for teenage girls—past present & future, some of whom i got to know, some of whom i didn’t, some of whom i’ll still get to know—but especially delaney, eloise, araluen, ines lake and me, anaïs marie, once upon a time. especially the lowercase ones.
i’ve got a heart on fire
i never thought of myself as a teenage girl when i was one, which of course tells you just how much of one i was. i became a teenager days before y2k and it felt appropriate—scary, exciting, completely in the dark about anything and everything that was coming for me, for the world. puberty made me feel like a monster, my body growing in different directions, swelling, widening, narrowing, softening, my uterus expanding to the heart shape a doctor would describe it to me as years later.
hormones and desire made me feel out of control in a totally new way. i went from a measured careful little girl to something else entirely overnight. everything was intense. everything was the end of the world. everything meant so much more than it ever would later in my life. there was time for so much but it felt like there was no time. i think back to the hours i spent in chat rooms, on livejournal, on aol instant messenger, alone even when i was with others. listening to the saddest songs possible, trying to be perfect because no other option felt available, venturing into the world and being lucky and unlucky enough to come across the people i did. i was on fire and i scorched every single thing in my wake.
waiting for it to embrace me
the last person i fell for before i met ian was a man who had kids, the only person i’ve ever been involved with who was a parent. it’s something so specific to see someone you’re falling for go about their normal day with their heart literally outside of their ribcage, braver than i could ever imagine being at that point in my life. i knew his kids through his eyes and they were spectacular. i hoped they would like me and little hints put me at ease like when he told me his daughter thought i was exactly the kind of woman he would end up with: “funny, intelligent, independent”. a child had never laid eyes on me and somehow thought more highly of me than i did. i remember saying this to my therapist who could only give me the look that said “i know you can put this together, anaïs”.
the relationship ended of my own doing and i handled things as badly as one could. before that though, i made his daughter a mix (above), two volumes for this smart lovely girl I only knew through someone else’s eyes but who, already almost about to be a teenager, was such a fully formed person of her own that i had a sense of what she would like. i found art for it and spent hours sequencing it, more nervous than i had ever been making a mix for anyone else. it had stuff i liked as a teenager, stuff i liked before and since then, stuff i knew she was into, stuff i had a feeling she would be into; just all the things that would cover feelings that i didn’t have answers for when i was a teenager or frankly even when i was making the mix. i still don’t have answers for some of those feelings and i wonder if i ever will. i broke her dad’s heart and i figured the mix might not be as cherished as i had hoped. i couldn’t listen to it for years despite really liking it; like with most things in my life, i just hoped it didn’t cause more harm than good.
i guess these days i’m someone else
i always thought i’d have a baby and i was extremely certain for years that that baby would be a daughter. i dreamed about her for years before i even thought about getting pregnant. she looked like me but not exactly, my hair and my eyes and my cheeks. she always appeared at different ages but i knew in that way your brain just does in dreams that she was mine. for years, i didn’t know her name, not until i married and we talked about lots of names we would give a daughter and the one that stuck was ines. ines lake. five years ago, it felt like a certainty that i would be her mother and that i would be the mom i didn’t have; i’d be everything to her, and to the me from 15 years before. there was nothing else for me except this one path. i had blinders on.
i didn’t become ines’s mom—i didn’t become anyone’s mom. it was something i had never really considered until it happened. i grieved the life i thought i was going to have. i didn’t just bury my heartache, i let it seep into my bones and blood, i let it transform me. i let myself float in my unknowing, in my uncertainty, in my free fall of a future until i learned how to swim, how to ride the waves of life without struggling. the thing i haven’t said as often as i should have is that i was never told i couldn’t have a baby; i was told that there were risks, especially to me. for the first time in my life, i had to consider not only what i could and couldn’t do but what i would and wouldn’t do. i chose not to be anyone’s mom except my own. it wasn’t the only choice that was right but it is the one i didn’t even know i wanted, the one i’m more sure of every single day. i could never have imagined this life without the certainty with which i planned for something else completely. i’d have loved to know ines as a teenager though—i think i would have loved her especially then.
now you’re all gone, got your makeup on, and you’re not coming back
there was a specific moment when i was 18 and about to graduate from high school that i think about a lot. i looked at my mom during a rare civil conversation between us and said with the confidence of youth:
“i think i pretty much know what i’m doing, like i understand most things about life.”
my mom looked at me for a long time—in awe but also with a recognition.
“i always forget that just because you’re so smart doesn’t mean you’re not a teenager.”
you’re not a baby if you feel the world
both of my nieces will be turning ten in the next year. i see photos of them and i see them on zoom. i’m talking to my sister in law one day when eloise saunters over and it takes my breath away how tall she is. my sister in law tells me eloise has a spotify account now and she loves mixes from other people. i follow eloise’s account and she follows me back. i think about the way she would rest her soft cheek against my body while we watched paw patrol when she was a toddler. now her profile tells me she loves sarah harmer and jojo siwa.
“i think you’d really love olivia rodrigo,” i tell her. later that day i see she’s started following her artist page.
sometimes she makes a facial expression that i just know is one she will make when she’s a teenager trying to get out of the house or just tired of her relatives on some holiday weekend. i can see it coming and it’s so fast and wonderful and overwhelming. i can’t even tell you how cool she is and how much she already knows. i am so excited for her to listen to every single song on this mix and so many others i want to make for her. she had become more herself during this pandemic, during this time apart, and i can’t wait to get to know who she’s becoming.
things begin, things decay and you’ve gotta find a way to be ok
it’s been about a decade since i made this mix and we’re friends again, me and the man whose heart i broke. his daughter is grown up and she’s as beautiful and smart and talented as she was as a kid. he told me she loved the mix i made her, that it shaped her taste in music, and i love having this tiny part in her story. i’m not sure what i expected when i made that mix but this is better than i could have hoped for. i couldn’t have imagined coming back from how we hurt each other, but the more i learn about mercy and transformation, the more i see what’s possible. forgiveness seems to be the place where love and justice meet, and you don’t have to set yourself on fire for every mistake you’ve made.
i hope my heart goes first
these songs are a hope, a life raft, a wish. i wish i had known how to be gentler with myself when i was younger. i wish i had realized how special and smart i was. i wish i had been braver and more scared at the exact same time. i wish i had known i could use the fire i felt inside me to keep warm or light my way instead of just trying to destroy everything that ever hurt me, everything i felt so ashamed of. i wish i knew then that that fire and all that came with it wasn’t a curse, that the shame i felt wasn’t mine and i didn’t have to carry it. i wish it for me then and me now; most of all, i wish it for you.