It seems like it’s something that is both inherently known and learned over time, who this girl is, what she’s like. If you’re born in America, you’re born knowing. Then you relearn it over time, over years of Jason Lee Parry photos and beer commercials, classic movies, and classic rock anthems. She’s sun kissed and corn fed, but she smokes your cigarettes and wears lots of rings. She grew up next to you, but was dying to get away. She’s cool, you know? Effortless and cool and tough and sexy, with her worn-in jeans that fit the butt just right, the t-shirts she wears with no bra. She doesn’t need to wear a bra, her breasts are just there and perfect and not too small and not too big, and the nipples sit like little ripe cherries on top of glorious marshmallow ice cream sundaes. She rides on the back of your motorcycle, but she never drives it. She’ll throw fuel on the fire in the field behind the barn, but won’t be the one to light the match.
She rides on the back of your motorcycle, but she never drives it. She’ll throw fuel on the fire in the field behind the barn, but won’t be the one to light the match.
- Myla Dalbesio
I always wanted to be her, a girl who grew up knowing. Knowing what it meant to wear that denim jacket and those red high tops. Knowing what it meant to have the lyrics to Led Zeppelin memorized, to wear bikini tops with cut off shorts and your butt hanging out just a little, but you don’t care. Riding in pick-up trucks and rolling joints all summer long.
I suspect my mom was one, before she got tied up with my dad and my sisters and me. I found a photograph of her from 1976, tucked at the back of a stack of wedding photos in a box in my sister’s basement. My mom is in her 20’s there. She is walking away from a barn at sunset, passing by a brown Cadillac parked outside. She is wearing Levi’s and boots, and a purple tunic with Mexican embroidery on the front. I recognize the shirt to be one that lived in our costume dresser when we were kids, passed over and on by her, in favor of the emerald green turtlenecks and big shouldered blazers of her later years. In the photo her head is down, her long brown hair blowing across her face, the sunlight warm and orange on her skin. She is cool. There is another one. Her, in a blue and white striped swimsuit, smiling in the middle of a patch of rose bushes.
I hear whisperings of her exciting past from the remaining relatives as I get older. Stories that betray the figure I remember, eating grape nuts and soy milk in her slippers on a Tuesday morning. There are vague references to days of partying, a rebellious period, acid trips, and cross country drives. Late nights stretching across America with an addict boyfriend. I hear the skeleton of a story from my sister, already stripped of it’s meaty details by too many rounds of the telephone game. Something about a suicide, the boyfriend, found in the kitchen of a shared apartment.
Was that what changed her? Was that what changed me? Does hearing the story dampen the romance and tragedy and allure of self destruction? With addiction in your blood, can you ever escape it? “Oh yeah / All right / Take it easy, baby / Make it last all night.” Is this the American Girl? The dark, bewitching power of the symbol still tugs at my heartstrings. For the Guess Who, she is a sparkling, hypnotizing shadow, leaving ruin in her wake. She drives The Boss to destruction, a daddy’s girl who cuts him like a knife to the skull. She is haunted herself, she is Jacy in Texas and Norma in LA and I think of her with that special twang of nostalgia for feelings and events you never experienced. I think of her like Lola and iO and Amalia and Karley, like all those girls you have loved and lusted for and never had the chance to experience. To be with her, or to be her. And does she ever think of me?