Anna-Leena Harkonen


Landmark Media/Alamy


Bouts of Nostalgia

When my son was a teenager, we watched Grease together. I had last seen the movie decades earlier, when it first came to theaters. Back then, I was deeply impressed. My friends and I even started a girls’ club called the Pink Ladies.

Grease revisited was a disappointment. Time had done its work: my middle-aged self found the acting too loud and restless, the music not so good, and the story practically nonexistent.

I CAME ACROSS a bagful of novels and poems I had written as a child and in my early teens. I made the mistake of reading them and discovered that you can blush with embarrassment even when no one else is around.

I had gone to a great deal of trouble: I had written the stories and poems by hand with a pencil or a felt-tip pen. I had also written the back cover copy and drawn the illustrations. I have never been good at drawing.

ONE OF THE NOVELS was titled Heart on the Sleeve. The main character, a girl named Svetla, has a brother called Dmitri and a mother who marries Mr. Stambolof, a mean-natured man. He has “murky brown hair and a nose sharp like a knife.”

The two siblings run away from home and lose one another on the way. They are reunited a few years later. Dmitri recognizes his sister by her heart-shaped necklace—as if she has otherwise become completely unrecognizable in just a few years.

I wasn’t able to finish reading the story. I just browsed here and there.

FOR SOME REASON, nearly all the characters in the stories have foreign names. I seem to have been particularly fond of Hungarian, Romanian, and Bulgarian names. The stories are attempts at romance novels:

“I don’t need your charity,” Nadia hissed in the dim light of a streetlamp.

“Not even my charity?” the man asked, sneering.

Nadia’s cold stare measured him from head to toe.

“You are overestimating your charm,” she said.


Instead, I will present you with one of the poetry collections I wrote as a teenager. The collection is aptly and unaffectedly called Poems, and the main piece is titled “You don’t know.”

You don’t know how good you have it, you frustrated wives of bank managers / You who whine that you can travel to Spain only once a year / That your maids never dust the book covers properly / That whipped cream has too many calories / You don’t know how good you have it

I desperately tried to find signs of budding literary inclinations in my first efforts, but found only a few. I liked “beds of rainbows” in one of my early poems and may actually use it later—although I’m not sure about “beds.”

Anyway, thank you, my adolescent alter ego.

© Anna-Leena Harkonen 2022

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