Five Things

What Did ‘Seventeen’ and ‘Dawson’s Creek’ Do to Me?

History is public, but the past is personal

Drew Barrymore on the cover of the August 1998 issue of ‘Seventeen’ magazine in costume from the cinematic classic ‘Ever After.’

Five Things is a weekly essay of five short thoughts inspired by my own life and observances now that I’ve moved back home to Indiana after years of living in New York.

One.

Nothing about money was consistent when I was a child. So when my grandmother gave us an allowance for two or three months, I took my purchasing power seriously. Grandma was living with my mother for a bit, as she did from time to time, and every Friday, just after depositing her check, she would give me a $10 bill or two fives, then do the same for my brother and sister. What my brother spent his cash on shifted from week to week, but I kept the same route and bought the same items.

First, I’d hit up the gas station for a bag of Hot Cheetos and a Cherry Coke. Then, I’d walk to the grocery store and buy four kiwis, my favorite fruit at the time. Finally, I’d walk to the CVS and pick out a teen magazine. I was about 11 years old and certain my whole life would change when I became a teenager. I wanted to be prepared.

For two or three months I clung to this Friday routine. I loved waking up, going to school, burning with anticipation for what I absolutely considered a shopping excursion led by me, centered on me, with the sole concern of getting exactly what I wanted. If I happened to find myself in the CVS on an errand with my mother, I’d walk over to the magazine racks and plan which one would be mine come Friday. I’ll never forget the heartbreak of missing out on a desired issue because I didn’t realize a newer issue was set to hit stands before my allowance hit my pocket.

I’ll also never forget the little twinge in my chest when I looked at magazine after magazine, searching for Black girl faces like mine and only finding them in the specialty hair care section. I didn’t think much about my hair then and kinda still don’t. But I accepted it as something I should care about and did and still do—what I could to remain presentable. I also accepted the lack of mirroring in my magazines as something that would not change, so best not to be too upset. Even if that’s how I felt inside. Even if part of me knew I should have been in there and hated how much I had to pay to see that I wasn’t.

When Grandma stopped giving us an allowance—for no other reason than she had new bills and could no longer afford to—I read my magazines at the library. It was almost as good as owning them for myself. I tried to be grateful, but I was often resentful. Visiting the houses of my classmates, bandmates, and their friends, noticing the Seventeens, Teen Peoples, YMs, Sassys, and Delia’s catalogs piled up next to their beds, stacked in corners of their closets, utterly neglected. I wanted to rescue these printed representations of a life I assumed was just on the other side of 13.

I didn’t know how sad I was then or notice how that oozing sadness had caught fire and morphed into rage. Rage toward people my age who expected the coming years to be kind without preparing for them, who had the power to plan, who were already familiar with consistency and routine, and who knew their allowances would come as long as they cleaned their rooms.

I knew it wasn’t their fault, and I knew it wasn’t mine. But that didn’t make me less angry, and it didn’t make me less resentful. It made me want more and more and more. But the circumstances of my family didn’t change, and my wanting wasn’t enough. Thirteen came, and I woke to the same world I’d lived in the night before and all the nights before that one. I stopped wanting the magazines. But it took a little time to figure that out.

Two.

When I think of all the ways I’ve been saved from myself, I think of where I grew up. I think about the phase in my life when I assumed every answer I could ever need about anything could be found in a book. Before I realized books, traditionally, weren’t meant for me or the questions I had. Before I knew where to find the right books.

What I didn’t find in the library, my community taught me. I couldn’t find instances of Black beauty meant for teenage girls in magazines, but I saw it at school, church, and the store. I am so lucky that when I couldn’t find myself in the world, my neighborhood modeled the truth for me. Black beauty was everywhere, and so I never once lamented my Blackness or thought it made me less beautiful. I felt sorry for the people who didn’t know how gorgeous we were, who didn’t think to take our photographs and remember.

Three.

If you’d asked me at 12 years old which television character I was most like, I would have said Joey Potter from Dawson’s Creek, almost entirely because she was a teenager with a parent in prison. I still haven’t forgiven Dawson for turning in her father. Like, to this day. Honestly, if I’m being real, I haven’t forgiven Dawson for a lot of things and probably never will. All hail King Pacey, Master of the Creek.

Four.

For the last several years, I’ve been on a mission to find the August 1998 certain issue of Seventeen, the one pictured above. I finally found it via the assistance of a follower, who knew it was on my radar. This is the latest addition to my collection of vintage ’90’s magazines that were important to me at a certain age. (I’m thinking of working on a project that considers the impact of publications like these on the adolescent experience of people like me.) There’s something special about this issue, something about Drew Barrymore, the movie Ever After, and Black girls who were teens or preteens when that movie came out.

There’s something about Drew and Black girls—I’ll come back to that later.

Five.

Lately, when I tweet or write about my move, someone inevitably asks if Kelly, my husband, moved with me. I’ve been told this happens because I talk about the move using “I” instead of “we.” So here’s me taking the time to let you know that I am one person who speaks for this one person. Kel is here with me, yes, but I am still I. If that doesn’t work for you, I have nothing else to offer. My little family is the center of my world, but I am the center of my life. I’ve found the consistency I was searching for, but it didn’t come from falling in love or getting married or getting a dog. It came from the core of my self. That’s where I speak from, and that’s who you’re hearing. Questions are fine; assumptions are petty.

Writer. Editor. Host. AshleyCFord.Com

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