When I was sixteen, I thought that when I grew up, I’d remember being a teenage girl, that I’d know just what to say, that I’d get my teen. That might have been true, if I’d had me. But I had Jay, and Jay is not me.
I love hiking but despite (or maybe because of) hundreds of treks in Midwest woods and Southwest foothills, Jay doesn’t like hiking. She’ll endure it to humor me but she doesn’t enjoy it. Jay loves going to the gym. She saunters contentedly on the treadmill, while I run, red-faced and sweaty beside her. Jay loves cloudy days, cool weather and lots of shade. I never tire of summer and crave blue skies and sunshine.
At her age, I was a cheerleader. Jay is a mascot. I was self-conscious and obsessed with my weight. Jay is comfortable in her skin and self aware. She wants to save the world and dreams about adopting children—not babies but older kids who no one wants. She has a quiet kind of wisdom that I didn’t have at her age and arguably still don’t, not really. Not like Jay.
By the time I was sixteen, I’d been through three boyfriends. Jay wasn’t interested in boys until recently. She fell for a tall boy with dark hair and blue eyes who plays the guitar and listens with fierce intensity like no one she had ever met. For weeks after they became official, she couldn’t suppress her smile; she was high on life, in love for the first time. She would wake early to tell me about the first time they held hands, the first time they kissed.
And then he dumped her. In a text message.
Two days later, we were outside the gym when she started to cry. We went for a walk, and she told me through tears how much it hurt; I listened, heartsick and helpless. I can’t fix this. I offered the only healing tool I had: words that I knew were true but hollow. “The hurt goes away,” I promised, adding that she should find a project, something to distract. At her age (and well into my 20s), I chose to wallow in self pity in times of duress. At my age, I choose to focus on self improvement. But this is Jay. If Jay is to lose herself in a project, ever, it will have to be for someone else.
Her little cousins’ world is about to be rocked by a new baby, and she thinks of them. She picks out a kit for a dollhouse like the one she always wanted. In our poorly-insulated sun room, Jay blasts the odd assortment of music she’s collected on her iPod, from Marilyn Manson to Nat King Cole. She hums along, sanding and gluing the house she builds to mend her broken heart.
I marvel at our differences . . . and at the woman I’m beginning to see.