You didn’t have to be so nice/I would have liked you anyway/If you had just looked once or twice/And gone about your quiet way…
Oh how fourteen-year old Liz loved that song. I loved almost everything that The Lovin’ Spoonful sang thinking that if I could just be more like that girl whom the song exalted then maybe boys-would find the time..to follow..me! But first I had to be more like this girl:
You came upon a quiet day/You simply seemed to take your place/I knew that it would be that way/The minute that I saw your face…
But it was those words-THAT word-THAT trait that always eluded me.. QUIET. Because I was NOT quiet, I did NOT have a quiet way and I NEVER simply took my place. Instead I usually burst into a room, chatting, laughing, making faces or sarcastic remarks, dropping a few F-bombs (yes, I swore even at fourteen) and inserting myself into whatever or wherever there was the most excitement.
If there wasn’t any, I would try to create it. I guess if there was one word to describe me it was LOUD. But in the 1960’s LOUD was not a desirable attribute for a girl, a ‘young lady’ to possess. Instead you were supposed to be demure, and I was as far from demure as you could get.
I went to an academically-‘gifted’ all girls’ high school where the competition was fierce and not just good grades but perfect grades were the goal. Instead my goal was being the funniest in class and any day I could make milk spurt out of Ruth Ann’s nose during lunch was a banner day for me.
My teachers consistently wrote Elizabeth could try harder, Elizabeth is too social, Elizabeth is very smart but she talks too much on my report cards causing my parents much anxiety and disappointment. So I would try harder, for a while, but I always lapsed back into my pursuit of the latest celebrity gossip in Beat, the latest makeup/hair trends in Seventeen or Mademoiselle so I could discuss them, opine on them (opinions- I always had a LOT of them) and ultimately find the funny or absurd in them and my life at fourteen so I could make people laugh.
Much to my dismay, most boys did not find LOUD attractive. THEY were the boisterous ones, the loud ones, the bawdy ones who made jokes, punched their friends and swore. They were not looking for competition from a girl.
Gross. I did not know a lot about sex, but I pretended I did. So when boys laughed in the subway station when one of them said ‘the train is COMING’ I laughed too although I had no idea what they were laughing about. I guess that sometimes got me labeled as ‘loose’ but I was anything but.
I could be funny and loud and say F*CK a lot but I was petrified of anything sexual. I blame my mother for that who only explained about the mechanics of my period but never the why. And of course I made my friends laugh when I told them she said ‘only married women use tampax’. Which I accepted as gospel until college when my roommate explained how to use one. Trust me I was a fast learner about tampax and a lot of other things.
Around eighteen or twenty I gave up the trying to come about a quiet way and simply take my place. And hey, I did alright. I excelled at my career(s) in no small part because I saw and noted and commiserated and laughed about how crazy workplaces can be.
My husband, a naturally quiet guy, says he was attracted to me because I was his opposite. A few years ago we ran into a former student whom we’d both taught who said ‘I never understood how you two got together. You were always so quiet Mr. Henry and Ms. K, you were so LOUD. I gotta tell ya-I took that as a compliment.