The hallway was cluttered with back-packs, books with torn homemade paper-bag covers littered with hearts and the numerals of a favorite football player, who would try in desperation to capture the heart of the book owner on a chilly autumn evening, frayed twigs of swirled notebook paper scattered over the floor, and the invisible angst of teenage years filled the hall with the nervous oppression of puberty, giddy chatter and nervous glances before the bell rang. I slunk, as I always did, to my locker, carrying a paperback and one notebook, I had no use for the textbooks that the teachers were obliged to teach from. Some of these were already old, dating to the late sixties, oblivious to the history that had redrawn the world but in some instances, I felt that nothing had changed here in decades. In front of my locker, I stood staring at the calendar where I marked my potential escape. A handmade, numeric docket that empowered me to make it through another day; there was only six months left of high school.
I was known as the wise-ass, the one who would say and challenge everything, I read voluminous amounts, demolishing books and magazines at a quick pace as if the knowledge I poured into my head would undermine the apathetic distaste of what I perceived from my instructors. I doubted them and their skinny world view, as my family had seen the world outside of the huddled burg of South Vienna and Catawba, Ohio. The memories of childhood tales spoken from my grandmother, the wall of degrees on my grandfather’s office and the importance of education fortified me. Looking back, from the vantage of twenty-five years, I was too harsh on my surroundings, surely as harsh to it as I felt it was to me. But the anger I felt towards the school still smolders at times, as several guidance counselors and teachers tried in vain to steer both my brother and I away from college, we were not the chosen ones in the small insular world of Northeastern High School. In the mid-eighties, before cable had cracked the shell of information wide open, before the internet allowed people to live as if they were part of some science fiction novel I read, nobody had heard of the term “global village.”
The locker was crammed with disjointed books, a frazzled green army jacket, with strands of thread parsing out from the collar, and an old sandwich that I dared not touch at the bottom, a continuous active biology experiment. The bell had just rang, I didn’t mind being late, it was a talent that I had been fortifying for years, building it class by class, day by day only to manifest itself as an adult fear that I would be late to work. Everyday. She ran next to me, a bundle of wild energy, wearing a black and white stripped pant-suit that showed off her seventeen year old breasts quite well. I tried not to notice her, although our lockers were next to each other. It was the last day of school before Christmas break, and she had to be a National Honor Society function five minutes ago. She was carrying a box of chocolates and as she grappled with her locker, it spilled to the floor. Small chunks of circular and square confections rolling on this god-awful floor, “Shit! now I am late!” she stammered. I shelved the paperback at the top of the locker, and gently bent down and helped her pick them up. In that moment, I suppose was when the flickering of first love bellowed up from the spilled contents of a chocolate box. “She must have a boyfriend” I thought, but I said, “Here put the spilled ones on this side of the box and give that part to your friends, they’ll never know.” “Good idea, a bit of dirt never hurt anyone.” As we crouched down placing them into the box, with bit of flaky, drug-store bought candy, we managed to laugh and look at one another. She stopped my being for a moment when she gushed, “You have to most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.” “er, ahh, thank you. I’m late for Mr. Wasserman’s class.” “Just tell him that you were helping Jenny Mae, he loves me.” It worked; he didn’t count me tardy that day as he usually did, as I was an outspoken thorn in his side. Everybody loved Jenny Mae.