Are You There Molly Ringwald? Or Looking For Life Answers In Film Fiction

   I was in the eighth grade, I had never been kissed, and the end of middle school was rapidly approaching. To say I was hellbent on having my first kiss before I turned 15 and entered high school is an understatement. However, I didn’t want to settle for an ordinary type of first kiss, like one of those awkward tales of tangled braces and sweaty armpits. I knew I wanted to have a first kiss just like the one depicted in my favorite movie, Pretty in Pink. There was absolutely no way my life was going to be complete without a dramatic kiss in the rain, with my dream clean shaven boy who looked just like Andrew McCarthy’s Blaine. The simplicity of a first kiss did not exist in my mind because first kisses weren’t ordinary in my favorite movies directed by John Hughes and starred the fabulously fresh-faced redhead I wish I could be, Molly Ringwald.

     I told my best friend we absolutely had to watch The Blue Lagoon at our next sleepover. For some reason, I believed I would find all of the answers to my questions regarding femininity and sex in The Blue Lagoon, and Brooke Shields would teach me how to be feminine. After all, watching a film starring Brooke Shields had to help me - I had determined a long time ago my similar thick eyebrows were going to be my weapons of choice to catapult me to my destiny of serenading a beautiful boy with my favorite song at the moment, “Bubbly” by Colbie Caillat.

     My decision to choose The Blue Lagoon to help me discover a trace of budding sexuality was very similar to my nearly nonexistent relationship with so-called traditional femininity. I had gained a reputation in middle school for being the girl who did not shave her legs before age 11 and was only interested in all things considered “vintage.” From the age of thirteen, my go-to wardrobe choice was strictly limited to black t-shirts featuring band logos and blue jeans featuring sharpie scrawled song lyrics on the legs. My hair was oily and stringy: my blunt bangs were placed firmly in my eyes. If you were to ask a boy his opinion of me at the time, the only “F” words he would use would be “friend” or “freak.” My longtime crush who looked just like Corey Matthews from Boy Meets World would tell our mutual friends he “really wanted to like me, but I was too ugly.”

     The rejection from my first crush was earth shattering! In the aftermath, I turned to my trusted 80’s movies for comfort but found it harder to relate to them for the first time. I looked for answers in Molly Ringwald films because they typically featured characters who were ordinary and struggled with normal teenage insecurities, but somehow, they always landed the guy at the end of the movie. I looked to controversial Brooke Shields films for answers about sex because I thought we looked alike. Seeing these characters achieve my goals and indulge in my very secret desires gave me hope I would be noticed by the opposite sex, despite my social status as “too ugly”, and my reluctance to embrace any positive qualities about myself. I refused to think of myself as any 80’s movie heroine, and only believed I was just like Joan Cusak’s character in Sixteen Candles whose biggest enemy was the water fountain because I kept letting my brace get in the way. 

     My first semester of high school was marked by humongous transition. I seized the opportunity to go to an arts school where, despite being surrounded by more like-minded people than ever, I was still a long way away from developing a positive self-image, because my self-worth was still determined by the lack of a dreamy 80’s movie montage in my life. I really wish my 15-year-old self had not been so stuck on the idea of a guy determining her value, but I guess if a guy was going to be the key to showing her how important she really was, present me is sure 15-year-old me picked the right one to help her do the job. 

     He was sprawled out in a chair in the lobby of our school when I first saw him, surrounded by a group of people. I didn’t know his name, but I thought I knew his story. My friend had recently admitted to me she had a crush on this guy and told me how she was drawn to his personality. He was welcoming, and even from a distance, I could tell the people surrounding him felt like they were the only person in the room with him. 

     I saw my friend among the crowd of people surrounding this Mystery Guy and went over to join her. I don’t think she even noticed me walk up because she was so wrapped up in this guy’s orbit. In my normal awkward social state, I realized after a moment I was just staring at him- enough for him to notice me gawking. He smiled and stood up. “Can I have a hug?” he asked. 

     If I am being dramatic, I would probably tell you that I could divide my life into two  - my life before he asked me for a hug, and my life after. I don’t know what came over me, I was extraordinarily shy and wasn’t really big on sharing something as intimate as a hug on our first greeting, but I wrapped myself in an awkward one-armed hug. After two very important seconds, I broke away to look him in the eye for the first time. He was studying me as if he were confused over my obvious nervousness. We just looked at each other, I don’t remember anything else said. I knew for a fact, however, that my whole body had just reacted in a way I had never felt before. I was awake for the first time; I was feeling sensations from this boy I had only previously felt from Tom Petty lyrics. I was magnetically drawn to his scent; I could absolutely still pick him out in a crowded room by his smell all of these years later. 

     The memories are blurry from that point on but I know it didn’t take long for us to become acquainted and for me to start running to the lobby after the seventh-period bell to talk to him. A month after we met, we had exchanged many more hugs and we were chatting on MySpace pretty frequently. I found it was so easy to open up to him and tell him every nuance of my life. I spent hours pouring over his MySpace pictures; he was built like a linebacker and looked just like Eddie Vedder at only fourteen years old. Looking at his face night after night inspired many a sugar-coated poem. 

     It took me years to figure out why I saw the world within this fourteen-year-old boy. For a long time, I chalked it up to missing the Tiger Beat phase of adolescence because I was too busy looking at Sting or something, but I now know it was because he had seen something within me I hadn’t even peeked at. 

     My favorite past time on MySpace was my blog; I believe I was a teenage Carrie Bradshaw before I even knew who Carrie Bradshaw was. I posted poems and journal entries, and always included a link to whichever song I was into at the moment. Customizing my online presence was therapeutic for me because, like many people of my generation, I felt as if I had the freedom to express myself comfortably behind a screen. My idea of online anonymity was the feeling of not owing anyone an explanation of who I was; at the time, your online life was generally separate from your “real life.”

     My insecurities kept me from making any type of meaningful connection with anyone; I did not believe it was possible to appreciate my mind as a valuable component of my being. At that point, I don’t think I had seen very many girls in popular culture who were portrayed as being smart or creative, and who were respected for their minds. As I talked to my new crush more and more, I had begun to show him pieces of short stories I had been working on. When he would respond with positive feedback, I began to focus less and less on my insecurities and began to focus on my positive attributions. He was the first boy to ever ask my opinion on anything. I became overwhelmingly attracted to his willingness to listen, and how he genuinely seemed to value my opinions. It would be years before I would hear terms like “mansplaining” and meet other men who were the prime definition of “mansplainers”, but when I did, I always kept this guy in the cobwebs of my mind as the boy who knew to keep an open ear at an extremely young age. 

     He was the first person I ever fell in love with. While the times we spent together were positive and I will always look back on them fondly, he taught me my biggest lessons learned from love and loss, because when I was 15, I hadn’t experienced major loss yet. He was also my first disappointment and heartbreak, and the first time I fully digested that my life was not going to turn out like my favorite John Hughes movies. 

     He was always someone else’s boyfriend and I spent so much time wondering why he never wanted to be mine.

     I’m the person you know who always needs an explanation for something. I dissect every single aspect of a situation because I want it to make sense, I want to understand why situations materialize in the way they do. My first love was the first instance where I learned you could not always have one of these explanations; he taught me that sometimes, you can’t always come to a conclusion about how the universe works. 

     Eight years after meeting, I consider my first love to be one of my closest friends and I am grateful for his presence in my life. His presence is a reminder of my growth as a person and the understandings I have made surrounding self-love and acceptance, and how exciting it is to see a relationship flourish through preservation. I may not have gotten the exact 80’s movie montage I was hoping for, but I would always rather be John Bender walking across the football field with a triumphant fist in the air, fully able to declare that I am “staying alive.”

by: Taylor Hodgkins 

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