When I was 19, having barely recovered from the soul-shredding angst that had accompanied turning 18 the year before…I was living in San Diego, learning about the Big. Bad. World. We lived in a rental house on Lamar Street in Spring Valley, and I drove a ratty ass old Pontiac Catalina convertible that my Great Uncle Matt Lagier gave me for a high school graduation present. Oh, the Catalina…that there is worth at least a volume of stories! In fact…that one I shall have to deliver as a stand-alone. Anyway…so there I was, 19, filled with self-doubt, self-loathing, fear, smoking too much (it was funny, but broke as I was, I always had money for cigarettes. Hmm.) and drinking too much and indulging in marijuana and men. Too. Much. But I was 19. I knew what I wanted…or I thought I did.
This was in the late 1970s. California was an exciting place for a barely-19 year old girl from the Alaskan Bush. I went from a place where people knew what I was doing before I’d even done it to a place where I was just an anonymous blank face in a sea of anonymous blank faces. I learned at 19 that when men say “You have a really great…personality,” they really have something rather more…shall we say, carnal? in mind. Hmm.
When I was 19, I learned that I loved art…and more important, that I loved pottery. At that time, California had this really cool thing going with community colleges – you could go to a CC for free. All you had to pay for were books and fees. Property taxes – which were through the roof – paid for tuition. So there I was, 19 years old with a body that wouldn’t quit (you’d never know it to see me today but whatthehell) and a dearth of brains and common sense…going to school at Grossmont College. My ceramics professor was a delightful Texas fella named Les Lawrence. Loved him then, still do…and I would dearly love to see him again. He lives in Carefree, Arizona now, still doing his art. He taught me most everything I know about ceramics.
When I was 19, I was as clueless as they come. Beyond clueless, actually. Life was all about Experiencing…without the realization that Experiencing was inevitably followed by Consequences. How I survived without either getting pregnant or contracting an STD, I will never know. When I was 19, AIDS and HIV were barely a whisper around the world…and as a child of the late 50s, I was a confirmed hippie/free thinker/love child. God must have had His hands full just watching over 19 year old me. Thanks, Lord…One thing that saved my ass was that I never was much of a drinker, because usually by the third glass of wine or gin and tonic or Irish coffee, I was three sheets to the wind and by the fourth I was worshipping at the Altar of the Porcelain God. Marijuana was much the same…low tolerance. I was too scared to try mushrooms, LSD, hashish, crank or cocaine, although I had free access to all of those lovely substances. Thank God for small mercies, right?
It was an interesting time when I was 19. That was 38 years ago…oh. My. Dear. LORD…am I really that old?!? Jim Jones and some 900 of his followers were living in Guyana when they all committed suicide. Did you know that’s where we got the saying “they drank the Kool-Aid” from? I remember when that happened like it was yesterday. Walking the streets of Spring Valley with my then-boyfriend Richard, talking about the insanity of it all…cults were in vogue then, way more than they are now. When I was 19, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and around 2,000 of his followers were occupying a ranch in Oregon. For more on the Bhagwan, check out this link, ‘cause you can’t make up stuff like this! http://www.oregonlive.com/rajneesh/Oh yes…and when I was 19, the “Reverend” Sun Myung Moon’s cult was in full swing. Also the Hare Krishnas. Every airport had Hare Krishnas trying to muscle one into “donating” money for flowers. And the Moonies were a force on the Grossmont campus…I remember that they would camp out in the cafeteria and try to talk you into joining them at their compound for a “free” meal. I’d heard stories about the price of those free meals and wanted nothing to do with the Moonies, Hare Krishnas, Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons…in my mind they were all cut from the same creepy bolt of cloth and it made me itch to think about it. I was too busy learning about art and men, anyway. Cults were for sheep and I was a Wild and Free WOLFETTE.
When I was 19, my cat Elmer died of leukemia. I loved him so…the only comfort I had was that as an unneutered tomcat, his progeny were all around that little corner of Spring Valley. These days I’m a staunch advocate of spay/neuter, but this was the 70s and, well, free love.
When I was 19, my sister’s horse Lux threw me and came down on the back of my legs with both of his front hooves. I had massive hematomas for months and to this day I have the hoof-shaped scars to prove it. That pretty much ended my riding career…but not my abiding passion for horses, which makes about as much sense as kosher bacon.
When I was 19, my favorite form of recreation was to gather up my friend Anne O’Leary and my sister Lisa, throw some stuff in a styrofoam cooler and, with the top down on the Catalina, set sail for Mission Beach or Shelter Island. I had a red bikini, and man I was sssmokin’ hot…sigh…or we would go to Balboa Park – both of them were free – and you could spend the whole day for just the price of a few gallons of gas.
Life was both simple and incredibly complex when I was 19, exciting and boring, frightening and reassuring. Dichotomy seems to be a consistent thread throughout my life. I love guns but can’t bear the thought of killing any animal or person with them.
As luck and the Lord would have it, I survived the ‘when I was 19’ part of my life and by the time I was 30, I’d begun to grow up…for which I have Sister Lorene Griffin, my first shrink, to thank. I’ve learned that life is to be cherished, not wasted. I’ve learned that if you patiently wait, God will introduce you to the right man. I’ve learned that children really are a blessing…not a burden. Most important of all? I’ve learned that the me I was when I was 19…was an awesome person. A little rough around the edges, to be sure…but a whole lotta woman!