So, I went to the U2 concert in Tampa with my cousin, through a series of events that involved her breaking up with a boyfriend and me leaving two teenage kids alone (it went better than you might expect). My mom and stepdad wanted us to make a little vacationlet of it, and graciously paid for a couple of nights at The Birchwood
in St. Petersburg.
It was a lovely hotel, the decor and service absolutely amazing. There were chocolates and fancy bottled water
and a clawfoot tub that proved to be very nice for soaking in.
My cousin and I marveled at it and thought we'd never stayed anywhere as nice. I remembered later that the hotel Dave and I stayed in for our honeymoon was arguably just as nice
, especially with a view that overlooked the beach
. But that was back in January of 1998, just shy of twenty years ago, and it might as well have been another lifetime.
But that was kind of the theme of the vacation. My cousin and I hadn't spent any extended time together since we both were teenagers. And The Joshua Tree
tour is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of the album.
The thing about the Joshua Tree album is that, as I recall, it wasn't even mine. My stepmom bought the CD. But I played the hell out of it, particularly cranked up on my parents' stereo at full volume when they weren't home.
There is a certain feeling that I associate when the guitar kicks in, with its haunting echoes, and it reminds me of what one friend calls Sehnsucht
and another friend and I call (for reasons that have been lost in the mists of time) "sun dog", loosely after the atmospheric phenomenon
, but for us it means a very wistful state of longing.
I didn't listen to the album before the concert at home or in my car, and it wasn't until I was in the car with my cousin headed to St. Pete that I heard it recently, though then it was mostly in the background while we chatted. We did belt out "Red Hill Mining Town," a favorite of both of ours.
I felt a little bit like a poser. While I'd loved the album, I hadn't listened to U2 in years. My last album in heavy rotation was Achtung Baby
, which was the soundtrack for part of my college years. I felt like I'd lucked into getting to go through a series of events but that maybe I wasn't enough of a real fan. Still, the moment the concert started, I was mesmerized. Despite not having heard the album in probably close to the thirty years since it came out, I was able to sing along to every word.
There was something odd about it, like inhabiting my big, ungainly 45-year-old body with glasses and brown hair streaked with gray...at the same time as I was inhabiting, or imagining, my 15-year-old thin body with its contacts and makeup and long permed hair.
I wanted to do justice to that 15-year-old young woman, wanted to bring her forward in time to hear with me. I wished that she had been able to hear the concert back when the album came out. I wished so much for her, this being both me and not-me, the same age as my daughter. I sang my voice out for her, and I danced for her, and I closed my eyes and savored each note, each one of Bono's words, each guitar solo from The Edge, for her.
The next day my cousin and I took a trip to the Salvador Dalí Museum
in St. Pete. It was within walking distance of our hotel. Walking in the hot Florida sun - though there was a breeze - made me a little cranky, but the view of the marina and the bay was pretty.
I hadn't been to the Dalí Museum since I was in my twenties, and it was actually in a different location in St. Pete back then. I can't remember if Dave and I were married yet or still in college when we went there. I just remember being on a tour with the docent and having them say, step forward and you'll see this, step backward and you'll see that, and doing so and being mesmerized by the genius that is Dalí at his best. Before, the only thing I'd known about Salvador Dalí was that he was a Surrealist and had a funny mustache. But being at the museum made a whole world open up for me, and one of the best parts what that Dave was there with me and seeing all the same things too, feeling that same sense of wonder.
I was really hoping to expose my cousin to that, to see her face light up with that same feeling, but it wasn't the same. The docent we ended up with was more interested in telling us about all the places in Spain he'd visited than analyzing the paintings...either that, or we bailed before he quite got to that part. My cousin and I explored on our own. She liked his early, more impressionistic pieces...but she found the breasts and penises hidden and not-so-hidden in the larger body of his work pornographic and agitating.
And I realized - even as the twenty-something part of me was disappointed - that my cousin gets to have her own experience and perspective. That part of going to something like the Dalí museum is what it does to and for the individual, that people get to have their individual experiences of that.
We did both enjoy the food in the cafe, the view and the architecture from the building, and the garden with the Spanish guitar music playing.
My mom's family was very close, and my maternal grandparents were an integral part of my life growing up. I spent most of the time I wasn't with my parents with my grandparents, and so did my cousin. We practically grew up together; we were like sisters. I remember playing with her Barbie dreamhouse, swimming in my grandparents' above-ground pool, watching all the same reruns together after school, fighting with her over practically everything: including the way she would follow me around everywhere and try to boss me around, even though she was three years younger than me.
And then my parents got divorced when I was eight, and I became more like a visitor to my grandparents' house than an inhabitor of that world. It was still home...but not quite
. I was feted and treated like the prodigal daughter when I went over there on my mom's weekends, because they weren't seeing me everyday anymore. All my favorite foods were served, chicken and green beans and macaroni and cheese. Lemon cake. My grandmother fussed over me and tried to fatten me up, because at the time I was painfully thin, all bones and arms and legs.
My grandparents were just so excited to see me.
And then when my cousin's parents got divorced when she was twelve, my cousin ended up living with my grandparents. She inhabited that world that I just visited, her home my home-but-not-quite-home. But we were still close as teenagers, still almost like sisters, and we talked a lot about boys and clothes and school.
Being together over these past couple of days, now in 2017, we laughed so hard that we cried, and in some ways it was like being that close again. And yet there were reminders, for me, of how the world I live in is much different. I like to think that despite being in a heterosexual marriage, my life isn't heteronormative. I don't identify as Christian anymore, and she's a Baptist. There are similarities in terms of how we raise our kids, but there are vast differences too. And we're on completely different sides of the political spectrum. I would be shocked to find out that she didn't vote for Trump. She fat-shames herself and doesn't seem to realize that I'm almost a hundred pounds heavier than she is. (Yes, really.)
There are things that my cousin knows about me that no one else knows quite so well. Even though I can describe it here, you won't quite get
the way I could climb a guava tree to the very tiptop when I was eight, or my very intense longing to be able to inhabit the world of Battle of the Planets
and be another member of G-Force, even if it was only in my mind. My cousin knows those means of escape from the dance that both sets of our parents did, that our grandparents did. Both of us can recite most of my grandmother's chronic illnesses and the drama that went with them, some of which I share (and some of which I'm just finding out about now.) Our childhood and adolescence is hopelessly intertwined.
But there are also so many things I can't share with her anymore: a love of Jesus, a love of new clothes; being thin, being excited over boys. I love my cousin deeply, but it's a love grounded in the past more than the present, and there are sides of myself that I don't know how to present to her now. Being around her is a little bit like squeezing into the too-tight clothes you used to wear everyday but haven't quite fit into in a while.
Last night my cousin and I had dinner together and we ordered alcohol with dinner and went to the rooftop bar after dinner and drank more alcohol and laughed until we cried.
For me, it was coming close to exceeding my limits with alcohol but being responsible enough not to, something I couldn't quite figure out in my teens and twenties. For her, it was the first time she'd ever been drunk. She said, "Wow! Now I know why people do
this!" while I kept giggling.
She was responsible enough to know when to stop, and I plied her with advil and water to try to prevent a hangover, and we woke up in the middle of the night and started reliving all our experiences and laughed so hard again I couldn't catch my breath.
The past couple of days have been a combination of returning to my younger selves, seeing life both through my eyes and their eyes, and getting dizzy from the combined juxtaposition. (Or maybe just from the alcohol last night.)
I don't know quite how to end this. But here's a quote from a short story I read a long time ago, "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros.
What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.
Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.
Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.
You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.
I'm forty-five. And I'm also eight, and fifteen, and eighteen, and twenty-something, and all the ages that make up the entire span of my life.
That's the way it is. And that's okay.