We discarded our high school yearbooks when we moved from Virginia, so I don't have a ready reference for this reflection, but as I prepare for my 50th reunion, a few indelible memories and names return.
Naturally, I suffered from teenage angst about my appearance and longed, of course, to be beautiful. I specifically remember two incidents. Before I knew about mascara, I discovered the miracle of petroleum jelly. I couldn't believe how long and full my lashes looked when coated with so much Vaseline I could barely keep my eyes open. Between classes, I stopped in the bathroom to reassure myself that my eyes were still alluring. One Saturday, I took the bus into D.C. to my mother's favorite beauty salon for a perm. I smiled all the way there, dreaming of the transforming effect the perm would have - and transformed I was. I got the kink job of my life, I hated to go to school and I haven't had a perm since.
In a last-minute date, I went to the senior prom with Lee, a football player with a neck like a tree trunk. My dress was too expensive for my parents to buy, but they bought it anyway. It was pink and had a skirt supported by more crinolines than Scarlett O'Hara's.
Some of my teachers live vividly in my mind after 50 years. I felt sorry for my Latin teacher, a maiden lady with a deformed arm who grooved on all things Caesar, but she taught me an appreciation for the structure of the language. I remember that I wrote a report about politics for a senior government assignment. My government teacher didn't believe I had written it and checked with my English teacher for his opinion before giving me a grade. I was both flattered and insulted.
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My sophomore English teacher wore high-heel mules and styled her blonde hair in a fuzzy bun on top of her head. She had a knock-out figure which she showed off in tasteful, but tight-filling clothes - anomalies in schools of the '60s. She taught us how to diagram sentences and, to this day, I picture diagramming when I set up a dominos.
I've kept in touch with no one from high school, but a few standouts are easy to recall. Claudia was who I wanted to be. Haling from the opposite side of Wilson Boulevard, she was a cheerleader, petite and blonde. She had lots of friends, lots of clothes, lots of money, and a yellow, convertible Volkswagen bug.
I also remember Barbara as the tragic figure of my high school years. She was beautiful, smart, the center of the in-crowd, and she got pregnant junior year. She left school, got married, and had a second baby before we graduated. When she brought her baby to school, I drooled over the pink, gurgling, cuddly infant in the stroller. At the time, I was unable to assess how I felt about this twist in Barbara's life.
At a time when kids weren't fat, Dorothy was fat. Everybody shunned her. And then while nobody was looking, Dorothy got skinny. She bought nice clothes, became an instant celebrity, and all of us wanted to hang out with her. Even though I use "us" and "we" describing these memories, there was no "us" or "we" for me. I had no group. I pretended to be a hall monitor during lunch to avoid the cafeteria because every table was packed, and I had no friends to sit with.
Another time, Claudia threw a big party and off-handedly invited me. My sensors flashed big risk. After push-pull conversations with myself, I crossed the Rubicon and went. When I got there, I felt like an apparition. I could see them, but they couldn't see me.
The reunion is a few short weeks away. As I anticipate the event, I wonder who I will recall and who, if anyone, will remember me. I wonder, too, how accurate these perceptions of high school are. In a way, it doesn't mater. I hemmed and hawed about attending, eventually deciding to go based on one irrefutable truth. Like my graduation from high school 50 years ago, the reunion will be a once-in-my-life event and, out of curiosity, I don't want to miss it. It does give me pause, though. I wonder if you ever get over high school?