Monday, January 25, 2010

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard...Spock

[This originally appeared as a Facebook note, and its publication led to encouragement from several of my friends to begin blogging in earnest. My sister requested that I take it down because, and I quote, "Everybody from back home will know who this is about." It's deliberately written from my POV and, quite obviously (I hope), with affection. The gentleman in question is the pseudonymous 'Hopkins', so named by me following this writing for his choice of university. If you knew me in high school, then there is relatively little pretense about his identity. Since this first appeared, I have learned that not only did he attend the college where I am currently employed- at the time it was a branch of the university in which I was enrolled. Fate has a horrific way of intervening just about the time you think you might be getting back on level ground. In our own way, we each managed a derailment of epic proportion in both our personal and academic lives; I'm still sorting through the ashes twenty-plus years after the fact. Every once in a great while, one of the few truly sunny moments will come back to me- the crosswords and the handprint sweater are two of them. These were the oases in two lives in constant, deeply concealed upheaval. Because of his profound shyness, these rare glimpses of who he really was are things that I will always cherish. So few ever saw them, and in that I am truly privileged.]

A few things occurred to me a couple of days ago on the way into the library: one is that two history degrees might not have been such a great idea, and the other is that in some ways, I'm a hypocrite. I was just as prepared to leave home for the Ivy League as any of my friends, but I had seriously failed to consider how the reality of the departure East of one specific person a year ahead of me would take hold. After one of my college friends started posting pictures of our merry little band of pranksters from UK today, it gradually sank in how committed I was to trying to forcibly obliterate it from my mind, while drinking myself into a stupor most of my junior and senior years.

Scene: Concourse of Green County High School, approximately April, 1986; it's sunny and people are mlling about before the first bell. Two students, a boy and a girl, stand facing each other at the top of the room near the school doors. She is reading a letter. It's supposed to be good news; for him, it is, but for her, the world is rapidly falling away in shards- she's holding his acceptance letter from a very competitive university back East. She is one of the select few with whom he entrusts this information. She is suddenly sick.She has also just done the first preliminary interview as a prospect for Yale University one year from this date. It's finally hit her that she's got one more year of High School Hell without him. It's looking pretty bleak. The room is beginning to spin. She manages a credible (she hopes) ten minutes of smile-and-nod before excusing herself to go vomit in the girls' restroom opposite their locker.

Over the course of the next year, she will interview for Yale two more times and be rejected on the basis that her guidance counselor failed to send in his evaluation form- she will enroll at the state flagship school (her largest scholarship offer) where only one of her classmates is attending with her. She spends her whole freshman year plotting to transfer to the East Coast school he is attending. Fortunately for all concerned, she fails. It's famous for its med school, its science programs, and its university press. She is a humanities and social sciences student...and in the meantime, although she doesn't know it, he's headed home, anyway.

He'd done the odds before graduation. He never planned to come back. He gave her The Friendship Speech. She limped inside the house from his car at five-thirty in the morning on graduation night, hobbled by the heels she thought made her look graceful at the party (they kept sinking through the slats of the host's porch instead). She got up the next morning after praying all night that she would die. Three weeks later, she packs her bags and leaves to attend summer school at a nearby regional university on scholarship in a program for rising seniors. All eight weeks, her mind is hovering around a hog farm back home. In August, she returns in the middle of band camp, hurling herself full-force into a senior year about which she no longer cares.

She has met a new boy at college, another rising senior on the fast track to a National Merit scholarship and the valedictorianship of his class...quite a coup. It's all very forced, but that's what your senior year is supposed to be, right?: the right boyfriend, the right parties, the right dances, the right test scores, the right applications. And it means nothing- her heart and mind are in Baltimore, Maryland. School? She's phoning it in. She manages to maintain the facade of a good relationship with the boyfriend until prom night, when he dumps her so he can attend his school's prom with another girl- something she doesn't learn until she meets his best friend in college the next year- the official reason being that he is attending a university a hundred miles away from her and they will never be able to see each other. A hundred miles is ridiculous compared to the six hundred that crushed her spirit a mere eight months before. She accepts his excuse only because she never genuinely cared that much in the first place.

A year goes by. College sucks. She's where her parents chose, not a school of her own choosing. If not for the Honors Program, she would be suicidal. She makes it through and comes home for the summer, hiding from everyone and waiting for it to end. Early in the fall semester, her sister nearly dies in a car accident. In the midst of reevaluating her life, she dumps the boy she's been seeing and starts coming home frequently, where she learns that *he's* back. She doesn't give a damn that he might be embarrassed by it; she's just deleriously glad he's there, relieved that he's close by. What could be worse than having your sister nearly die? Having your wings clipped and ending up back under your parents' roof only a year after you made good your escape? Oh, a bad date. A date so epically bad that she's writing this now in the knowledge that they haven't talked since that night, although they have crossed one another's paths a couple of times since.

She does not find her feet or realize who her friends are until late in her undergraduate education. She lives in England over a summer. Life goes on.

I have a lot of regrets. I dwell too much in the past (historian?). But ambition was something that we all had, the ambition to get the hell out of Dodge and not look back. In my vanity, I had always assumed that I would not be dismissed like everyone and everything else as he blazed his trail out of Green County. I was. And this long after the fact, it still hurts. There are a few axioms in this world that are quite true, but one I would posit to which you should pay some attention is do NOT date your friends. Do not even TRY. It will only end badly.

I received a critical hit in April of 1986, and a night in late May finished me off. If I am honest about it, I have never and will never fully recover...I am One of the Guys. I am Such a Nice Girl. I have Such a Pretty Face, But. I cannot accept the bald truth, that I did not matter as much as I would've liked to have believed. He never asked for this and he did not cause it. I have brought this on myself, and because I cannot dismiss it, it haunts me. I struggle to value what I have, and I should let go of my angst about what was never mine to begin with; some days it's more in my mind than others. I wish I could forget, but to forget means letting go of him forever.

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