The 90s That Shaped Me

Part I

Sometime in 1994: I’m in my school library on whatever day of the week is deemed “library day”. It was my favorite thing about school apart from spaghetti and canned peanut butter day in the cafeteria. (I can’t explain it. There was something about that combination that was delicious to my mouth.) Sure, books were swell, but the very best thing about library day was that I wasn’t restricted to a desk in a classroom. The teacher couldn’t possibly keep her eye on 25 students at a time roaming between the shelves, so I could walk my curling-ironed bangs by my crush as many times as I wanted to within a 45 minute timeframe. If I had to guess, this boy was probably wearing a Houston Oilers Starter jacket and a bowl cut. I was probably picking up a magazine with Brett Favre on the cover making sure I talked to him about sports, so beginning my ever-lasting residency in the friend zone. It was a beautiful time.

On this day, however, I stumbled upon an author named Judy freaking Blume. The title of the book was Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Like most American girls of the 90s, this day changed my life in more ways than one. Because it was labeled a “young adult novel”, I felt wild even checking it out. It was written in the 70s and likely too mature for me, but I took this book home feeling proud. This wasn’t my first time checking out a book that was a little beyond my assumed reading level. I did this thing for a lot of 1994 where I would check out a book about Nessie, the Lochness Monster along with some book with no pictures like The Secret Garden. I thought that carrying around at least one fat book made me look cool to the older kids that sat towards the back of the school bus. (Confession: I still haven’t finished that book. It may have looked great in my backpack but it bored me senseless.) Anyway, that night, I laid on a bed of unfolded laundry and opened my first Judy Blume book. The rest is a blur other than I know that I spent the entire night in that position, hanging on every word she said. I read about bras, and periods, and boys, and even God. For the first time in my life (though I likely stumbled through understanding parts of it) I felt the feeling of not wanting to put a book down.

You might think that I told you this story to reveal a pivotal time in my life that I fell in love with reading and everything changed, but that’s furthest from true. The point of this memory is that I distinctly remember how fascinated I was from that moment on by what was ahead for my body and all the signs that I was growing up. In retrospect it seems that all at once after finishing this book I was ready to carry around car keys that jingled with trendy key chains and wear a sweet floral vest like the girls in an All-4-One music video. Thanks to Judy Blume, it was around this time in my life I craved puberty. I craved it hard. I started counting the days until I could kiss a boy, buy a training bra, shave my legs, and start buying sanitary napkins.

Part II

I grew up in a modest family. By “modest” I mean I spent most of my childhood out of the city limits eating a ton of mashed potatoes. When school ended, I rode the bus home for 2 hours or so, played outside until dark, and then tried to watch as much TV as I could before bed. The channel I remember watching the most of (because it didn’t require a lot of effort with tinfoil and bunny ear antenna) was Fox. Back then I was dying to know if Dylan and Brenda ended up together on Beverly Hills: 90210. I had actual dreams where Luke Perry would sit next to me on my bed and tell me he has always had feelings for me that he was afraid to admit. (This all-too-accurately represents the choices I’ve made in my adult love life, which I see now was doomed from the beginning.) This dream is engrained in my mind forever entirely due to the fact that it happened days within the gifting of my first-ever cassette tape player. There was something about this device that made me feel I had arrived and I’ll never forget it. In the same pile of gifts was also a 90210 collector’s edition Barbie of a Dylan McKay. It’s never productive for a young, curious girl to have a doll of a childhood crush. I carried it around in a fanny pack and used it to create far too many rom-coms.

In the real life happening apart from my imagination and subconscious, I really wanted to be as pretty as Kelly so someone like Dylan would want to kiss me on the face, you guys. I kissed the wall in my shower like 4 times to practice. If we’re being honest, I’ve kissed a lot of things in all of my days and only 5 of them were cute boys. I’d like to get a collective of adult women together to speak about the posters, objects and fictional characters we made out with from the ages of 8-14, but that’s another piece altogether.

So anyway, back to Fox TV. In addition to everything that the gang from Beverly Hills High offered, I was also enthralled by a lesser-known sketch comedy show called In Living Color. There was something about the theme song, the Fly Girls, and the ridiculousness that show ensued that I thought was the essence of cool. I would take the bottom of my shirt and pull it up and through my neck hole to create a makeshift boos-tee-yay and I’d “running-man” my way around the living room while the Fly Girls opened the show with some seemingly incredible dance routine. I thought they were as glamorous as it gets and that my bony body was born for hip-hop. More than their ability to dance, I noticed right away how The Fly Girls came across as something special and everyone noticed them. They dressed cool. Their hair was big and rad. They wore cut offs and sparkles. They did everything about the 90s justice.

In a unique turn of events, it’s also worth mentioning that my mom was barely 30 at this time. Still in her 20s, even. I’d stare at her thongs and her bodysuits that buttoned in the crotch, feeling confused and scandalous for even considering their existence. I obviously thought anything she owned would make me more grown up and anything I could pull off, I would. I most definitely use the term “pull off” loosely and with empathy towards my pre-pubescent struggle. Her blouses would hang off of me, wrinkled and perfume-laden because I didn’t know what was laundered or where the iron was, ever. I also didn’t seem to care. I’d go to school in these unfitted outfits and surprisingly have little-to-no memory of comment ever being made about what I was wearing. I’ve either blocked these out, or I had ignorant classmates, because these outfits were certainly worth a question mark or two. Either way, I do, however, remember talking about the show In Living Color and making up dance routines I thought were revolutionary. Really. I thought I was reinventing the concept of rhythm in the way I threw myself around. As does all of culture, the Fly Girls were all of the things I didn’t have the words for that I wanted to be. I looked to them in an effort to collect some sort of identity. Looking back now I see that this was always a dangerous, fickle and ridiculous practice and I’m forever terrified for other girls up against these influences in this day in age. Instead of choosing to be celibate for the rest of always and with full acknowledgment of the fact that I’ll never get those years back, I can appreciate this painfully awkward season because of another role In Living Color played in my life.

I remember going to school one day and in response to one of my friends I said the words “Coby don’t play that.” I’m not sure how familiar you are with this show I keep talking about, but it was full of brilliant people we know now as Chris Rock, Jim Carrey, The Wayans Brothers, and even Jamie Fox. In this situation and several to come, I was playing off of one of Damon Wayans’ characters, Homey D. Clown. If you’ve never seen the sketch you have to, so here is a link. The point of this is it is the first time I can remember making my friends laugh. I loved making my friends laugh. It was around this age that every ounce of insecurity I had would be masked by humor and trying really hard to be liked by everyone. There were some things I was called and some I wasn’t. “Funny, nice, smart” were used more often than “pretty” so those are what I hinged myself to. Pretty would be something I struggled with for a really long time.

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