On November 30, 2017, I issued a "Collaborative Poetry Throwdown" on Facebook, inviting people to finish the line, "When I was 18...," after which I promised to weave the lines into a completed piece. I received 80 responses, then took some creative liberties to join them together. Here is the result.
One was in love with Dave, but lost Anne. Another was drowning, dreamed that a massive ocean tsunami suddenly engulfed the whole earth. Another crafted a plan to escape, was packing for England, or moving to Chicago, and sat outside the first day on the job and cried. Another had no idea how quickly the years would go by, thought her parents were happy or getting smarter, was already married one year, or had a 65-year-old multimillionaire lover, or hitchhiked to California with her boyfriend and burned off the bottoms of her feet in the desert. Another downplayed her intelligence or thought madness her birthright or learned how fun making out all night could be. Another was working at a Swiss Colony Cheese Shop or was a waitress in the Dunes Hotel in Virginia Beach and danced almost every day and felt like she was 30 and looked like she was 12. Another placed a baby for adoption and shouldn’t have moved in with her grandmother and didn’t know who she was or what she believed or what was right to want, or who was right, or whether to want at all. One found her voice and another lost herself. One played water polo for UC Santa Barbara and rode in the front of the bus when she was trying to be good and in the back of the bus when she wasn't. One didn't really know her mother or how much it would hurt to lose her and another knew nothing, or was sure she was ready, or that it was time to go, and moved out and rented a room for $15 a week. One had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up and another had all the dreams and none of the worries. One discovered that saddleback Dittos, Candi’s, lipsmackers and Loves Baby Soft were luxuries and another was pretending she wasn’t herself, escaped Palo Alto and its ubiquitous blue skies, was mentored by an extraordinary black woman, her whole world cracked open to an ecstasy of learning. One felt an invisible set of hands resting on her shoulders and stepped away from the life she had been born into and into the bliss of the unknown, and another had a boss with a handful of cash who asked if she could be bought. One faced her father's mortality for the first time and another had a beautiful little who called her “Mommy.” One lost her virginity and a bit of her heart and soul and another had seen a lot of the sheltered, white world and couldn't wait to have a little more freedom or had freedom and no idea what to do with it. Another discovered going to college far from home might not have been what she wanted after all and another had to escape an emotionally abusive stepfather and became an art major in college. One felt alive and another, very old, and another, that life was the beginning of the merry-go-round. One stopped dating the boy who would become her husband in eleven years and another let a professor's opinion crush her lifelong dream and another was full of hope or ignorant or didn't think she was truly smart or that art careers did not pay, and another thought the only positive change was no change and at 77, she is still not too sure. One met her best friend and another realized she was a feminist, free at last from the witch’s spell, and threw up when her mother dropped her off at college and bore a stunning shade of yellow. One held on for 25 years through a Catholic guilt so insistent she is still barely able to disentangle from it, and another cocooned herself with songs like "Carry On My Wayward Son," "Breakdown," and "Don't Fear the Reaper” and was all the things that everyone wanted her to be and purged the hating behind a closed bathroom door and ran the tap water until the numbness arrived. One thought the world was infinite and boundless, saw herself as invincible and superior, knew it all, then tied all her hopes to a young man and followed him to Marquette, Michigan. Another was more like thirteen or maybe fourteen and another lived under her mother’s salty gaze and other left home to learn she had more value than she ever thought she had.
With huge thanks to the following people for sharing these powerful vignettes from their lives:
Tasha Soto, Denise VanBriggle, Laurie Dunston, Shannon McCarthy DiCarlo, Monica Hochman, Jill Behme Conaway, Julie Caffey, Susan Lucas, Bo Mackison, Jean Robin Martell, Elsa Wolman Katana, Deb Reynolds, Kim Mailhot, Debbie Mackie, Pamela Perham Graesser, Ed Stillman, Heather Plett, Charla Bregante, Deb Taylor, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, Mary Orr, Judy Serebrin, Jane Cunningham, Susan Marynowski, Elaine Morales, Sharon Repp, Shannon Loucks, Kathleen Ambrose Warner, Lily Vakili, Judith Wren Fayre, Jill Doneen Clifton, Julie Thornton Terrill, Evlyn Moris, Marti Keller, Rene Janiece, Patricia Ryan Madson, Linda T. Marsh, Christine Wilson, Andria Arnold, Margaret Timpson, J Elizabeth Ballard, Caren Knox, Sara Stevenson Sarna, Sharon Martinelli, Karen Delaney Dino, Pat Wiederspan Jones, Mia McLaughlin, Michelle Frederick Vanstrom, Marci Moore, Michelle Elena, Nessa McCasey, Terry Hartley, Steevijane, Lou Welker McCulloch, Ann Ellinger Magee, Terri Belford, Livia Beasley, Trina Coleron, Chelsea LaBate, Jean Robin Martell, Becki Macary, Mikhal Bouganim, Christine Scott Hudson, Carina Karlsson, Jim Hulfish, Jean Reinhold, Jenn Forgie, Miguel A. Rueda, Susan Kinne, Jennifer Johns, Jessica Schneider, Laura Torchio, Brandie Sellers, Jennifer New, Kristen Ambrosi, Tracy Hart, Rebecca Reid, Patricia Smith