I have spent what I can only consider to be an undue amount of time considering the Grateful Dead song â€œSugar Magnolia.â€ [lyrics, YouTube] It isâ€”in case by chance you are not familiar with itâ€”a very pretty and deeply problematic song about what my friend once called a fantasy hippie chick (what we might now call a manic pixie dream girl) who â€œtakes the wheel when Iâ€
I first started listening to the Dead in high school. I had a dubbed cassette tape, Workingmanâ€
I dwell, for better or for worse, largely in the past, and in the shifting land of memory. The summer after that eternal April I read Virginia Woolfâ€
Most of the grownups I knew held teenagers in such disdain that I assumed they had promptly forgotten everything about that time and what had happened to them, or that they chalked it all up to youth and stupidity and never thought about it except perhaps under great duress. But here was a woman — older than my mother! — thinking — obsessing, really — about being eighteen, and having a crush on a guy and also on a girl, and being so absorbed in these memories that they supplanted at times her own busy life in London, so many years later. I was astounded. The following spring I sat down in the classroom where Iâ€
I think a great deal about being fifteen and sixteen and seventeen and eighteen, and on the whole, despite the April of the Grateful Dead, and the day I walked home with a boy discussing Doonesbury and the Gulf War, and the day I got the highest score in the class on a geometry test, and the many, many days when my AP Government teacher let me off the hook for being late, and the day my friend brought a giant cookie for my seventeeth birthday, and the day another friend set two quarters in front of that same boy Iâ€
Last summer, because my curiosity always wins, I went to my twentieth high school reunion, where any number of people whom I assumed had been having a fine time in high school while I had been feeling largely fat and miserable and unpopular told me that in fact they, too, had had a miserable time of it. I was stunned.
When I think of those days now, as I often do, I think then not only of the good bits and the misery but I think of the ways those superimpose themselves upon my life now, and I think how the only thing more stunning that the misery of the times then is how kind we all are to each other, for the most part, todayâ€”much kinder than we ever were before.
To think of the attics of your life at thirty-nine is still silly, though perhaps not quite as silly as it was at seventeen. But perhaps I knew at seventeen that I was forming the memories that would be stored in those attics, and that one day, feeling sick and miserable in the heat, despairing of how I ever got to this place, again, I would listen to those songs again and live once again in that eternal April, the last time I truly thought that something to come might be better, and that living in that moment again, it would, if only for a moment, give me hope.