Townie

I hear the cries in clusters like  bursts of front yard fireworks on the Fourth of July. I could map them, these small explosions of sound, at their various points of origin, but by now they’ve begun to coalesce and by the time the elevator descends to the first floor I can hear the roar even before the doors slide open. The chanting is furious, frantic– the fever-pitched hollers of young people who don’t give a fuck about shredding their vocal cords. They rush the front doors and the building shudders. I step aside to avoid being caught in the wave and watch them stream out over the lawn, down the stairs and into the vanguard of half-shadowed runners screaming toward towards the barricades. Because I am old and tired, I walk against them, through shouting crowds that emerge endlessly from each building, over darkened yards, out of dim alleys. Moments later, I become aware of the hovering helicopters, the groans and shrieks of advancing riot, the smell of smoke and the crackle of fire. I step carefully over the old brick sidewalks under leafy branches, mindful of Greek-lettered mansions now-emptied with doors left ajar in breathless exodus. I hear the first swell of sirens and think, here we go, and think all of this may be instructive should I ever find myself in the middle of an actual revolution and think I bet there’s no one in line right now at the burrito place. Am I hungry?

I’ve never lived through armed conflict. I have, however, spent the last fourteen years of my life living as an adult, if not always like an adult, in a college town with a competitive basketball team. Having watched the breathless, beer-obscured, FOMO-powered advance of several thousand undergraduates high on victory, I feel like I have some insight into what happens when the mob is unleashed. Here it usually just ends with a handful of DUIS, maybe an overturned hatchback, a flaming sofa or two and at some of skinny boy in khaki shorts leaping over the bonfire, like a high jumper at the witch trials. The college in my college town is a state school but one of the elite ones. Most students aren’t reckless enough to imperil their future law school prospects by committing a felony, at least not a felony they’re likely get caught committing. These are future doctors, journalists, app developers, investment bankers, social workers and college professors. These are not the fomenters of rebellion.

And yet . . . I could, I can imagine it going another way. What sort of armchair historian would I be if I could not envision those same young frantic faces, hungry for whatever narrative might await round the corner of broken brick sidewalk—the possibilities are endless–no matter how irrelevant, no matter how rampageous.

 

 ***

 In the arguments I used to justify my move to a college town after I graduated from college  in a town that was not a college town, the business of basketball[1] entered not at all into my calculus. I came here for reasons both practical—friends, reasonable rent, cultural resources—and sort of ineffable. I was chasing the environmental analogue of a sound—aggressively bright, quick, intriguingly dischordant—that seemed to characterize most of my favorite local bands. I’d spent most of the last decade in a minor key, imagining I’d end up somewhere with a climate to match—like maybe Portland or London. But somewhere at the tail end of the dark days, I grew tired of eschewing sunlight and pretending to hate things like summer and humor and pleasure. I wanted to live some place where I could read novels on the porch for roughly nine months out of the year. I wanted to host cookouts and see bands play and make new friends. I wanted to talk about literature and philosophy and television shows about teenage vampire slayers until 4am the way I’d always imagined I would in college but I never went to those kinds of colleges, or at least I never had those kinds of friends there. You should move to New York, the geniuses all said. That’s the place for you. And figured I would eventually, probably, maybe. Nothing wrong with taking a little time. I’d been long delayed by unhappiness; why not dawdle for the off chance of joy? What was a year, maybe two? I was sure I’d have plenty of time to get hazed by winter and habituated to bitter disappointment by desperate, lonely nights in an overpriced, substandard apartment I’d share with a drug addict or a demoralized actor. Maybe both.

The first two years in the college town I lived in a rambling brick bungalow with at least 3-4 other rent-paying tenants and a rogue’s gallery of all boyfriends, blind dates, friends, family, out of guests and (on at least one occasion) a couple of touring bands. I was completely broke. The house was disastrous. I worked at a record store and graded essays for standardized tests from my bedroom while smoking cigarettes and listening to college town’s equally infuriating and excellent radio station. I about watched seven seasons of a television show about teenage vampire slayers and sat up until 4am talking about literature and philosophy and history. I was, despite the occasional, theatrical complaint, pretty fucking happy. My mother, who kept her distress at my failure to achieve really any of adulthood’s benchmarks at a low-ish volume, remarked that I was “finally having my college experience.” It was a clearly barbed comment—I was about 27 years old when she made it—but she was exactly right. My actual college experience had been brutal, impossibly hard in every aspect except for the academics and classes were, at best, an afterthought. I’d spent about eight years exploring every definition of barely getting by, which is probably why I thought an undergraduate slum full of overflowing ashtrays and underemployed young woman working through our post-adolescent shit[2] in thrift store chic was about two steps shy of paradise.

At the end of those two years, I’d lost two roommates to the charms of my hometown, one to New England and another to a live-in relationship with a man who was making big plans for a move to the west coast. The time had come for me to slough off the charms of the cheap and easy life and make for some entry-level job in a city that had zero interest in my success and a diminishing attraction to me. I mumbled a little something about weighing my options, found a new roommate and rented a little gray cottage four blocks south.

That was twelve years ago.

I’m still here.

 ***

 A few weeks ago, some friends from New York came to town to help celebrate my fortieth birthday. One of them went for a hair appointment. The other and I went to wait for her at table outside the Co-Op on chilly, aggressively bright February midday. We sat wrapped in sweaters, drinking Guinness for lunch and ignoring the grizzled man in the long white robe interpretive dancing in the grass beside our table.

We’d been chatting about our jobs, our friends, our futures. We refilled our glasses. A car coasted by blaring Big Star out of an open window. My friend took a long look around the winter brown lawn; at the other few clusters of bundled up patrons stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the chill. He apologized in advance—it must annoy you, because I’m sure I’m not the first to ask, but why do you live here?

It does annoy a bit because it’s Russian Nesting doll of a question. And I’m never sure what part I should answer, but I do have a stock response. It goes something like:

I like living in a town where I know (and love) my neighbors, where I feel like I’m part of a community. There weather’s nice and I’m better able to tolerate the heat than the cold. I even sort of have a thing about humidity and all the lush greenness it produces—inheritance from the part of my family tree that settled in the deep south, I guess. I like walking places. I like the free buses. I like the good bars and restaurants and nightlife and the fact that none of them are terribly expensive. I like the university at the center of things and how it means I will never want for the company of smart people with interesting ideas, because there’s an endlessly regenerating population of scholars in a variety of different disciplines from all sort of places. I like living where people feel free to be eccentric, punk rock, niche-d out weirdos forever, but the generally the kind of eccentric, punk rock, niche-d out weirdos that vaccinate their kids and give a shit about politics. And sure I may live in a little town with an farmer’s market next to the town hall and an Independence Day parade full of local children on tricycles dressed like tiny George Washingtons, but I’m also in a metro of over a million people, with a bunch of other large universities and museums and cultural resources and the whole real estate agent spiel. I’m exactly halfway between the mountains and the sea. I’m twenty-six miles from the state capitol and about 260 from the Washington DC, so it’s not exactly like I’m off the goddamn map.”

All of that’s true.

Truer is that living in a college town is kind of strange deal.

Most of us who live in college towns by choice (and not because we’re attending the college) won’t tell you this, because we know you look at us at see deferred adulthood, arrested potential and perhaps a stubborn, increasingly scuzzy attachment to youth. It’s undeniably weird being 40 in a town literally teeming with people literally half your age. I’m still old enough to be their mother, so I feel neither judged nor obliged to compete. That’s kind of liberating. On the other hand, I think most of us, whether we realize it or not, indulge in the occasional benign vampirism. Being constantly surrounded by twenty-year olds means being constantly surrounded by people still interested in the new and the possible. They believe the best is yet to come and hey, maybe they’re right. I’m a past-haunter by nature inclined to append all subjunctive verbs with perfect regret would have, could have, should have. Sometimes I need the occasional glimpse of probably will to get out of bed in the morning. Insider knowledge of what the kids wear (the fashion retro-meter is currently hovering somewhere around 1992-93) listen to (a lot of it’s pretty great) and think about is an excellent antidote to those that insist that nothing good has happened since 1998 or 1991 or 1977 or 1968. It’s a nice reminder the cool things are still happening, even when they’re not specifically intended for you, gramps.

College towns are bubbles. In this part of the country, they’re often dark blue polka dots–expensive, privileged and not terribly indicative of the general population–in a sea of red. It can be hard to remember that sometimes, which is probably why I’m often gobsmacked by the opinions of my fellow North Carolinians and unmoored by the actions of my state government. That’s the trade-off though. You can get many  of the best things about the south (music, literature, barbecue, biscuits, people who pronounce “on” like “own”) without the deafening clamor of racist, evangelical, xenophoboic bigots hoopskirt enthusiasts and haters of science. You can discuss the problematic history of the south in the south with fellow southerners that feel just as ambivalent about it all as you do. And you can, even if only for a few minutes, think we can change things, we can swim out of past, we can make something new. And you can sometimes think that’s enough, even though you know better, seriously, you all know better, than to think you’d be the ones to do it.

On days like today when it’s warm and clear and aggressively bright, I wander down verdant paths through University-owned forests and think I‘m luckier than I deserve to be, that maybe I do live in the best place ever, and I should guard that knowledge, lest the rest of the world recognize what they’re missing. On other days, I’m pretty sure it’s half-sham and I’m a sucker for sticking around. I think this is a cop-out. I think it’s settling for comfort, companionship and sunny afternoons. And then I think, well, what the fuck is so wrong with that?

 

***

 A small, but vocal contingent of friends and family are convinced I would be extremely happy if I would just move back to my hometown. It’s just the sort of place people like me end up, they insist, perhaps because they all ended up there, but also because it’s kind of, sort of true. My hometown is a scenic resort town full of excellent restaurants, spectacular views, an endless number of weirdos, artsy people and maybe a few secret geniuses. So, I look at the real estate. They have lots of houses with pointy roofs and I’ll always crush on  a gable. I imagine how it would be there, among those friends. I do like it there. Really, I do.  The architecture’s nice and come summer, I miss the gift of being able to set off easily down a narrow rift between giant boulders and budding mountain laurel and dive into a clear, limestone-bottomed pool at the bottom of a roiling waterfall. But no matter how I try,  I can’t want it the way the do, or love it the way they do. Maybe I’m not outdoorsy enough. Maybe I’m too easily bored.  Maybe it’s because I’m from there and  I see the mountains less as comforting permanence and more an immovable barrier to keep me contained and cut off from the rest of the world.  After all, when you get to the top of the ridge, there’s really nowhere to go but right back down again.

 ***

I spent my childhood standing on peaks dreaming of the sea where I might catch a wind and follow a current to something I couldn’t see beyond the horizon—pirates, sea monsters, another continent, an angry god, the end of the world. The possibilities are unseeable and thus endless. I’m open for whatever. I could. I may. I would. I shall.

I may yet tire of the spring riots. I may shy away from the brightness. I may seek something entirely different and entirely new. I may not stay here forever. I’ve still never lived in a big city. I’ve still  never lived near the ocean. I’ve still never felt like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

For now though, I wander down these old brick sidewalks, mostly invisible to the rush of ecstatic, endless youth, and think about why I’m still here. These days, the honest answer is that it feels like home.

 

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[1] In fact, before moving to college town, I don’t think I had ever watched a basketball game through from beginning to end. Not even the Chicago Bulls game I was roped into as part of a family vacation adventure when I was clinically depressed and a lousy candidate for a family vacation adventure. I remember watching Michael Jordan  jog out onto the court and then I remember spending the next two+ hours huddled around this giant communal ashtray in the Union Center smoking lounge, sulking and feeling hurt because my family had seemingly forgotten it was my birthday but had quixotically chosen to celebrate my stepsister’s birthday on the same day in February in how-do-you-miserable-souls-endure-this-cold-seriously-what-is-wrong-with-you Chicago which is just so depressing on so many levels and yet hilariously, appropriately almost plot of a lesser John Hughes movie but without the Jake Ryan or the sports car and if I had been even half as intelligent as I thought I was I would just walked downstairs and caught a cab to Lounge Ax and been miserable with other pretentious nerds but with music and alcohol like a civilized miserable person. But I didn’t. And that was my 22nd birthday.

 

[2] We took to calling it the Estes Drive House For Wayward Girls sometime around the beginning of our second year in residents. It was a joke, but like many jokes funny ‘cause it’s true, y’all.

 

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Heroine Chic

When I was a very small person, my very best friend in the entire world was this kid up the street whose mother had been the first friend my mother made when my parents moved to town. The kid and I didn’t make friends so much as find ourselves in the same playpen while our mothers discussed volunteer projects for the Junior League. And by the time my actual memories kick in, I think we were about three and running in panicked circles around his living room to the opening credits of “American Bandstand.” This was all part of some game/ritual devised sometime in our shared toddlerhood, the rules of which I’m sure I’m much too old now to understand. The kid had a problem dancing and he’d be haunted by that unintentional catchphrase until roughly puberty. At neighborhood picnics and cocktail parties, I would hear it repeated by grown-ups, who found it hilariously funny for reasons I’m sure I was much too young to understand.   I found the kid’s reluctance to bust a move frustrating, but I also recognized, from a pretty young age, that other people could not be all the things I wanted all the time.

 ***

My neighborhood was mostly boys. A clear liability to my way of thinking. I was about four the first time I tried to convince my parents to move so I could live near more girls. Also, could we move into a house with a tower? And an indoor pool with a floating bed shaped like a swan or a lily pad? My mother was obsessed with real estate. She never seemed to look at houses with turreted bedroom grottoes or with guaranteed girl neighbors. She thought our neighborhood was fine, better than fine even, because the view of a lake and mountains from her bedroom window reminded her of Europe (but not, she assured me, the part of Europe full of volcanoes that buried towns or cartoon mountains that turned into demons). And, it should be noted, no one expected her to play with the neighbors Except for the kid and a couple of his friends, they were all dirty and smelly and collectively obsessed with the most inane things? Balls? Guns? Trucks? I mean, what is fun about a truck? Also they had to wear the most depressing clothes. When I wasn’t annoyed by their single-minded determination to turn all games into something about guns, I pitied them.

I remember trying to have a conversation with the kid about it when we were approximately five. At the time, I was wearing a strapless, pale blue debutante dress with rows and rows of tulle ruffles over a mustard yellow crinoline from Nana collection, circa 1954. Both pieces were filthy and ripped to smithereens, but I looked gorgeous. The kid was in shorts and a striped golf shirt and he had the same haircut as every other boy in our grade. He looked devastatingly square. I said something like–“Does this whole compulsory performance of masculinity ever get you down?”—except in a five-year-old sort of way. He looked confused. I continued: “I mean the binary construction of gender is so boring, right? I mean, I know plenty of tomboys. But if you started wearing my tutu around, I think people would flip right the fuck out. Do you figure it’s because the world can understand girls wanting to be boys, because boys are viewed as intrinsically more valuable, but that the opposite is just unthinkable. Or is it just that our Puritanical society is particularly squicked by the idea of a boy in a dress? Incidentally I’m not saying it can’t be both. In fact, I think it probably is both.”

The kid considered all of this. He was thoughtful and surprisingly intelligent for a male. It was one of the things I liked about him. He reckoned he hadn’t put a lot of thought into the tutu issue—he avouched genuine preference for shorts and polo shirts– but agreed it did seem a bit of a double standard. He had his own problems with other boys as well, as they were apt to mess up his impeccably ordered Star Wars figures and track dirt across his bedroom floor. Of course, I did this too. I was a walking disaster area. Girly, but not at all prissy, an important distinction, when finagling the viney corridors and that connected the backyards on the street and the brambled hillside behind the kid’s house that tumbled down to the lake. I was more than willing to drag my ballgown into some muddy kudzu bog so long as it served the narrative and I could wear a tiara while doing it.

 ***

 My mother had expected me to be a boy. She mentioned this whenever she told of my own babyhood. Your name was going to be Thomas Butler Fields, she said. We called you Tom when I was pregnant.  In a completely unsurprising twist, I was the only girl born in the hospital that weekend, and thus the only girl in their nursery.

My parents called me Alison, because of something to do with bells in the Alps, but it always felt a bit like an afterthought and certainly too pedestrian for my ambitions. My mother eventually came around to this—we probably should have called you Alexandra or Victoria, given your personality—but day late, dollar short.

I used to wonder about Thomas Butler Fields, if I had been Thomas Butler Fields, if I could be Thomas Butler Fields, should circumstance demand it. I liked stories about adventures and explorers. I liked stories about clever, brave people who figured their way out of impossible situations with humor and panache. In most of these stories, the protagonists were boys. Occasionally they were girls pretending to be boys. Girls dressed like girls were relegated to the sidelines, squealing props waiting to be saved and married. I wasn’t at all interested in the latter. As to the former, well, my mother’s best friend had a daughter who pretended to be a boy. She had a buzzcut and an army jacket and liked to roll around under cars pretending to assassinate communists. She was fond of brutal ribbing and the word “fuck.” I found her both terrifying and utterly magnetic, but I was no more tomboy than I was Thomas Butler Fields. Her path was not for me.

History offered a few potential models. Women who achieved great things without having to be a distressed damsel or a crossdresser. Women who could be full of contradictions, who could be girly but not prissy. Women who could wear armor with lacy ruffs and dazzle the naysayers with their ambition and cunning. It didn’t always turn out well for them, of course. I would stand in my mother’s downstairs powder room and stare at this tiny, gold framed print of Mary Stuart hanging beside the sink and think that an awful lot of my personal heroes wound up burned to death, decapitated, poisoned or singing duets with Lionel Richie. I wanted to avoid as many of those fates as possible

If anything, fiction was worse. Fairy tales were chock-full of girls, but they didn’t actually do anything. So Sleeping Beauty just sleeps and gets married to a stranger? I mean, she’s already a princess,  so it’ss not even like she needs the money?  How is this a happy ending? How do you even know she’s happy? Whenever I would address these concerns to the other women in my family, I would encounter a lot of patronizing smiles and empty talk about true love and rings without even any supernatural powers. The more interesting characters by far were villains—wicked witches, evil queens, puppy murdering psychopaths—or deus ex machine. I used to puzzle at “Cinderella,” at how it included a fabulous woman with the power  to create great magic out of thin air and yet it featured as protagonist some chick whose only significant attribute was being able to fit into her own missing party shoe.

***

 The kid and I came up in a childhood governed by the laws of “Star Wars.” When we played, I was always Princess Leia because I was the only girl. The kid was always Luke Skywalker. We were delighted by the sibling revelation because it meant we could avoid uncomfortable kissy stuff and, more importantly, I had canonical justification for the Jedi powers I’d been claiming for years.

Less successful was my spirited campaign to upgrade Leia from Princess to Queen. I couldn’t shake the suspicion that princess was a second string position–100% b-team. She might have spectacular eveningwear and fancy hair, but she had no real power. With enough power, a girl could have as many swanky updos and sumptuous ballgowns as she wanted. But without power, all the dresses in the world would add up to little more than an expensive dry-cleaning bill and probable arranged-ish marriage to an inbred narcissist with abnormally large ears.

My contention was that once Vader destroyed Alderan, any reasonable order of succession would thereby make Leia Queen. Common sense, really. But only the kid and our weird other friend, a slight, chatty boy who always wanted to play “Stock Exchange” or “State Department,” would accept my sterling logic on this point. But that’s not in the movie, they would say. I could barely stomach their lack of imagination. If we were going to save the universe from the Dark Side, we didn’t have time to be so goddamn literal about everything. I ordered them to ambush the invisible Imperials behind the lilac bush. And they ran off with such unbridled enthusiasm at the possibility of pretending to die that they didn’t quibble over taking orders from me. I directed the battle with a souvenir fan from a Chinese restaurant and heard out the stockbroker kid’s proposals about a new intergalactic tax policy. I would not pretend to die. The first rule of staying in power is staying alive.

 ***

 I had to change the story I knew because I knew I could never abide by the actual rules. Life is too short be constrained by the limitations of someone else’s stupid plot. Besides: What if Maid Marion and Robin Hood lead the merry men together, equal partners? What if Wendy defeats Captain Hook and takes over his pirate ship? What if Indiana Jones were a woman? Indiana could totally be a girl’s name. What if the Hero’s Journey in “Star Wars” is Leia’s? What if the movie doesn’t end with a wedding? What if the Rapunzel is like, “So Prince, now that I’m out of that tower, I’d like to go sail around the world and see things and do things. You can come with me if you want, but I’m not ready to settle down and I’m not sure I’m at all interested in being a mother. Dig?”

Sometimes I skipped that step and started from scratch.  My childhood sketchbook has three pages labeled “Girl Heroes,” full of drawings of girls in various costumes labeled with everything from the fantastic (Emily, Defeated the Evil Queen Maribel and Liberated the Prison, Octavia, Fought Through the Dark Forest and Saved Fairyland) to the faux historical Molly, Revolutionary War Spy or Elaine, Assassinated Nazis to the more prosaic (Cynthia, Reporter That Became Editor of New York Times) and a teenaged girl named Stephanie that I always envisioned as a kind of female Ferris Bueller.

 Necessity is the mother of invention. I wanted characters that could be more than one thing at the same time. I wanted role model that looked like me and liked thing things that I liked. Overtime, my stories became longer and more complex, with drama and nuance and veritable stables full of supporting characters. I could never get the boys on my street to participate. What need did the boys have for new stories, because all the stories were already for them? My suspicion was that making up stories was only a thing that girls did, and a thing that all girls did. Because how could you endure the tedium otherwise? How could you just accept the part they gave you? How could you not want to know what might happen if Princess Leia became Outlaw or Empress or Editor –In-Chief of the Endor Times?

 ***

 My mother, a formidable woman in her own right, had always told me that, with hard work and perseverance, I could be whatever I wanted. I planned to be Queen of England and puzzled at the reactions of adults when I told them so. That sounds awfully difficult, honey. Wouldn’t you rather be a ballerina or a veterinarian or a mommy? I just laughed at them. Those jobs were for suckers and the kind of girls that always wanted me to play “house,” the only game worse than “trucks.”

My closest girl friend at the time had a load of castoff eveningwear and a literal treasure chest full of bejeweled accessories. Despite this, I could never get her to play Diana Ross: Superspy! or Fabulous Pirate, because she just wanted to fill a bald, plastic infants with water so they could pretend pee on things. She would then change the diaper, roll Ol’ Baldy around for a while in a rubber shopping cart while pretending to buy diapers. Then she would start the whole vicious cycle over again. Whenever I would, say, recommend we pretend her baby was kidnapped by terrorists so we would have to get dressed up and infiltrate a hostile embassy to figure out with faction had it, she’d cling to its fat plastic arms and stare at me in horror. But who will change its diaper? I sighed. It seemed to me that person who could imagine managing incontinence as fun could certainly imagine a terrorist cell with a helpful nanny on hand. She never went for it, probably because she didn’t have a baby sibling. I did. I found having an actual baby around to be an extremely weird experience. They didn’t do much worth talking about. That was for sure. Nor were they much for talking to, though I tried.

I would stand in front of my sister’s high chair and stare at her. “Babies are dumb. Babies are boring,” I would say. But what I meant was you’ve got to hurry up and get big. I’m lonely. And I can make a heaven out of this hell of a neighborhood, but we’re going to have more girls. I’m counting on you.

 ***

 As I grew older, my neighborhood and my social life expanded to include a lot more girls, I was flabbergasted to learn that an awful lot of them of them didn’t seem any more interested in creating a new version of events than the boys. They accepted the limitations. They seemed to enjoy them. They wanted to play wedding. They wanted the story to end with babies. They were content to be saved. They would indulge me a few moments as a I tried to sell them on a “Let’s pretend we’re princesses and then we run away to join the revolution and lead a rebel army against the injustices of our own father’s tyrannical reign,” but they never really got past princesses. Let’s pretend that Matt C. is a Prince and I get to marry him. They wanted to talk about boys, the very boys I’d played with my whole life. The girls didn’t think they were stupid or boring, but fascinating. Don’t you think Ben is cute? I thought Ben smelled like Bugles and was endlessly amused by fart jokes. On the other hand, he was pretty good shot with a water gun when you had to get a sleeping bat off your screened porch. But seriously, no Cary Grant.

Like, you’re really weird. You know that, right?

 I didn’t yet, but it was starting to seem that way.

I was disappointed, but at least the girls were interested in seeing mmy fancy dresses. And I recognized, from a pretty young age, that other people could not be all the things I wanted all the time.

 ***

 The kid and I grew apart. His family moved off the street. Our daily play dates turned to weekly, to monthly and then maybe I’d see him in the halls at school, maybe I’d see him at the swimming pool, maybe I’d see him at a cookout, where he’d sit with the boys and I’d sit with the girls and past the occasional knowing I’ve missed you, friend smile we’d go our own ways.

He would outgrow our childhood obsessions faster than I would, or at least, those that remained were more acceptable amongst his friends than among mine. He took up sports, became  handsome and popular and dated pretty girls. I saw him at a wedding a few years back and I can report with confidence that he’s since conquered his problem dancing.

I stayed weird, still girly, but not prissy, still making up stories. Some of them are even about boys in tutus. All of them are about girls who know they can be more than one thing.

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