At Seventeen

As you might have gathered from the other articles about my personal life, as a child I was what some would call “a sensitive boy.” That is, those who wanted to be kind. The other boys usually weren’t. I prefer to think that I was just “more aware.” However I came to see things the way I did, as I neared seventeen I had had my fill of the opinions of those I knew about how things worked and how people should live. More than ever before, I looked for those I thought had something exceptional to say. One of those voices was that of Janis Ian, and her very timely song…

At Seventeen

“I learned the truth at seventeen.
That love was meant for beauty queens.
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles.
Who married young and then retired.

The valentines I never knew.
The Friday night charades of youth.
Were spent on one more beautiful.
At seventeen I learned the truth.

And those of us with ravaged faces.
Lacking in the social graces.
Desperately remained at home.
Inventing lovers on the phone.
Who called to say – come dance with me.
And murmured vague obscenities.
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs.
Whose name I never could pronounce.
Said – pity please the ones who serve.
They only get what they deserve.

And the rich relationed hometown queen.
Marries into what she needs.
With a guarantee of company.
And haven for the elderly.

Remember those who win the game.
Lose the love they sought to gain.
In debentures of quality and dubious integrity.
Their small-town eyes will gape at you.
In dull surprise when payment due.
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen.


To those of us who knew the pain.
Of valentines that never came.
And those whose names were never called.
When choosing sides for basketball.

It was long ago and far away.
The world was younger than today.
When dreams were all they gave for free.
To ugly duckling girls like me.

We all play the game, and when we dare.
To cheat ourselves at solitaire.
Inventing lovers on the phone.
Repenting other lives unknown.
That call and say – come dance with me.
And murmur vague obscenities.
At ugly girls like me, at seventeen.”

Being an almost seventeen year old boy living in the Black community, I naturally had no one to talk to about the impact this song had on me. I’m not sure if I could have explained how I could relate so strongly to a song about a girl and her problems anyway. But I did, and I still do.

I want ice water.

2 thoughts on “At Seventeen

  1. I had a friend in school, that thought this way…
    That song fit her to a “T”. I remember the song, but could not think who sang it.
    All she could concentrate on was how common and plain and un popular she was ( she thought).
    I saw a guy we went to school with the other night at Dakotas’ and we got to talking about her.
    You know, he thought she was so nice, and was fun, but “moody”. I guess the “moody” part is what kept people away from her….except me.
    I was her best friend and hung around with her all the time. People would ask me, why do you hang around with her? Because she was my friend….no matter what….If you wanted to be with me, you had to accept her….that was just the way it was..We have lost contact over the years, but I do know that she had some mental health problems, got the help she needed, and moved on to work in the mental health field.
    She lalways did have relationship problems, but hey….who doesn”t???

    Thanks for these words….t
    hey made me think of an ole friend….maybe I will follow up on trying to find her.


    • Glad you had such a good response. I sometimes wonder if my friend’s friends thought that way about me. With any luck, I’ll grow up to the kind of success your friend now enjoys. 😉

      Have you tried the link to the playlist I’ve set up? I try to have all of the songs I refer to on it.


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