A wicked yet scintillating feeling would strike deep in our guts the moment we would meet between a pair of particularly boring high school classes and make the split second decision to ditch for the remainder of the afternoon. The four of us would inexplicably look at the backpack with the notebook waiting to be filled with poetry elegantly draped around Vanessa’s shoulder. Then the hippie fringe knapsack haughtily held in Shana’s right fist, slinging low to the ground, which always contained a spare pair of heels, bikini and a little anti-wrinkle black dress. This would lead us to think about the free samples of our favorite perfumes that we could procure once we fashioned our pseudo-French accents to scramble off on an adventure downtown.
Four pairs of hands would scrounge around in our various pockets and purses until we came up with a cumulative fistful of change. Once we realized how short we were for bus fare we would ask stray boys and strangers if they could spare some nickels and dimes until we filled up the rest of our coins for the trip.
On the bus we would join a jumbled cast of characters, quirky, poor and derelict; some of whom I had seen for years having sat on that bus to go to and from my home before and after school. There was the man with no nose, just bandages strewn across mid face; the lady who spoke from her throat through a box from too many years of smoking; the crazy woman who seemed really nice with her kid who was sure to become one of those sensitive boys who girls choose for class buddies – the only ones at that age who girls felt really understood them.
We certainly felt like we were misunderstood. Although we each had separate core groups of friends and family and rarely hung around each other in our normal lives, there was an underlying string of relation that compelled us together for these stolen, illicit moments.
Vanessa was the complex and beautiful poet; a girl who looked like the human epitome of caramel. She was olive skinned with dark features, long sienna colored hair and a waifish gait whose entire demeanor seemed to float like a balloon anchored from precise and perfect hands with fingers that would dance across a piece of lined paper in her spiral notebook to express all the inner workings of her romantic mind. Books of real hearty literature struck her fancy and in another life she was Alice in Wonderland, forever enthralled with what sweet and garden-rimmed adventures might be awaiting her innocent grazing of the peculiar and magical.
Jennifer had the face of a classic, dark and mysterious beauty not unlike those in the art works she so passionately adored; a sly crescent moon of lips prone to stern reflection beneath poignant, almond-shaped eyes hinting at an inner depth of sadness stemming from her propensity to care so deeply that she soaked up the concerns of all around her. All of this framed by a dense, dark chocolate river of tresses worthy of a vintage movie star simmering on a warrior’s frame solidly composed yet gracefully long and lean. As serious as she could be, she had the complementary ability to turn the light switch at any given moment to spontaneously join us in escapist and improvisational play, whipping up fantasy roles we conjured to pretend we were in lives far removed from our own.
Shana was a radiant blonde sunbeam of flowing limbs emanating outwards from a mischievous and twinkling smile. A dynamically swirling ball of compressed and wild energy within her young, solar plexus core vibrated a subtle self-awareness beyond her years as she would circle us in satellite fashion lending a silent sense of unconditional love and support to our quirks and chaos like the all-knowing conductor of an alchemical symphony. She possessed that precious and elusive siren-call trait of being half child – half goddess simultaneously.
And I was the misfit, awkward and artistic, too smart for my britches and too bored for my own good.
Once downtown, we would ditch our extraneous belongings in a cabinet beneath the sink in the Saks Fifth Avenue bathroom. We would speak in foreign accents and stroll the promenade pretending we were visitors on vacation from our homeland. Because we lived in a resort town always thriving with tourists, the truancy officers left us alone as we flirted with the skater boys who hung around the yogurt shop and sampled lipstick testers in the department stores. Sometimes we would ride in the backs of convertibles with boys who believed we were older than we were or bummed cigarettes to smoke with a homeless man named Steppenwolf who regaled us with tales of his days in 1960s San Francisco.
These afternoons were our pockets of time outside the realm of our ordinary lives where we gained a unique glimpse of who we might later become as women. We were trying on our future selves of poets, dreamers, writers, and artists away from the eyes of those who thought they knew us, attracted to the seeds of self-individuation we found equally in each other. We were breaking from our traditional roles as students or daughters to bond together in a secret liberation until the 4 p.m. clock would strike sending us reeling back to our safe and steady homes, to our families who had already pigeonholed us, smiling inward with our stolen away adventures.
We coined ourselves The Troubadours and when high school ended we disbanded, each going our separate ways, reaching outward into a big world where for the next twenty years, we carved out our own lives.
In my late thirties, I found myself in Venice Beach where I was starting a new phase of my life. I had already raised a daughter who was now safely ensconced in college. I had a flush circle of good friends and family and had enjoyed a wonderful career in the arts. In many respects I felt as if I had already lived a full and hearty life and was now embarking on a second phase of existence where all my hard work could magically alchemize itself into the pursuit of my real dreams. I was ready to enter the wise crone phase where I would take the wisdom of all my cumulative experiences and allow it to inform my future. My little bungalow by the sea became a sort of cocoon where I steeped in the briny sea air waiting to see what new butterfly would emerge.
One morning on Facebook I received a friend request that made my heart sing. There on the computer screen was Vanessa, twenty years older yet still gorgeous, her cover photo one of a whimsical fairy tale child reading a book. Shortly thereafter followed Shana, now a hot yoga-bodied realtor in Miami Beach. Within 24 hours, Jennifer joined us, the owner of a ceramics studio in Germany. Within a week we had started a secret group called The Troubadours where we posted poetry and inspirational quotes from our favorite works of literature and paintings of owls and other tokens of womanly wisdom and freedom. The fact was that none of us had changed. Or rather, we all had changed, into the very women we had play acted at being so long ago on those days of riding the bus through our dusty town, when all our peers were merely dipping their toes into the same future identities we were so firmly aware of in ourselves.
And just like in those old days, we made no efforts to get together, or to incorporate each other into our real everyday lives. We simply created a new pocket, albeit an electronic one, where we could each escape from routine to grasp a little magical intervention in the course of our days. In our new secret group we didn’t talk about our husbands or partners or children or work lives. We remained true to the call of The Troubadours as a secret source of injection into the veins, as a giggling group of female longing and desire to remain unchained by the demands of society and the world at large.
Today, The Troubadours remain as their own secret bubble online. Sometimes while riding my bike, I will feel the wind in my hair and the first drops of rain and I will follow my heart into the forest where I will snap photos of flowers to share with these girls. Or when struck by a certain song lyric that reaches into my little girl soul that remains, I will post the lines for these women only. We may never meet again in real time yet I know that these ladies will grow old with me and that we will sit on some imaginary porch sipping wine together at the end of our days. For they were the ones who first really knew me before I really even knew myself.