CNF: Adolescence

by Michelle Cacho-Negrete

I was thirty-three, molded by years of fierce desperation, fierce ambition and a newly fierce desire to be something other than a shy, frightened, silent homemaker scrambling for thrift-shop furnishings and the wife of a man who was rarely home and the mother of two children who would soon need everything, so I enrolled in a community college, then hid in my car the first day before throwing up in the bathroom and then bumping into other students because I looked down and wouldn’t meet anybody’s eyes, until I stepped outside myself into a pretend me, in the service of survival, feigning confidence and poise in order to attend classes despite the ongoing fear of exposure of my stupidity and my ghetto roots through yet another faux-pas, but for the first time people asked me literate questions and nodded with respect when I answered, and in response the pretend me read scholarly articles and once allowed the real me to speak with painful passion about poverty, and other students and teachers agreed with my point of view, and said I was smart and funny and knowledgeable and that I was beautiful and I briefly believed in that beauty when I didn’t have an affair with a grey-eyed, slender man with long fingers and a serious mouth who kept quietly to himself and observed every move his fellow students made and unexpectedly kissed me in the parking lot with a passion that seemed selfless and unique, and later brushed back my hair from my face and still later removed a splinter from my finger, and met me next morning at my car to carry my books to class and held my hand beneath the lunchroom table and bought me iced tea and hummed corny songs by Bread in my ear that we both agreed were sentimental trash, and for three days we were seventeen instead of thirty-somethings, and that last evening, with a strange wistful panic, he said let’s run away from home and I thought yes but saw my children’s eyes and said no and next morning he’d vanished leaving a flower in my school mailbox tied to a little plastic heart from the Five and Dime, and a friend told me he was an undercover narc on a case, and I felt dizzy and vacant until sorrow whooshed in to fill the space where he’d been, and eventually I graduated and went to grad school and my children got what they needed and I left my husband and remarried a man who is a much better fit.

Years later, in a women’s group, over glasses of wine, the discussion shifted to adolescence and the other women sighed, and laughed, and agreed, about how long it seemed and how embarrassing and how painful but what I remembered was not the hunched, hidden, skinny teenager who avoided gangs and stole food and clothes and barely graduated high school, but this ephemeral girl from thirty-five years ago who felt free and joyous and beautiful and loved in three days between a past and a future when anything could happen and time proved unimportant after all, and I told them that in my life, adolescence was the exact amount of time it should have been with a sweetness that lingered still like a glass of expensive wine you’d savored more than any glass before or since.

Michelle Cacho-Negrete is a retired therapist who currently lives in and loves, Portland Maine, although in her head she often still lives in Brooklyn. She’s had 40+ publications, including three selected for the 100 most notable, as well as six Pushcart Prize nominations. She’s won the Best of The Net, was a finalist in the Brooklyn Arts contest and is in five anthologies which include the Norton College Anthology and Thoreau’s Legacy: Writers speak about global climate change. Michelle lives in Portland with her husband Kevin Smith who is a research scientist currently working on climate change issues. She is assistant non-fiction editor for Solstice Literary Magazine. She works with students both in person and online and can be reached at Mcacho@maine.rr.com. Her website went extinct through her own forgetfulness but a new one will soon be up on line.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Adolescence”?

    It’s taken me forty years to write “Adolescence,” and not because I’m so dyslexic. I couldn’t figure out how to get it on paper and so I gave up. It was just one of secrets (no longer) we keep to ourselves. One day, while thrift-shopping, I saw a scarf I truly loved….it was $75.00. Since my ghetto childhood, I’ve never spent more than $25.00 in a thrift shop and I didn’t buy it. By that evening I’d become obsessive about it, the colors, the softness, the length. Twenty-four hours later I went back for it and it was gone. As the weeks passed the scarf metamorphosed into the most beautiful scarf I would never own. Through the memory lens it assumed qualities no scarf could ever possess. I realized then how I could write this piece. What we can never have becomes the foundation for whatever dreams and possibilities we can build on it. Loss grants us freedom to make something whatever we want it to be.
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