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Battle Hymn Of The Teenage Girl: Part 1
As we drove down to the summer house in Oceanside that year, Aunt Ellen told me that my cousin Pete had invited a girl from his college to live with us for the summer. It was the summer between their junior and senior years. Pete had always been the ladies man of the family, girls called the house constantly asking for him. In the summers he often had a new girl friend every week, as the rooms in the hotel where he lifeguarded rented by the week. One, an art major, had done a very good pencil sketch of him by the pool, shirtless of course. I knew Pete was good looking. And he had the I-could-care-less attitude that attracted girls like flies. He brought them home to the house in Quincy Hollow, grunted, “Wanna beer?” then ignored them. He was the bad boy they couldn’t help swooning over.
“He invited this girl to spend the summer. He says this is the one.” Aunt Ellen looked like she wasn’t sure she believed it. I found it hard to believe myself.
But it was for real all right. Pete was just shy of six feet, and Lisa just over five, but when she spoke he jumped. I had never seen him act this way. Aunt Ellen called Lisa “the drill sergeant.” Grandpop called her “spareribs,” disgusted by her slender elfin style. “There’s nuthin’ to ‘er,” he growled.
Grandpop hated everyone of course. He was Ellen’s stepfather, the man her mother married after the death of Ellen’s father. The little house in Oceanside was his home year round, except that Ellen and Rich and their four kids and me descended on it every summer. Ellen and Rich must have been the financial underwriters of this whole deal, because Grandpop clearly despised all of us except Ellen, and would have thrown all these lazy kids out if it were in his power. He settled for making everything as unpleasant as possible. Ellen cooked and cleaned for him when she was there, took care of his paperwork. They rarely exchanged words, but he had some feeling for her, though for no other human being as far as I could tell.
Lisa was pretty, though not in the way of Pete’s past girls. They invariably had long feathered hair, wore skin tight jeans and stood close to his height. The type of girl at ease with a beer can in one hand and a cigarette in the other. And they watched him for cues. Lisa was fair and blond, her hair in a timeless and flattering pageboy. She looked like a girl planning to teach elementary school. And far from Pete being in charge, the house was her domain as soon as Ellen stepped out the door. She and Pete played house in earnest, ignoring Grandpop, the year round resident. Ignoring me was even easier.
The first difficulty was where I would sleep. I was uneasy about this, knowing Ellen’s assurances I would have my usual spot meant nothing. The house really was tiny. Grandpop had a room, which left one bedroom for everyone else. A queen sized bed, bunk beds and an assortment of mismatched dressers packed the room, leaving precious little floor space. The rest of the house consisted of the kitchen, filled largely by a table, and a living room. Fold out couches stood against opposite walls: these opened leaving scant inches in between, turning the living room effectively into one huge bed. This was a summer place, and everyone always crammed in together: summer meant tight quarters, more time outside. A young couple living together, with a need for privacy, threw a wrench into the works, though a wrench everyone could mention. The first night Aunt Ellen and Uncle Rich took the queen bed, and I went to the bunk, though I had plenty of times slept out in the living room with cousins of assorted genders. This left Pete and Lisa the living room. In the morning, groggy and badly needing a glass of water, I squeezed past the metal side of the pull out couch to get to the kitchen. I had forgotten the situation, or I would have gotten a drink out of the bathroom faucet. Pete and Lisa were awake and motionless, and I might have been only sixteen, but I knew a couple just finished with lovemaking when I stumbled past them. Mr. Dark and Dangerous, Mr. ‘Ya wanna beer?” clasped her little hand tenderly to his well defined chest, a besotted expression glued to his face. This just didn’t bode well.
Once Ellen and Rich got on the road, Pete sat me down for a talk. He indicated the couch of the morning’s soap opera tableau, now neatly folded back into a sofa. I sat. He sat. I wasn’t going to talk first. I didn’t know what to say anyway.
“I’m not saying you’re not allowed in the bedroom,” he said.
“I’m fine here. The couch is fine.”
He didn’t look at me beyond a brief glance, but he had sat down, hands folded, to straighten this out, and it would be the most attention he would direct my way for the rest of the summer, certainly the only time he took a benevolent tone towards me. “I just want you to know. I’m not saying you can’t sleep on a real bed.”
I had no idea what to say. I wanted to push my way into that room with the two of them about as much as I wanted to stick my legs into a pool of sharks. My eyes were glued to the floor, and he stood and left without another word. Then he moved the dresser with my clothes out into the living room.
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