had very few conversations during our four years of classroom-sharing. I suppose for her it would have been like talking to a Koopa Troopa, a turtle thing in Super Mario Bros. that Mario jumps on and throws stuff at.

Mostly, when I think of Kelly LeBaron, I remember how every time another student said, “Kelly!” they meant her, not me.

Anyhow, beyond my personality, not understanding hairspray and being, generally, too much like a flipped two-dimensional turtle, I had hardships.

I moved in eighth grade from a suburb of Buffalo to a village outside of Attica called Johnsonburg, population 120, “including dogs,” people liked to say. And after an end-of-summer accident with my own plus-one, a large-pawed puppy named Truffles, I had to start the new school year with an eye patch. Also, I didn’t play sports, which everybody did. And I took advanced math, which hardly anybody did.

However, I had plenty of great times, even as one of about six nerds in a 50-mile radius. In eighth grade, for instance, I met two incredible girls I still giggle hysterically with on the telephone. One lives in Washington State now, the other in New York City, and I hope one of my next trips takes me to one coast or the other.

Kristy and I used to listen to Tori Amos or watch “Aladdin,” always eating her mom’s homemade cookies and trying on Kristy’s clothes, which were always prettier than mine. Melissa and I did just about everything together. Her parents assumed I was one of her 10,000 brothers and sisters.

It was at Melissa’s house I had my first glorious taste of leftover spaghetti reheated in the microwave, still one of my favorite meals ever. It was with Melissa I first shopped at the Gap, a store I could afford to buy about three shirts from every school year and a store that remains the prior home of about half my clothes.

I also, from eighth to 12th grade, attended an engineering camp where I used a scanning electron microscope and did not mind playing volleyball. I volunteered at a veterinarian hospital, witnessing horrendous abscesses on cats, dog neutering operations and, worst by far, cow pregnancy tests – except all of this was too interesting to consider truly awful.

In fact, not one of my memories really stands out for its absolute dreadfulness. I had some scoundrel-ish boyfriends, but even the trophy winners had those. I didn’t always make the nicest or wisest or least-self-hating decisions, but I have to think that’s pretty common, too.

There’s nothing special about having a bad time.

I’m not sure why, at this point, I keep looking behind me, examining so many ultra-familiar memories. Do I think of these recollections as clues? Do I expect to find the original, dotted-line pattern that designed me?

Am I that stupid? I’d be better off looking for hints of who I will become, and not in the past but right here. I'd be better off staring into the recesses of my unvaccuumed carpet, where my current, large-pawed, family dog, Zooker, alternately sleeps and watches everything I do, as if I’m the biggest, most marvelous turtle a dog can hope to serve. It’s kind of unsettling but unsettled actually suits me fine.