Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Morbid Nostalgia: Two Vignettes

Inspired by high school reunion planning.

Once upon a time there was a boy. A sweet, funny, smart, kind boy with the faults common to teenage boys who are sweet, funny, smart, and kind. His family life wasn't the greatest, the sad tale of a divorce gone very bad and a mother who wasn't quite able to hold up her end of the responsibility bargain in the aftermath. Luckily for the boy he found a mother figure who was more than willing and more than able to bestow upon him the attention that seemed somehow compromised when it came from his father's next wife, however earnest she was. Perhaps the mother figure could be a tad overbearing, but that was a small price to pay for the solid maternal attention.

There was a girl who liked the boy. Liked in a teenage kind of way. The boy and the girl were friendly and then friends. And then. In a teenage kind of way fumblings happened. But also conversation of a teenage sort. Embarrassment. Shyness. Refumbling.

The mother figure did not approve. She may have liked the girl, but she thought the boy could do better. And she wasn't afraid to say so. Someone prettier, perhaps, more deferential, less independent. It always seemed to the girl afterward that the mother figure thought she, the girl, was hitting above her pay grade when it came to associating with the boy.

The boy and the girl were only ever going to be a teenage thing. The mother figure had the potential to be more. So the boy stopped liking the girl. No more conversations. No more fumblings. Nothing, really.

The girl's friends did an excellent job of mocking the boy, mocking the mother figure, cutting ties. Maybe they thought the boy was hitting above his pay grade; maybe they were just being kind.

It was just a teenage thing.

There was a girl who liked a boy. The boy was very very unavailable. But he didn't always act that way. Sometimes he seemed more available; sometimes he seemed very available. Obviously this was not fair to the girl, nor was it fair to the girlfriend, but these are teenagers after all. The girl knew, somewhere deep down, that the boy wanted the girlfriend but wasn't above wanting the girl's attention and sometimes more than that. But she really really really liked the boy.

The girl confided her sadness, her hopes, her mistakes to her friend, the other girl. The other girl tried to be a good friend and not point out the obvious, that the boy had and continued to make a choice and it wasn't the girl. But the other girl didn't have a long history of successful female friendships and didn't always know what to say. She tried to listen, at least for as long as she could simulate interest, and she turned a mostly blind eye when mistakes were made. After all, it was what the girl really really wanted.

One night, though, the boy made a move on the other girl. In front of the girl who liked him so much. It was a clumsy grab at a popular part of the other girl, and the other girl didn't know what to do. She had no interest in the boy, but she was also painfully embarrassed at the situation. Should she loudly call the boy out for untowardly grabbing at her? Should she do nothing? She tried, as best she could in the cramped quarters groups of teenagers can be fond of, to wiggle away. But the damage had been done. The girl knew the boy had tried something with her friend and the other girl, by action or inaction, had done the wrong thing.

Later, the other girl would wonder if she could have acted differently. If female competition was at fault, or if she was intentionally allowing the girl, her friend, to see what a fickle shit the boy was. The other girl couldn't honestly say she handled the situation in the best possible way, but she hoped, fervently hoped, she hadn't acted maliciously towards the girl, her friend.

But it wasn't ever going to be the same after that. The girl was very angry at the other girl. Perhaps she was very angry at the boy, but she liked him so so much that it was probably easier to be angry at the other girl. The anger lay dormant and on the surface things went on as usual. But something was different. When the other girl started a bad relationship on the sly, she didn't tell the girl, her friend. Even though the other girl probably could have used a friend during that time. But the trust had been broken. Later, the girl started a relationship with a new boy that the other girl really really liked. Whether it was payback or an unfortunate coincidence is something no one but the girl knew. And she wasn't talking. Later still, the girl was not nice to the new boy and then there was a new new boy. But by that time the girl and the other girl didn't really talk anymore. At all.

A classmate of mine recently wrote a book about the films of John Hughes. I always thought the movies were cute, but I could never really relate. The characters had a teenage experience so far more polarizing than mine. My angst was different and, in fact, bracketed my high school years but stayed mostly out of them. But as a reunion comes up, I think of the people I grew up with, which friendships persevered and which feel by the wayside, through atrophy or by intent. I remarked to one classmate as we sloshed through the rain to the subway station that there wasn't a single person from our class whom I didn't wish well. My pollyanna-ish feelings about high school make me really really want everyone to be happy. For me, time heals most grudges. And I'm in no way a saint, I'm just lazy. At the end of the day, holding a grudge for decades is just too much work.

I know the boys and girls of these stories probably won't read them. But I remember. I remember how important it all seemed at the time and how utterly unimportant it is now. It was high school. These boys and girls are married, starting families, being grown-ups. But I remember. And sometimes, sometimes when I allow myself to roam freely through the less rose-colored halls of history, it makes me sad.

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