02/10/2015 05:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When I Think About 17

As I recently scanned the radio dial on my way to a much needed girls' night out, it stopped on a local country station, playing "Springsteen" by Eric Church. I hadn't heard it before so I stopped to listen and was promptly sucked in.

When I think about you, I think about seventeen.
I think about my old jeep, I think about the stars in the sky.
Funny how the melody sounds like a memory,
Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night. Springsteen.

I don't know what it is but whenever I hear songs about this life stage or that were my own 17 soundtrack, it's as if bits of my soul are immediately vaporized, reemerging in 1991. My heart swells with the remnant imprints of camaraderie and love. I get concurrent whiffs of drill team locker rooms, hairspray, football fields, Spring Break salty air, textbooks, and Eternity perfume. I see Girbaud jeans, teased bangs, and a sweet, sweet maroon 1980 Ford Thunderbird with a silver right front panel and Spark-o-Matic radio. And I swear I can still taste cherry limeades, Taco Bell and cigarette kisses.


I know I'm not alone in my nostalgia -- as proven by consistent chart-topping songs on the subject. Seventeen was a rite of passage. Not yet on our own, but full of force, promise and independence, ensconced in a still-present safety net of support. Friendship was abundant, fierce and fiery. Disappointments permeated, but fun prevailed. When else in our lives do all of these forces converge with such fervor?

And then there's the first love which mere words could never satiate; fearless, fragile, fixated, flying... all make a dent. But also so much more. The first time you choose a person wholly and they choose you; someone outside of your family unit with whom to create a brief, brave new world.

I am unashamed to admit how unabashedly in love I was -- a concoction containing equal parts safety and peril but that provided the foundation for how I would love in the future, the woman I would become and the partner I would strive to find and be. It was easier then, certainly. Notes hidden under desks, stolen kisses, belly laughs, song dedications and seemingly never-ending embraces for a believed to be never-ending love.

But, as with most first romances, there was an end. At the time I grieved the loss of that person, though I've come to realize it was the loss of that part of myself which left the most lasting mark. Because though I sometimes fleetingly miss the boy that serenaded me with old country greats, it's young me that I mourn in moments of musical melancholy. The bullet-proof, fierce woman-child who was ready to love and be loved with abandon and who believed adulthood would be an extension of her late teenage years. Friends would stay. Money would come. And love would always prevail.

Though I can never recapture the innocence of "when 30 was old," the truth is I wouldn't even try. Because although there isn't exactly a deluge of money, and I'm a bit dinged and dented, most of what I longed for then exists in an evolved state today. My friends are still stalwart foundations for my life and sanity (many of whom were the same bedrocks 20+ years ago), and love does endure. Today, the man I share my life with is strong, loyal, smart, patient, funny, solid, and more, more, more. Our love is not desperate, destructive or delusional. We know who the other is and choose that person every day anew to share this real, messy and wonderful life together. Is it perfect? Hell no. He has his own history, as I have mine. But we relish (ok, traverse) the imperfections along with the bliss and cherish each other all the more for them.

The best part? Our babies. These little creatures I could never have fathomed while "rocking out" to Extreme's "More Than Words." Who, along with their dad, have shown me what real love is. Who, before we know it (sniff) will be creating their own memories of 17. I hope they light them on fire and that they hold them as dear in remembrance as I hold mine.


Photos: Noelle at 17 and her children. The latter courtesy of Tishy Photography.