Lightning in a Jar: Petulant Me

My high school in Long Island, New York.

My high school in Long Island, New York.


Had I been leading him on? Encouraging him in some way? I wracked my brain, trying to remember every conversation, every word we’d ever uttered. Seemed to me I was just being myself, playfully laughing and joking around with James and Sam. We were practically the Three Musketeers of Geometry! Doing our homework together, studying together. And, it was always the three of us, not two. Three!

So, why was I feeling anything? Why did I care so much? We were friends! And yet…

And yet, I was in love with Jake. With all my heart. Which is why “Operation Don’t Talk to James” was put into effect right away. Of course, it was impossible to not speak to James at all. We were still classmates and that wasn’t about to change any time soon. But, I did everything possible not to encourage conversation beyond class-related stuff. I wouldn’t look at him, even when he spoke, and even when I replied.

And, if that wasn’t going to work, there was always Plan B. The cooling-off period. With spring break just a few days away, it seemed almost a relief to know I wouldn’t be seeing him for an entire week, which would provide plenty of time to put this in perspective.

Sigh. An entire week of not seeing James seemed almost like a lifetime! Worst, I wouldn’t be seeing Jake either, as my family was definitely going to D.C. for the week and there was absolutely no way to get out of it. I was so mad.

It didn’t take James long to figure out something was amiss. On the Friday before vacation, as I left class, he caught up with me, beckoning me to follow him outside the school. Reluctantly, I did.

We walked down a slope toward the back of the school. In the distance, a girls’ field hockey game was underway. James’ face leaned into mine.

“Bubbles,” he said almost tenderly, like a guy who is trying to make amends with his girlfriend, “Did I do something wrong? You seem mad at me and I want to know why.”

I hesitated. I could like this boy, I really could. If only things were different. I could feel myself caving, giving into his strength of character, his goodness. But Jake, coupled with James’ age, pulled me back. Why did James have to be so nice? Why did I enjoy his company so much? It was all too confounding to think about.

“James,” I finally asked, “Is it true? Do you like me?”

James raised an eyebrow and looked at me quizzically. “Is this a trick question?”

“No, I’m serious. I need to know how you feel.”

“Well, yes. I like you very much, Bubbles. I love your smile and, well, you make me feel good.” He gave a half smile.

So, now it was out there. The attraction between us, alive and kicking. No one could deny. Yet, this wasn’t supposed to be like this. Sure, it felt good to hear, but all it did was confuse the issue, blur the lines, and make me feel all kinds of crazy inside. I was at a crossroads. I could’ve flung my arms around him or rejected him out flat. I chose the latter.

“You’ve got to stop this, James. And, you need to stop calling me Bubbles, do you understand? I already have a boyfriend, and you’re just in 10th grade, James. A kid! That’s what you are, don’t you get it? THIS ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN!”

I was ablaze in anger and frustration, but the real source of my rage was not James. It was me. I had somehow turned myself into a petulant, churlish child, unable to express myself in any other way than through an emotional meltdown. And, I had taken it out on James. If I had venom in me, I would be spitting it about now. I hated that he was seeing me like this and so, before either of us said another word, I quickly turned and ran back to the school.

Jake came over that night, after I’d finished packing for the trip. I wanted him to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay, but he didn’t know any of what transpired between me and James, and I wasn’t about to tell him. Nobody knew and I wanted to keep it that way.

I was too mortified that I had encouraged this young boy, that we had come this far so quickly, and that I’d acted like a maniac in front of him. I cared for him and worried that I may ruined our friendship for good.

I turned to Jake. Was it me or was he still being a bit distant? Certainly, he could see what mood I was in, couldn’t he? Yet, he asked me nothing about my day. I couldn’t pinpoint what was different but I had other problems to occupy my mind, so I decided not to give it further thought. It was troubling, though, that I couldn’t remember the last time he wrote me a romantic note or love poem.

When it was time for Jake to go, I held him tight, letting him know I was going to miss him everyday and every night. Then, I gave him something personal of mine to hold on to while I was away. I gave him a ring I’d wear most every day, that had been a gift from my parents for my Quinceñera when I was living in Venezuela.

Jake kissed me on the cheek, and said we’d see each other again soon. One week is a short time, after all. Still, I got teary as he left, and told him I’d call him the moment we returned.

How long one week can seem when you’re young and in love, and resenting your parents for separating you from the object of your devotion. It is the pain of teen angst and insecurity, and all you want to do is rush time. Make it go faster. Hurry for I can’t wait to see Jake again. Seven days felt like, from here to eternity.

I don’t remember anything about the trip except for one thing: I wanted it to be over. I needed to go home. Home is where the heart is, after all. I had to see Jake and the week seemed like it would never end.

And, then the trip was over and we were home at last. I practically jumped out of the car and dialed Jake’s number. I couldn’t wait to hear his voice again. That’s all I wanted after seven days with nary a word. And, when he picked up the phone, my heart was elated.

“Oh good you’re back,” he said rather somberly. “There’s something I need to tell you. I’ve been seeing someone else for a few weeks now, and she’s very special to me. I know this is probably upsetting to hear, but you should know I waited for your vacation to be over before telling you, because I didn’t want to spoil it for you.”

Then, almost as an after thought, he added, “Let me know a good time to stop by so I can return your ring.”

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the High School Years page.

Lightning in a Jar: In Like a Lion

My high school in Long Island, New York.

Yearbook photo of my high school in Long Island, New York.


Time passed. Winter was loosening its clutch on the North Shore of Long Island and signs of spring were beginning to emerge everywhere. In my mother’s daffodils and in the hydrangea bushes in our backyard. In the local park, where they were mowing the lawn and adding fresh sand to the ground by the swings. And, in my bicycle, which had become dusty in the garage, from non-use during the cold months. Now that it was getting warmer, I could once again ride my bike to school in lieu of taking the school bus. These signs were a reminder of the old adage taught to us in grade school. “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

Spring break was just weeks away, and I couldn’t wait, though I was hoping to stay home for the break so I could hang with Jake. He seemed a bit aloof lately. I asked him if anything was wrong but he looked at me tenuously and then shook his head.

My parents had other ideas for the break. They were making plans to go to Washington, D.C. to see our nation’s Capital. This was their way of making it up to me for not allowing me to go on the 11th grade field trip to D.C. in October. The idea that girls and boys were going to be sleeping in the same hotel (though not in the same rooms) caused my traditional, Latino parents to forbid my participation altogether. I remember being crestfallen the entire week, when nearly all the juniors were away on the trip and I had to stay and attend school, business as usual. Going to D.C. with my parents just wasn’t going to be the same, and I was doing my best to talk them out of it.

Meanwhile, for the first time, I was excited about math. Turns out, when explained s-l-o-w-l-y, geometry is relatively easy to comprehend. But the real reason I was excited was Sam and James. I enjoyed their company and loved hanging out with them in class. We’d get there early, and gab before class started, during class—whenever we could get away with it—and afterwards. It was the “afterwards” part that annoyed Jake, because he’d be waiting for me in the hallway to walk me to my next period, and more and more, I was one of the last to leave as I tried to squeeze in more time with James and Sam. Something Jake didn’t understand at all.

“Why bother? They’re just kids!” he asked, exasperated.

“Because they’re helping me with my homework, I guess.” Not entirely true, but I wasn’t about to let him know that I genuinely liked my sophomore friends. So instead I said, “It’s okay if you can’t always meet me after class. I don’t want you to be late for yours.”

He seemed relieved. I looked back at the classroom and spotted James gathering his books. He looked up at me and smiled warmly. I was trying to think of something pithy to say to him, when Jake grabbed my hand and books, and pulled me away.

The next day, there was no sign of Jake after class. For a moment, I was disappointed. But then I heard a voice behind me say,

“Hey, Bubbles, mind if I walk you to your class?”

It was James. Quietly soothing James. Who seemed to know as much about old movies as I did, and could crack me up with a wry observation. Because of his shyness, he seemed like a lamb, but there was a hint of wildness underneath his demeanor. James had already conjured up a nickname for me, Bubbles, because, as he said, I had a “bubbly” spirit. I wasn’t sure about that, nor was I crazy about a nickname that sounded like it belonged to a stripper, but secretly I was digging that he had his own name for me.

“Where’s Sam?” I wasn’t used to seeing one without the other.

“Oh, he’s staying. He wants to talk to Mrs. C. about the grade he got on the last test.”

“Well then, I suppose you can walk me, but don’t you normally make a left here to go to social studies? I’m actually headed the other way for my English class.”

“I don’t mind,” he smiled, adding rather expectantly, “Would you like some help with your books? You’ve got quite a few there.”

I reddened. True, I had a lot of books in my hands because I’d been to the school library earlier for a report I was writing and was going to continue working on it during study period, but somehow, I felt James was getting too close for comfort.

“Um, no thanks.” I then paused and said, “James, last I heard you’re not my boyfriend. I don’t mind walking with you, really, because you’re a friend. A very nice friend. But that’s all. It’s weird for you to carry my books.” Ugh. Why did I just say that? I could see how deflated he looked.

“Sorry. Just thought I’d ask, that’s all.”  This wasn’t going well and I had a feeling it was my fault. It felt so awkward being here without Sam to balance us out.

James must have felt it, too, because suddenly he surprised me and quietly said, “Maybe you’re right. I thought it’d be nice to walk with you, but I should just probably get going before the bell rings. Later.” With that, he turned and walked away.

After school, as I was unlocking my bike to go home, I ran into Sam. He was alone and about to head to the public library. I glanced around hoping to see James, wanting to make sure we were okay.

Sam greeted me and said, “If you’re looking for James. His mom picked him up earlier. Doctor’s appointment.”

“Why would you assume I’m looking for James?”

“I just figured,” he remarked matter-of-factly.

“Figured what, exactly?”

“Well, it’s kind of obvious. He’s crazy about you and I think you feel the same.”

I stammered. “Sam, no way. You’re crazy!”

“You think so? From where I’m standing, you seem to be all he thinks about.”

I was aghast. As Sam took off on his bike, I zipped up my windbreaker, and started to think about what he’d said.

James liked me? Suddenly I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie mystery, when all the suspects are gathered together at dinner and all the clues start falling into place, revealing the identity of the murderer. Only instead of exposing the killer, the clues were now revealing this attraction that had caught me unawares. Did I feel it, too?

But now, I could see. Sam was right. I began to remember how my cheeks would burn each time I felt James’ seemingly constant gaze upon me. How he’d wink at me as if he and I were the only ones in on a joke. How he’d hold the door open for me when we got to class. The electric current I felt when my arm briefly brushed his. And, I remembered just how much I looked forward to seeing him, and how, despite his shyness, James had proven to be even funnier and more scintillating than Sam. And his eyes, how beautiful and open there were to me.

I pedaled feverishly all the way home, and by the time I arrived, I knew what I had to do. Two things were certain: James was too young and Jake was my boyfriend. There was only one solution. I had to stop talking to James!

Yet, nothing really is certain, is it? That night, the wind blew furiously, bringing with it a new morning frost that made it too cold to ride my bike to school.

So much for spring. Seems like the lion wasn’t yet ready to yield to the lamb.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the High School Years page.

Fields of Gold

Spring Break in this household just kicked the bucket. Kaput. Gone in a flash, just like that.

Entrance to the Huntington Library, Art Collection & Botanical Gardens--an amazing place to visit.

And, as I drove my daughter to the airport, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I found myself wanting to belt out my own rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset.” Because, if you ask me, the passage of time is captured best in this song’s lyrics:

“Is this the little girl I carried…I don’t remember growing older, when did they?”

“Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.”

“Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years, one season following another.”

Well, friends, it was a whirlwind week. Not enough time is my usual mantra, and I mean it now, more than ever. Sunrise, sunset.

And, of all the things we did together this week—two movies, tea with friends at the Huntington Library in San Marino, shopping, lunching at our favorite cafe, etc.—the most glorious of our experiences is captured in the photographs below.

We floated, we too, mother and daughter, in fields of spectacular color. For the ranunculus are in bloom!  Row upon row of reds, yellows, whites, pinks and oranges–as far as the eye can see. A world of enchantment, like a bouquet of  Technicolor extravaganza that has been sprinkled with golden fairy dust. Way too beautiful for mere words. And fleeting, too, for in four weeks this will all be gone. Sunrise, sunset.

There was me, excitedly running ahead with my camera, taking over 100 shots from every possible angle. And there was my girl, my chica who recently turned 21, following close behind with all the patience in the world. She has it all and I have none, my New York spirit still strong, while hers is firmly planted in laid-back California. Different, yet the same.

Blinding brilliance; heaven on earth.

The view from the hillside.

And one more.

It’ll be months before I see my daughter again, but I’m already looking forward to it!

For now, it’s back to the grind. 😉

Spring Break, FAFSA Style

Spring Break’s a bust!

Sarah’s home from college for one week and one week only. After a school quarter filled with reports, exams and intense studying, this is the time for her to have some much needed R&R, and some tender lovin’ comfort, courtesy of her mom (aka, me).  I take the week off from work so I can administer all my love and affection, prepare her favorite meals, and have lots of mother-daughter moments going shopping, seeing movies and just doing nothing. In other words, for us Spring Break represents the hopes that we can have some lazy, fun-filled days. Ah, bliss.

But nooooooooo!  Rest and enjoyment, be damned! Thanks to the Feds, Spring Break might as well be dubbed “FAFSA Break.” For we have to spend nearly every waking moment filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile and the IDOC (Institutional Documentation Service) applications.  Any parent with a kid in college, or a kid who’s been through college, knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s time for the annual ask, otherwise known as, please-bestow-on-me-some-financial-aid!

I'm thinking these must be the nice people that decide your fate. They're busy reviewing FAFSA applications and determining the financial future of your college bound kid.

These are the applications that determine whether your child is eligible for financial aid for college and if so, how much they’ll get.  Every year, institutions of higher learning require that you complete these applications which contain hundreds and hundreds of questions. So many questions, that a lot of them are repeat questions, just because they’ve run out of questions to ask. And each application is a variation of the other, so you have to answer 100 or so questions  per application, but in a different order each time.

It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt, one that involves finding the right paperwork that’s going to help you answer each question.  And one that is grueling, aggravating and hair-pulling insane. It makes completing your tax returns seem like a walk in the park. To begin filling out these financial aid forms, you must have available your latest tax returns, as well as the returns you submitted for the prior year.  Tax returns for both you and your child, that is.  You must also have at the ready, your W-2’s.

Then, you must know exactly how much you currently have in your savings and checking. How much your home is worth. What’s in your retirement and investments, and exactly how much you have socked away in foreign investments and, perhaps, under your mattress? Also, what is the value of your car and, while we’re on the subject, why haven’t you fixed that nasty scratch to help maintain its value? And, do you have any insurance policies you can turn into college moolah?

They also want to know, how much interest did you earn this year, and were there any proceeds from garage sales? What about the tooth fairy? Did she bring you any money this year that you can apply toward the cost of tuition? And exactly how much currency is in your pockets at this very moment? Under the sofa cushions? Oh, and do you know the value of your grandmother’s jewelry?

Yes, the nice people that decide your fate–or exactly how much you’ll have to pay toward your child’s education–want to know how much you’re worth, and no rock will be left unturned. For us, every year it’s the same:  Not eligible. Except for maybe a paltry unsubsidized loan (not to be confused with a subsidized one) of limited amount, which barely covers placing one foot on the college campus of your choice. You have to be living at or near the poverty level to qualify for anything more than that.

But who knows? Maybe this year we’ll get a windfall. The folks at FAFSA will have money to burn in their pockets and say, “Hey, let’s give Sarah a break. Let’s give her a big fat scholarship to make her mother happy.”

Nah. Ain’t gonna happen. Our FAFSA ship sailed long ago. Oh, well. Back to the application. We only have 38 questions to go, at which time Sarah can pack her bags and head back to college. So much for Spring Break.