Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Opposite Sex: the early years

During my early grammar school years at the Hamilton School in Everett, the boys were pretty much just royal PIAs. They would take my waist-length braid and dip it into our paint cups (which didn't make my mother very happy), or they would tease me.  But there were a few good ones.

One of them (I'll call him John to protect the innocent :-)) and I were chosen to be the resident dance-and-song couple, and on special occasions like St. Patrick's Day, we would  go from room to room to do a song/dance. As a result, I learned how to do an Irish jig, a wooden shoe dance, and several others. (Don't laugh!) I can still remember the feel of the wooden shoes, and the clomp-swish-clomp as we danced.  Years later when clogs were in style, I had a head start on everyone else because I had practiced in those wooden shoes.

John and I played Hansel and Gretel in the school play in 2nd or 3rd grade, can't remember which, but I do remember being on stage in front of a large audience (as with everything, when you're a kid the rooms, buildings, and audiences are always bigger than when you return to the same place as an adult.  Somehow I think those childhood memories get tarnished if we try to relive them as adults).

As a result of being embarrassed on a regular basis, I think, John and I became really good friends. Yes, he gave me my first kiss, and I think my mother watched us closely throughout my school years, hoping we'd end up together. My parents had a habit of teasing me all the time about who I liked and what it would be like if I married that person (sigh), but we didn't even date. We were friends, period, and he's even on Facebook now. From what I hear, he became a fireman and has several kids and is still as nice a guy now as he was when we were growing up.
Then there was another guy, who I'll call Steve (again, to protect the innocent!). We met at the same time--1st or 2nd grade. He had a bit more of the "dark side." His teasing was often mean, but he made it clear from the time we were 7 or 8 that I was his "girlfriend," even though I didn't want to be. 
The kids teased him about his name, which tended to morph into some pretty vulgar iterations (thanks to kids' humor) and I think that teasing might have sharpened his already dark personality. I started to ignore him, and eventually, he turned his attentions to someone else. Through the years, he became one of those oily, vocational school guys that was always on the periphery of being in trouble. By the time we reached high school, I really wanted nothing to do with him, and after we graduated, I lost track of him.
Many years later, I was working as a professor of English at a small college in Northern Florida, and a guy came into my office, asking to be registered for one of my classes. He kept smiling at me, which I thought was strange, but I didn't think anything of it. He was pretty strange looking, too, with long gray hair  loosely gathered into a ponytail and a rather scruffy beard. He wore a pea green Army jacket, like the ones the guys who had fought in VietNam wore for years after they came home, and his holey jeans looked like they could stand on their own with the dirt caked on them.
Finally, he said, "You don't know me, Dawn, do you?" I said, "Should I?" (Figured he must have been in one of my classes previously.) When he replied, "I'm Steve." I almost fell off my chair. 
I had known him in Massachusetts, so what was he doing in Florida?  What were the chances he would enroll in the same college where I was teaching?  To say I was shocked is an understatement.  We sat in my office and talked for a long time about growing up, what he'd been doing (he'd been a long-timer in the Navy), families, friends, life.  By the time a couple of hours had passed, he looked like the Steve I knew in grammar school again, but a lot of time had passed, and I was willing to give him a chance to prove he wasn't the oily, almost illegal guy I knew in high school.
He and his stepson ended up in my class, and neither were prepared for how difficult I might be as a teacher. When it was clear I wasn't going to give them special breaks because I'd grown up with Steve, both of them dropped out. I was disappointed that he hadn't hung in there, and I tried to tutor both of them, but it was a no go.  He disappeared from campus as quickly as he'd appeared in my life again.
I found out from another former classmate a couple of years later that Steve had approached her and asked to borrow some of her clothes -- he had become a cross-dresser! She and I had a good laugh over it, but I've often wondered what happened to him after that . . . pretty sad, I think.
Here I am around the time I met the guys -- my hair goes all the way down my back, and yes, I'm missing teeth in the front, and my mother always cut my bangs  :-)

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