Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When High School Comes Back to Haunt You

Just when you think you've left high school in the past, it rises up when you least expect it.

When my friend Grace told me her daughter was coming to visit from New York, it never occurred to me that her daughter was someone I knew. Grace did live close to my parents and my high school and she had mentioned that her daughter was my age, but I never made any connection beyond that. Not until the two of them stepped out of the shadows of my back porch into the light of my dining room.

"You look so familiar!" I exclaimed as Grace introduced us. Of course, I knew immediately where I recognized her from. She had been one of the more popular girls in school.

She didn't recognize me as quickly; in fact, maybe she never recognized me but pretended to so I wouldn't be embarrassed. I wasn't surprised. We had never been friends. I don't think we ever even talked. But I could have told her a lot more about herself than she could about me. My ultimate goal in high school was to make myself as invisible as possible, and it turns out I was pretty good at it.

"Why don't you go out and show her the horses?" Grace suggested to me.

Her daughter protested that she hadn't ridden a horse since she was a little girl, but she followed me through our dark backyard to where the horses were still munching on their evening hay.

"So how did you  meet your husband?" she asked me after a long silence filled only by the chirping of the crickets outside.

I told her the story, but instead of the whole beautiful tale rolling off my tongue like it usually does, I shortened it considerably, laughing nervously at the best parts. It seemed the nearly nine years that separated me from high school weren't enough to keep me from feeling like an awkward fifteen year old again, consumed by this instinctive need to impress the prettier, more popular girls.

She smiled when I finished, made some nice comment, and we fell into silence again. I knew it my turn to ask a question. "So, what do you do in New York?" I asked.

"I work for a company advertising for Broadway," she replied.

Broadway. I felt an ache in my chest. "Oh, it's one of my dreams to see a play on Broadway," I said.

"Yeah, I get free tickets to whatever show I want. If you guys ever come out to New York, I could hook you up."

The horses were more interested in their food than us, so we started back to the house. "So did you do anything in high school?" she asked. "Maybe I know you from track or student council?"

My laugh was high and strained. "No, I really didn't do anything in high school." I didn't bother to tell her we'd had a couple classes together.


"Well, I was in the Medieval Times Club. And choir for a little while. But you...weren't."


Anxious to change the subject, I asked what brought her to Arizona.

"One of my good friends from college is getting married in San Diego. That's Saturday. The next day I'm going to visit some old friends in Florida. Then the next week I'm hopping a plane to Italy. I haven't been there for a while."

I almost didn't want to ask. "How many times have you been there?"

She paused for a moment, counting in her head. "Three."

"Oh," I choked. I hope someday to go to Italy once. Three times is highly unlikely.

"Next year I'm going back to Tanzania," she continued. "That's my absolute favorite place. I spent a summer there while I was in school."

"What is there in Tanzania?" I wondered out loud.

"I adopted a couple orphans while I was there," she explained. "They're in school now. I try to visit them at least once a year."

I didn't reply. Feeling like a complete country bumpkin, I just hoped that she wasn't about to ask how we spent our spare time. Well, I spent this morning scrubbing Baby Brown Eyes' poop out of his high chair. And tomorrow we're planning on riding down to the Circle K and buying us a couple slushies.

They had a movie to catch, so we gathered around the back door and said our goodbyes. I smiled at Baby Brown Eyes as he laughed wildly at the sound of Grace's voice, his mouth open in a big goofy toothless grin. Mr. Brown Eyes slipped his arm around my waist and I looked up at him, my heart softening at how handsome he was. By the time we closed the door I knew that I was the lucky one. It didn't matter that I was a dork in high school, that I'll never go to Tanzania or have a fancy shmancy job in New York. I have no reason to be jealous of the popular girls anymore.

The slushies were delicious,
The Brown-Eyed Girl

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