By the time I’d turned 13 I had consciously and ruthlessly divested myself of childish things; I had long ago accepted that I was unlikely to be invited by a mysterious inter-dimensional fantasy race to join their ranks on an unseen astral plane, and stopped being so totally proud to have read every Elfquest comic.
I watched Saved By The Bell and I decided that I couldn’t wait to have a locker. I wanted contentious class elections with posters on the walls. God damn it, I wanted cafeteria food; I wanted to wear a high ponytail and gossip while holding a lunch tray until a metal bell rang that it was time to go to the next class. I had gotten my ears pierced and it was time to be cool, damn it.
On the first day of seventh grade (I was young for my year, so probably I was still 11) in my first class the English teacher asked us to write short essays on what we had done for the summer and then he asked us who wanted to read first. I shot my hand up so I would be picked first; I needn’t have worried because no one else raised their hand. They looked at me like I was strange for wanting to talk.
The fact my essay had been all about how I watched The Dark Crystal all summer and then tried to build Gelfling houses in my woods, maybe I could have lived that one down, but that in-class essay reading was my introduction to my classmates for the next several years. The fact I’d wanted to talk first – and that I’d never want to stop talking first, about things that made sense only to nerds – pretty much set the tone for my adolescent career.
You could have seen my grunge-rebel phase coming a mile away. Dear Mrs. Baughman, I am so sorry about: your x-y coordinate plane, the innumerable times I cursed wildly at your endlessly faithful attempts to educate me in math, the time I threw your chalk out of the window before you came into class, and most of all the absolutely unforgivable ‘present’ we left you on our last day as your students.
When I was 15, as my poor long-suffering parents did at numerous points throughout my ‘interesting’ childhood development, they re-evaluated my educational environment and decided to explore a kind of ‘early college’ for me called Simon’s Rock, despite being, with good reason, not entirely convinced I was academically-inclined enough to be a candidate for a program that was intended for ‘high achievers’, not just for ‘weird kids’. But they, like many parents with odd brood in tow, brought me to an orientation day there one day. I was not sold on the idea. I thought that with just a little more time spent aflame in the forges of small-town normalcy I could take on an acceptable shape. I was already burning white-hot.
The parents were presumably attending meetings and seminars with the faculty, most of which probably regarded how in the world anyone was meant to finance such a bourgeois opportunity for their special little ones. The prospective students, on the other hand, toured the campus as a group; we were served lunch in a cafeteria (!!) and were walked from building to building to be introduced to the various facilities in which we could one day sit and learn, like, things.
I don’t remember the substance of the tour nor the nature of the buildings we visited nor the talks we were sat down to hear, nor the question-answer sessions. I remembered it was winter, New England winter on a campus crowned gracefully with snow-laden evergreens; I remembered the soft and the cold and the quiet, and I remember the cafeteria. More specifically, I remembered being asked to line up to leave the cafeteria, and that’s when I saw him.
As part of my necessary and very systematic evolution into “a cool person”, one who could iron the verboten, suspiciously-ethnic curls from my much-mocked wild hair — it was the 1990s, where the world was segregated into girls who could look like Kate Moss and girls that, no matter how hard they ruthlessly attacked their bodies, could never – I had embraced at last the idea that my proper mate was unlikely to be a dark elven prince from an alternate dimension. And yet there he was, standing in the line, a tall boy in a long, dark trench coat with long, dark hair that hung all the way down his back. He wore sunglasses indoors and I knew he was for me.