Thanks to Alex for his Essay-a-Day post today, which served as a launch pad for this... (Go read his, too. Fair is fair.)
Pulling my mother-made quilt over me the other night, the bedroom window letting in the nipping-but-still-tolerable October air, what made me think of that day? There are no potential romances in my life these days, no dances, and only the standard level of middle-school politics, so what brain filter fingers over every other possibility in three decades of memory and finds this one? Why is it held so pristinely, as though I might get a better price for it one day, it being in such mint condition?
I hardly knew him--knew him as little as you can know someone in eighth grade when there are thirty kids in the class. And he wasn't one of us long-timers--I hadn't fingerpainted with him or shared a copy of Where the Red Fern Grows. He had scarcely been on my radar. I cannot, in fact, find one other memory of him but this.
What is it about shame that sears one memory into you, burning up others?
I don't remember the color of the balloons or the song that was playing, I don't remember my dress or his--likely not suit, not at an eighth grade graduation dance. Whatever he was wearing, I cannot picture. I remember only laughing. Sitting with Meghan, a part-time friend at best, waiting while Alison spun the floor with yet another guy. This was the usual--the times when Meghan and I were at our closest, I suppose. We were laughing over something, so much that I didn't notice him until he was there, impossibly taller than seated me.
And he asked me to dance.
I glanced at Meghan, and put my hand to my chest as I turned. (I hate that this is true. I wanted to leave it out but I can't. I hate that in this second my Disney-indoctrinated head pressed this gesture--Aurora's, I think--into my hand. I hate that this is what he saw as he began laughing: a pretend princess. This is what I hate, out of everything.)
And he laughed. "Damn," he says, already shooting a half-glance to the four or five guys I hadn't noticed, a distance away but not out of earshot. "Song's over." And he has the grace to hold in most of the laugh until his back is turned. He is walking back to them, and as I turn back to Meghan (hand dropped, hand loathed, hand in danger of being removed from body) I see the beginnings of back-slaps and arm-punches.
I don't remember her words, but I remember loving Meghan for that night. I don't remember if we stayed or left. I remember Alison coming back to the table, telling her, holding her back from marching across the room to the boys. And abruptly the film reel cuts out.
I don't know why I have this perfectly-kept memory, when a thousand others would be better. (Not nicer--I have lots of sad, painful, awful memories, but they serve a purpose. What does this one do but to bring me back to a 15-year-old girl who wanted to be anyone else but what she was?
There's one other flash of memory connected to this: maybe two months later, I am at Cape Cod. I have bought postcards for friends, and for the first time have included Meghan among them. I don't remember what else I write, save, "Thanks for being a friend when Tim was a jackass."
I don't know why I hold on to it. I never saw Tim again after the next day's graduation, and Meghan and I fell out of touch after high school. If I could let it go, I would. But maybe it's important to remember these things. Maybe we have to remember there are jackasses in the world--but friends at the table, too.