The Pretty in Pink soundtrack is a portal to the high school me. When I hear a song from it, even the ubiquitous “If You Leave,” the 17-year-old girl of my heart and memory arises. It is briefly 1986 and I am unsure, scared, and wondering. The music was the background of my high school experience summed up in three songs of self-absorption.
Suzanna Vega’s plaintive voice conveyed feelings of teenage isolation. It’s teen dissonance: the surety of being noticed by everyone and the simultaneous conviction that no one sees me at all. Every self perceived flaw or foible is magnified to others and yet no one sees as I blend into the background. How is it that everyone’s eyes are always on me yet, I’m invisible?
I was certain others had life figured out. The girls knew how to put together cute outfits. Their hair curled flawlessly never falling limply over their ears, their bangs perfectly popped. They knew how to decorate their lockers and notebooks. They could flirt easily with boys who were happy to shower attention on them. They wore make-up. They permed their hair. They pegged their pants.
I desired to be like them but never quite got there. I desired to be part of all they represented but deep inside I knew I wasn’t. Hearing a song about being left of center spoke to me. I didn’t succeed at the subtleties of high school social dynamics. Nor did I fail. I wasn’t the kid who was so far left of center that she’d created her own, happier center. But I was the kid who realized I was on the outskirts and the fringes. I could relate to Molly Ringwald’s character and admired her confidence to embrace her individuality because I was busy hiding mine. She had the ability to be comfortable in her skin, to reject the social pressure to fit in and the courage to hang with the other left of center kids. These were skills I wasn’t able to adopt until I was much older than 17.
I kept hoping to get to the center though because it seemed that’s where the fun was. I wanted a dreamy boy like Andrew McCarthy to like me despite my quirks. His validation would bring me into the fold safely. I wanted to be “in” yet still me. That place didn’t exist in 1980s high school culture. So hearing the Smiths dulcet appeal … I related.
I felt it. They spoke my teenage truth. This is what I want! I want to be center! I want to be part of it. I was sure I was the only one not getting my heart’s desire. What’s wrong with me?
Then I finally a boy liked me (and I endured the age old struggle between what was right and what was wrong). I knew that the wish of OMD was true for me too.
Because when I was 17, I wasn’t careful with my heart and it was easily trampled. It’s not called a crush for no reason. At 17, my heart was at the mercy of someone else and that person may not care for it well. He left in cruel high school fashion after a few short weeks, and my heart was torn.
What I know now, that I wish I’d known then, is not that it doesn’t matter. It does matter. Those angsty teen feelings are strong and real. What I wish I’d known then was that I had all the things I desired. They’d been freely given to me already. I just hadn’t accepted them.
What I know now is that the dreamy boy does love me. He is crazy about me. He delights in my quirks. He finds me utterly amusing. He gazes at me with adoring eyes every day, even and especially on the days when I look a mess and my mood is deep dark blue. He’s not concerned with what I am wearing or the fact that my hair, again, is a disaster. He accepts me. He knows me. He loves me. I am noticed. I am appreciated. I don’t need to try to fit in or be what others think I should be. With him, my heart is safe. Safer than anywhere else. I am part of something beautiful. I have a reason for being. My dreamy boy showers gifts on me. His generosity is inexhaustible. I don’t deserve his love. I didn’t earn it. I regularly do things that shun it. But it is there. Every single day. Every single hour.
His name is Jesus.
The self-involved teen me wanted to be included and wanted. The adult me, who has settled into herself, knows that I am a part of something bigger — the kingdom of God. That dreamy boy has given me what I need and he will never leave. I don’t have to feel left of center because there is no center. There is no place where some are valued more than others. There is no It Girl who looks better than me, no super jock boy who rejects me, no clique that doesn’t include me.
Now, when the soundtrack somehow makes its way to my playlist, I pause. I remember that girl and I say a little prayer for all the girls now who might feel the same way. And I am thankful that Jesus came crashing in and taught me what real love is all about. He is so good.
Copyright 2019 Merridith Frediani