I've been going through old hard drives. They are a mess of unnamed folders inside unnamed folders which are often inside a poorly named or misnamed folder. I must organize them. I can never find anything I am looking for.
Often, however, I do find things I am not looking for but which bring me a moment of delight. To wit: here is a photo of me on my high school graduation day. It was quite something, really, that I made it through. I had an assistant principal who agreed with some of the more egregious teachers who didn't like me. When my hair got too long, they would send me to his office and he would, in turn, send me to get a haircut. Once he told me to quit school. I had no future, he said. He actually said I was nothing but a "woolly bear" in front of the principal of the school. The principal was an o.k. guy and told me to go back to class. He was a well-known jazz music afficianodo and d.j. on weekend nights playing jazz from his own record collection. But that is another story. In order to make it through high school, I and several others took to wearing cheap wigs--hair hats, we called them--that looked like some Marx Brothers joke but met the school's guidelines for hair length. I should remind you that my parents got divorced during this time and I lived in my car for awhile. I finally moved in with my father some twenty miles from my high school and slept on a couch in an un-airconditioned duplex. In my senior year, my father was in a terrible head-on automobile accident that put him in intensive care for months. When he was released from the hospital, I took care of the cooking and cleaning and going to the laundromat until my aunt and uncle invited him to come stay with them until he could walk again. I drove the two hours there and two hours back most weekends to visit.
My father was still on crutches when he took this picture with a little Brownie camera.
High school had not been the best of times for me, and I was thankful that it was over.
Needless to say, given everything, I did not date during high school. I couldn't. I mean, it just was not a possibility. I ran with a rough crowd of dropouts. Only one of my friends, and by that I mean someone whose house I went to, finished high school, and had known him only part of my senior year. We hooked up because we each wanted to take scuba lessons. He became my diving buddy. His father was a doctor and I would go to his house and hang out. He never came to mine. I don't think most people even knew where I lived, far away in a rural community that did not qualify, really, as a town.
When I came across the photo, I stared for awhile. Look at me, I thought. I was actually smiling. Our graduation ceremony was on a Friday night at a civic center after which, following tradition, we all went to the beach to spend the weekend.
That night, I hooked up with some boys I knew. They had a room they said I could stay in. The beach was packed with kids from all the high schools in the county. There was a sense of freedom, of course, but something else, too, something confused and dangerous. The boys I was crashing with were drinking for what I took to be the first time. They were downing liquor drinks mixed in Coca-Cola, and I warned them that they needed to slow down. I knew that they were going to get sick. Sure enough, within an hour they could barely stand up and not long after that the first of them began to puke. I didn't want to room with them any longer.
I went out to the night beach to think about what to do, and I ran into a girl I knew from school. We had shared some classes and were friendly, but not much more than that. We sat on the beach and talked awhile, and it turned out that she, too, didn't have a place to stay that night. She was what we would now call a disadvantaged girl who lived with her mother and had to work to help support the family. She was very pretty, but she, like me, was invisible when school let out having no time for after school clubs and activities. I told her I was going to get a room if she wanted to stay with me.
It was the first time I had ever slept overnight with a girl. Indeed, it was the first time I had ever rented a hotel room. The night is a sweet and vague memory--mostly I just remember the awkwardness of it. We were not carnal that night, just sweet and shy, and neither of us had a good idea about what to do in the morning. I don't remember her leaving, really, but I knew I had fallen immediately and irrevocably in love.
I stayed at the beach after checking out of the room. I stayed as everyone shook hands and said goodbye to one another swearing to stay in touch in a newly adult-ish way. I stayed until they were all gone, until the last cars left the parking lots and the sun was beginning to set. It was just me. I had to see the thing through to the end.
On my drive home, I felt that everything had changed. My life, I thought, was taking a new direction and would never be the same again.
The girl moved out of her mother's house as soon as she graduated. She went to a small town about an hour away. When I would call her, I had to pay long distance fees. But I did it. And I would make the long drive up to see her in her new place. She was sharing a big apartment in an old wooden building with another girl. The place was a hippie pad with pillows and posters and batik wall hangings. It smelled of incense and something else. I was still living with my father in our tiny duplex and the idea that she had transformed her life so quickly overwhelmed me. I felt small and ridiculous, really, to try to court this woman, for that is what she had become. She had already left everything behind. She had moved, had gotten a job and new friends, and was now living her life on her own terms. Each time I drove there, each time I knocked on her door, I felt more foolish.
I soon got a job. My buddy's father was a union construction foreman at the new theme park that was being built outside of town, and he sponsored the two of us so that we, too, could become union members. Within days, I was working one of the big hotels inside the park as a general laborer. The money was good, as it was union wages, and the project was behind schedule, so everyone was working overtime which paid well. I was driving thirty miles one way to work ten hour workdays seven days a week. It was impossible to turn down the overtime for it paid double and we made more money in overtime pay than we made in our regular forty hour workweek. With the extra hours, I was making more than my father did at his trade. The workday started early, though, at six or seven--I can't remember, exactly. What I do remember is that I had to get up at four-thirty in the morning and drive through the dark to pick up my buddy and give him a ride to work. Since I was not getting home until after six, there was not much time to for much else. I had to shower, eat dinner, make my lunch for the next day, and go to bed by nine.
Of course, I no longer saw the girl. I called her a few times, but you know how that goes. It didn't take long for her to start seeing another fellow, older and more mature than I, and by summer's end, I had been on the wrong end of an industrial accident and on a whim decided to enroll in the local junior college.
I never saw the girl again.
Yesterday, remembering the story, I could not for the life of me recall the girl's name. It was driving me crazy, and that is when I made a mistake. I decided to find my high school yearbook and look her up. That meant going through the pictures and names one by one. It was incredible. I couldn't remember most of the people I had gone to school with, even the ones who had signed my yearbook. I couldn't remember them, but I could. It was just a giant atmospheric thing, a vast cloud. Some of the kids I had gone to school with for twelve years and all the years melded into a single faded memory.
Then. . . there she was. Yup. And there was her name. Strange I hadn't remembered it. Yes, yes, that was her.
I took a photo of her yearbook picture with my phone and sent it to some friends proud now that I had retrieved her name. Q said, "Don't go looking for her obituary."
I hadn't thought of it, but of course. . . .
She's still kicking and lives in Oklahoma. She is a registered republican, though, so her early small town life in the near distant hick town must have changed her hippie ways. Obviously something had. But I was satisfied.
"You should write her. She's probably thinking about YOU right now."
My friends are real quipsters, they are. But who knows. Surely at some small hour, she too must think back on graduation night and the strange evening she spent with an awkward boy. We had shepherded one another across the threshold to a new world.
That is how it felt for me, anyway, there on the beach that night, speaking our desires under a rich blanket of stars. The romantic potential of life had taken shape.