Discover more from Debra’s Newsletter
Tweens Like Us
...baby we were born too late. Or too early. Or too something.
I google “what to wear to a concert if older” and immediately regret it. “Leggings or jeans and a comfortable t-shirt” is not what I’m going for - I don’t want to look like a mom moving her kid into a dorm; I want to look fun and effortless, sexy and cool. Bruce Springsteen deserves my best. And clearly, he’ll be watching from the stage to see what I, in the 150th row, have come up with for him.
Susie calls as I stare dumbly at my closet. She asks what I’m doing and I say, “trying to figure out what a middle-aged person wears to a concert.”
“Wait,” she says. You think we’re middle-aged?”
“I mean, I know we’re not technically, but…”
“We’re not even non-technically,” she says. “Middle-aged people are 40. They have little kids and tattoos.”
It pains me to agree, and it begs a question.
“Then, what are we?” I ask. “If we’re not young…. or middle-aged…”
“Or elderly…” she adds.
We sit in stumped silence, trying to come up with a word that describes confused women in their early 60’s.
“Are we tweens?” I ask.
We laugh. And talk about how awkward it was to be tweens (boringly called pre-teens then) when our bodies were changing in ways we weren’t ready for. The confusion. The sadness. The fear. The new, unwelcome curves that kept surprising our hands in the shower. And the desperate desire to cling to the stage we were in, because the next one terrified us.
We pause. Because, wow. We are tweens.
Tweens. Who confide, not about training bras, but about comfortable ones. Who talk about hot flashes instead of periods. And exchange advice, not about putting toothpaste on pimples, but about shooting botox into elevens. And sometimes toothpaste on pimples too, because life isn’t fair to us tweens.
Later that morning, as I sip my coffee, it occurs to me that my entire world is in tween mode. Even my apartment building - surrounded in scaffolding - stuck between what it was and what it’s becoming. I sigh as I look through the window at the pipes and white gauze that diffuse the tree-lined street I normally stare at.
I often hear myself saying that this is the summer that wasn’t. Normally, I lollygag at the ocean, ride bikes down the boardwalk and drink tequila, all of which I’m very good at, and wrongly think of as skills. And I tend to cling to summer long after it’s over, like an overripe peach that refuses to fall from its branch.
But this one has been different.
My sweet mother, the ultimate tween, wavers, with unbelievable grace, between wakefulness and sleep; between hospice bed and chair, between visits from one child or grandchild and another; between life and death. At first we thought she had weeks, then months, and now, we simply don’t know. She is lingering. And the only thing more painful than watching her languish is the thought of life without her. Which clings to me constantly, making my heart heavy.
So it is with huge amounts of joy that I say yes to a Bruce Springsteen concert.
“It’s perfect,” Susie texts to Tammy and me. “He’s playing at Syracuse which is right near my house, so we can stay here.” Susie and her husband Ken have had a weekend house for a year and I have yet to visit.
As it turns out, “right near my house” is almost two hours away. So Tammy gets us an Airbnb in Syracuse for the night of the concert and we have a plan. It involves four long car rides and three overnights in different houses. I haven’t worked this hard to see a concert since I went to Boston to see the Grateful Dead when I was in college. And that wasn’t work. That was just good old fashioned tripping.
This is complicated. And each step comes with wardrobe considerations.
I pack three dresses, a pair of jeans, a top, sneakers, sandals and a lot of underwear because, who knows. I decide to wear a long black slip dress, belted with a sash, to the concert and slip my favorite earrings into a jewelry pouch.
The next morning, Tammy arrives with bagels and I hand her an iced coffee with a Splenda - I know how she likes it. When you’ve been friends for 40 years and have drunkenly thrown up on each other (okay, I threw up on her, and really only on her shoes and I was very sorry) you know things. We plan to pass the time by listening to podcasts and playing songs we know all the words to.
We talk. And keep saying we’ll play a podcast. But talk more instead. About our kids. Our husbands. Our mothers. Tweens like us have a lot to say. We cry a little and laugh a lot and never once need a podcast to entertain us because we have each other. I’m so happy, I almost don’t want the drive to end.
Until we see Susie, who bursts from her porch with her arms in the air. She exudes pure joy because she is pure joy. We laugh and cry and hug, jumping up and down like the awkward tweens we are, because we can’t believe we made this dumbass plan work. As we sit on Susie’s gorgeous front porch, taking pictures and sipping cocktails, we feel lucky. Susie’s husband Ken grills steak and we talk about how excited we are for Bruce.
We take edibles. We laugh harder than our jokes merit, but we don’t care. We finish the most delicious dinner ever and Ken says we should play pool. We chalk up, which I do with gusto, because it’s the one thing I seem to be good at. The others get balls into pockets. I get balls nowhere. Finally, I get one in and we all clap for the slow student in the room.
And then Tammy looks at her phone. And makes a face. All three of us have mothers in their 90’s and Tammy’s expression makes Susie and me feel uncomfortably empathetic. “Not now, Roz, please,” I think, instantly feeling guilty for putting Bruce before the mother of my friend, who keeps staring at her phone as if she hates it.
“Bruce Springsteen just canceled all September shows on the advice of his doctors,” she reads. Susie and I stare at her the way she had stared at her phone. I’m sure they must mean “all shows after ours.” He wouldn’t do this - doesn’t he know about the four car rides and the Airbnb and the time we took away from work and the black dress? Bruce! Bruuuuuuuuuce! We’re tramps like you!
The words “peptic ulcer” don’t belong in the same sentence as “Bruce Springsteen,” but there they are - staring up at us from our phones. We google furiously as if we’ll come up with different results. We stare at the announcement. We glare at Bruce’s ulcer. We hug our cue sticks to us, like boyfriends who might save the day. We google again, as if something might change. We sigh a lot. And pour another glass of wine. And half-heartedly play more pool.
The next day, after a glorious hike that makes me understand why Susie doesn’t mind driving three hours to get there, we drive to to a lake. They swim. I read. It starts to thunder. We joke about how cool we are for not going to New Jersey to see Bruce, like the rest of Manhattan.
“That’s for wimps,” Susie says. “True fans travel.”
“Yeah,” Tammy says. “Look at us go.”
“We’re practically like Burning Man people,” I say as we shove beach chairs into car trunks.
It starts to rain as Tammy and I hug our Susie goodbye.
We drive to Kingston, where Tammy owns a beautiful Bed & Breakfast. We’re going to take ourselves to a luxurious dinner. My shower is heaven. I decide to wear the black slip dress to dinner, because fuck Bruce. I’m immediately sorry for even thinking those words in jest. My brother and I used to dance around and jump to the “hey’s” at the end of Rosalita - our “psych up song.” And when my parents were at the swim club and I had the house to myself, I’d turn the speakers toward the windows and lay on a lounge chair with a reflector under my chin and Thunder Road in my ears.
Peptic-Ulcer-Bruce ain’t a beauty, but hey, he’s alright.
As I get into the slip dress, a huge clap of thunder booms. And then another. The shower outside my window is angry and persistent. With a sigh, I slip out of the slip, and into something cozy and long-sleeved.
Tammy is waiting in the kitchen and we stare out the window the way we stared at her phone last night. It’s pouring. We call the Mexican place next door and ask if they’ll deliver food. They will. And because we’re bratty tweens, we call back and ask if they’ll send margaritas too. They say yes and we high five.
We tip them grandly and fill our plates with romaine and warm grilled chicken that makes us feel so virtuous, we need big pieces of quesadilla to accompany it. We plop ourselves, with our plates and our giant margaritas in front of the TV to watch the Martin Scorsese documentary about David Johansen.
“Remember when we saw him at The Meadowlands?” I ask and she nods, because of course she does. He was hot and sexy and we danced the whole time. The movie starts. The bad boy punk who wore heels and eyeliner is 70 and wears a dinner jacket. But he’s still cool as hell, and as we close our eyes and sing Frenchette, so are we.
The song ends. We smile at each other, like the very dear friends we are.
We clap and yell and want more.
Of David. And someday, when his ulcer clears up, of Bruce.
But mainly, we want more of this.
I think about what my mother said, years ago, when I had twin infants and complained that everyone was having summer but me.
“I feel like I need to go to bed at 7:30 every night,” I whined.
“But honey, maybe, that’s ok. Maybe that’s what you’re supposed to be doing this summer,” she said. It was so simple, yet so calming.
Maybe being with her is what I’m meant to be doing this summer. Just as Tammy and Susie are with their mothers. Tammy and I drink our margaritas and have crushes on David Johansen all over again.
A couple of tweens whose bodies are changing in ways they can’t control. Tweens who complain about their mothers, yet cling to them with all their hearts. Tweens who miss their old selves and have no idea what’s coming.
Someday, we’ll get to that place where we really want to go, and we’ll walk in the sun.
Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.
But it will also seem beautiful.
And we may just miss the selves we are right now.
More than we can possibly know.
Thanks for reading Debra’s Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.