Trust Me On This

Remember in High School, that girl, woman at your school that you couldn’t take your eyes off of? No one could, and like it or not, everyone saw her the way you did. Parents, teachers, the principal and every single boy or man in the school. I fault no one on this point. She was a natural scene-stealer, like a cardinal on the branch of a leafless tree.

Today, I heard that she died.

A vision of her walking down the main hall of our tiny high school materialized.

Close your eyes and take a minute to find that woman in the mental keepsakes of your coming-of-age years. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m remembering her, but not for reasons that are immediate or obvious.

Although I don’t recall her often, it’s easy to flip her image in front of all the others of the last, …so many years. I’m in this memory too. I can’t think of her and not recall myself during that time. It’s my point of view, after all. I see her through the scrim of how I saw myself.

If I were a director in a film, I’d shoot a scene to illustrate our differences. There’d be a wide shot of her sitting on her bed, wearing cutoffs, a halter top. She’d be concentrating on the same Seventeen Magazine Quiz: Do You Have Charisma? A close-up of her score. Cut to me across town, taking the same quiz on a flowered bedspread.  White cream moustache bleach under my nose, my eyes fluttering from the ammonium odor.

Our score on the informative, ultra-scientific quiz is the same because she doesn’t see herself like I see her. And I’m all too aware of how people see me.

In sixth grade, my family moved from New Jersey, one hour outside of New York City, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and one hour away from a JC Penney. I was a dark, bushy-haired pre-pubescent east coast kid dropped into a mining town in the woods populated by blond-haired, blue-eyed northern Europeans.

She was a year or two older than me, and we rode the same bus to school. I got on first, and ten minutes later, she always and forever entered the vehicle and found me with her smile.

It makes me cry thinking about the generosity of that move.

Picture it, would you? Star Basketball and Track athlete. Trumpet player. Cheerleader- a trope, sure, but it’s true. Her boyfriend wore white Tiger shoes (Google them) and had tight, faded rockstar jeans, and nobody could ski like him.

She’d climb the few stairs onto the bus, grab that silver pole attached to the first seat and swing into the aisle with confidence that all would go as planned. And it did until later in her life. I’d heard bits of things. A struggle with addiction, they say.

She’d plunk herself down in the seat next to me and talk. She liked my hair, she said, which absolutely was a kindness.

Year after year, we sat together on the bus until she graduated. And then, my boyfriend got a driver’s license and picked me up at my front door.

I hadn’t seen her since graduation.

Here’s what I came to say. She had a kind of charisma that you cannot fake. And her body was what one would call a boom’n system. But when I heard the news, it wasn’t her appearance that pushed ahead to be recalled. No, and trust me on this. I recall her eyes finding mine in the hall and on the bus; her smile was meant for me.

And I remember she shut down the voice in my head that said, ‘You don’t belong here.’

xo Ann