I was friended this week on Facebook by a girl I went to high school with. I haven't seen her in 35 years, and certainly she's a woman by now, but in my mind she will always be a girl--tall and strong, with long, thick, butter-colored hair that I deeply envied.
And with that quick memory comes a memory of myself in those days--short, fuzzy-headed, with a serious expression, squinting through glasses that were far too big for my small face.
I almost never think about school, but when I do it takes very little to provoke intense, sharp fragments of memories. There's no order, no narrative line, just shards. Vivid shards.
I remember the long, crowded hallways, the smell of sweat and too much deodorant, the banging of the locker doors, the teachers standing outside their classrooms in their chalky-elbow suits, hollering at us all to slow down as we jostled past, a surging sea of hormones and laughter and cruelty.
I remember going to a dance in the fall of tenth grade, spending hours beforehand getting my hair just so, smooth from the middle part on down, flipped up at the ends, only to have it all explode into frizz the minute I stepped out into the humid, breezy night. I remember the sharp feeling of dismay and fear. How will this work when I'm a grownup? I wondered. How will I ever look normal, with this terrible, impossible hair?
My older siblings had preceded me at school, and their reputations paved the way for mine. I could tell which of my siblings a teacher had had in class by his attitude toward me. The brother who dropped out? I was treated coldly and dismissively. The brother who was a poet, and then died? I was gushed over, and his name was mentioned early, and reverentially.
I remember one Halloween, working late into the evening meeting a deadline for the yearbook. A couple of senior girls persuaded me to go trick-or-treating with them up Hawthorne Road, where doctors lived in mansions with mullioned windows and curved driveways. We pulled our hair into bouncy ponytails, drew round red cheeks with lipstick, and set off, secure that in our cuteness we would get candy.