They were not ditching me. It didn’t matter that I was alone in front of the theater. I knew enough to look cool while I waited, so I stood like a rebel in my cut-offs. It was opening weekend of Clueless, the summer before high school. I was fourteen.
This is the time in my life when I could sing every word of both Live Through This and The Lion King. My room was all Laura Ashley bedding and Absolut ads on the walls. I didn’t want to break rules, but I wanted to have the freedom of a bad girl. The kind of girl that didn’t care what people think. The kind of girl that Jim Morrison or Dylan McKay might like.
After a while, I was stressed. My friends weren’t there yet and previews were going to start. I crossed the mall’s marble floor to a narrow corridor of phones. All seven were open. I used the calling card that charged my mom’s home phone to call Kate’s direct room line. She was my best friend and she knew I’d call. She said they thought it was too beautiful to be inside. They wanted me to meet them at the beach. They didn’t want me to be mad.
I wasn’t. I just really wanted to see Clueless and I was looking at a theater that was about to show it. Whatever. So what if my friends weren’t there? All I had to do was get a ticket. There was nothing wrong with that. It was PG-13, I reminded myself. Alanis Morissette probably saw movies alone.
On my way to the box office, I decided it was best to ask for “a ticket” instead of “one ticket” because it sounded more laid-back. Maybe I was meeting a friend? The girl in the window was not paying attention. She handed me the ticket, expressionless.
Just like that, I did it. It was no big deal to walk to the concession stand. I just waited in line, like normal, to buy my favorite normal movie snacks: extra butter popcorn, Raisinettes, Hi-C Pink Lemonade. No need to change it up. I was doing normal things because everything was totally normal. No big deal.
In the theater, I walked up two shallow steps and took a seat not on the aisle and not in the middle. It was already dark and cold. The upholstery itched the back of my legs. I couldn’t decide if I should sit on the cardigan my mom made me bring, or wear it. My lemonade fit in the cup holder, as usual. The Raisinettes in my lap were under the popcorn. That way, the heat would melt the chocolate a little.
Assessing my surroundings, I decided there were no creeps to worry about. It was only girls. There was a group a couple rows behind me, a group to my left and another in front of me. All I wondered was, “Can they hear me chewing this popcorn? Are they annoyed by my rolling candy?” It didn’t matter, I reasoned. They were probably from the suburbs.
“So. Okay. I know what you’re thinking. Is this a Noxzema commercial or what?”
Oh my god, that was exactly I was thinking! In one line, my mind was read and I had a favorite movie. They planned outfits, talked about parties, worked on their vocabularies - I was already proud that my first time was with Cher and Dionne.
I understood all of it. Being a fiercely loyal friend, wanting desperately to please parents, being a boy-crazy blonde, believing girls didn’t have to be saved. Like Cher, I worked for issues I cared about, didn’t work hard in classes and lived a pretty adult life under my parent’s supervision. I knew about loving some girls and being mean to other ones. I got trying to fit in and trying to stay popular.
“There goes your social life.”
My jaw dropped. I knew what that meant.
Licking salt and melted chocolate off my fingers, I learned that Billie Holiday was a woman, Jane Austen was a writer and that nobody notices your insecurities if you act like you belong. Independence didn’t mean only one thing. It wasn’t just for boys on motorcycles. You could make it your own.
“It all boiled down to one inevitable conclusion, I was just totally clueless.”
I didn’t think Cher was clueless. She was okay with being young. She didn’t care if she knew everything, but she still acted like she did. She was willing to learn and fight for herself and give make-overs. I liked Cher. I didn’t want to be her, but I wanted the Jeep and the closet.
When the lights came up I was a person who saw a movie by herself. It was the coolest thing I had yet done. My womanhood was official. But, no matter how grown-up I felt, I understood in that moment that I was young, that everything was fresh, that a person has a limited number of firsts in her life. I was a virgin who couldn’t drive, and suddenly, I loved it. So much was ahead of me.
As I emerged into daylight, I decided not to jump on the 151 bus heading north. I walked up Michigan Avenue and took a left on Oak Street. Before me stood all the designer shops Cher passes on her sad shopping spree through Beverly Hills. But I wasn’t lonely, or lovelorn.
Something big shifted in me and for the first time in my life, I noticed. I didn’t want the feeling to go away, so I strolled with purpose looking at gowns and diamonds through boutique windows. I thought about what other things I might do by myself. Dinners? Concerts? Vacations?
I thought about the woman I was becoming at that very instant. One who likes herself enough to be alone, who doesn’t care what anyone thinks and one who never stops working on her vocabulary. It was dreamy, but I wasn’t her yet and I was bored, so I headed to the beach. Sunny waves lead the way to my friends a few blocks up. They were jumping in Lake Michigan. They were wearing mix and match J. Crew bikinis. They brought one for me. It was totally like a Noxzema commercial.