Column: Red and Green Christmas Light Associations By Susan Parker

Tuesday December 13, 2005

All the lights are green for me when, in 1952, I am born. My daddy is short and he isn’t super rich, but my mom is smart and good lookin’. 

All the lights remain green in 1954 when my first sibling arrives—a boy. I am still the princess. 

The lights stay green in ‘56 with the arrival of another brother. 

Years go by, all green, green, green. I am forced into taking dance, piano, ice skating, tennis and, later, golf lessons, but this isn’t so bad. 

In 1965 the lights flicker a few times as I learn to navigate the hallways of junior high, replacing my virginal white anklet socks with bad black ones. My skirt hems creep skyward above my knees, but girls are still not permitted to wear pants to school. I have braces but no real sign of acne. 

In 1966 the braces come off. I straighten my hair bi-monthly with a product requiring the use of thick rubber gloves. At night I cover my head in gigantic pink plastic rollers, and sleep uncomfortably, or not at all, for the next three and a half years. Other girls wrap their hair around jumbo-size juice cans, but my mother won’t allow it. 

Things go horribly wrong in 1968 when Debi Garrity wants to beat me up for talking behind her back about her boyfriend. A few months later Debi drops out of tenth grade, enormous with child. She becomes, temporarily, Mrs. Mark McMullin. I’m sure she forgets about me, but I remember her. 

Other things go amiss: The only boy who asks me out is Jimmy Murphy, a big, soft kid who wears a leather jacket and surrounds himself with smart ass, cigarette smoking, gin-swilling friends. I don’t like him or his friends, but I suffer through the embarrassing association due to low self-esteem and a lack of more pleasing options. One evening I refuse, as usual, to kiss him and, because of unbearable sexual frustration, he rams his father’s car into a tree in my parent’s driveway. The tree has to be cut down before the car can be extracted and towed away. 

1970: I depart for a small, expensive, private college located just west of Philadelphia. I am miserable. This misery is manifested in my refusal to wear a bra or shave my armpit hair. I slouch dejectedly around in dirty denim overalls, baggy tie-dyed t-shirts, and moccasins. I gain 15 pounds, stop straightening my hair, take birth control pills for no apparent reason, skip classes, flunk French. 

Lights turn green again in ‘71 when I acquire a dope smoking, motorcycle riding, anarchist/vegetarian boyfriend with long stringy hair and a bad attitude. My parents hate him but I’m in love, love, love! 

Bad news in ‘72: Boyfriend dumps me, causing an impressive case of hives and self-loathing. I drop out of school and become a professional waitress for about 15 minutes. I take out a loan, enroll in a crowded state university, hitchhike to and from classes, get a job at a fast food joint, stop speaking (for two years) to my parents, who I righteously recognize as misguided, rightwing idiots. 

I graduate from college in 1974 and get a teaching job far from my childhood home. Things are only pale green because, despite finally having a reliable income, ($12,000 per year plus benefits), teaching anything to public school-enrolled seventh graders is impossible. I feel sorry for myself, and I am lonely. 

1975: New boyfriend. Things are looking up! 

1977: Another new boyfriend! He’s studying to be a lawyer! Lights are green for two years, then everything turns red when he flunks the bar (several times) and decides to live off a very small trust fund instead of getting a job. Hives re-ignite across my face, breasts, and buttocks. 

1983: I move, by myself, to San Francisco. Hives gone. Lights are green again! 

1984: New boyfriend! 

1992: We buy a house together. We legalize our relationship. We make plans to someday move to Colorado where we’ll ski in winter and bike in summer. It‘s all green for us, for him, for me, for everyone we know. 

April 27, 1994: Red.