Tragedy struck the summer before my sophomore year. Mandy, my dear friend and confidant, had to move. Being in our military town certainly had its advantages: new friends, cultural diversity, southern upbringing, the determination to hold dear to others while they were around. The major disadvantage was that most everyone had to move just when you formed a beautiful friendship. So before our second year of high school began, I had to help my best friend pack up and move halfway across the state to Murfreesboro. So with many tears and as many promises to stay friends, I waved my sweet Mandy off to a new year somewhere new. As much as it hurt to say goodbye, at least I had the stability of familiarity and an established community of friends. Mandy was starting all over in high school. That’s not always an easy move.
However, God had a funny twist in store for me. Our home rooms, that first 10 minutes of accounting for each student’s presence, was divided up by last name. I was in the room that held M-P, which allowed me to start the day with my friends Danny and Jennifer… always a good thing when you’re in many of the same classes. We really helped each other with the homework not done (wink, wink) But suddenly there was a new boy in the room. He was quiet and well-mannered, but that didn’t stop me from walking up to him, plopping down beside him and commencing to hold a conversation with him. (I know, it’s shocking that I would make a big jump out there like that, huh?)
I soon discovered that I would have several classes with this boy named Ken. Like me, he elected to take the AP classes in almost everything: English, Trig, chemistry. Unlike me, he was artistic in an entirely different way. Where I was all about the vocal and dramatic art, he was an actual artist who left something of his talent to be seen by others. And he played something rather unheard of at that time – soccer. I had no idea what it was, but I soon found out.
So out stepped Mandy and in stepped Ken. God is good in so many ways. He knew that I needed Ken to keep my balance and perspective. He was logical, grounded – you know, typical male characteristics – but fun and witty, but not as the same caliber as me. He appreciated my outgoingness and sense of adventure as much as I loved his steadiness and outlook on life, not to mention his more intelligent answers to a number of math questions. He was a great conversationalist and (eventually) a wonderful movie/dance/pal-around mate. We made a great pair from day one.
It’s rather odd having a guy for a best friend. Well, not for me, but it was for most other people, probably my parents too. Most of my friends kept asking if Ken and I were an item. “No, we’re just really great friends,” was my usually reply. The funny thing was that as the year advanced, Ken decided that he wanted to be more than just friends. I distinctly remember the note declaring his affections for me. He also asked me out to a school dance in a group date setting. It was exciting but weird and unsettling at the same time. I didn’t know what I felt about Ken except that he was my best friend, that I could talk to him about anything and everything and that I spent more time with him than anyone else. Knowing that I was closed to dating age (16) and that his parents would be taking us to the dance, my parents let me go. They had met Ken enough to know that he was a decent guy.
We went. We had a great time as usual, but in my heart, I knew that I couldn’t see myself with him. Why? He was Catholic. I didn’t want to get involved with someone where religion might eventually play a huge factor in our relationship. (Please don’t ask how I knew that was something to consider. It seemed like such a mature decision at the time.) Sure I loved most everything about him, but I valued his friendship so much more. After explaining all these feelings to him, he was upset for a bit but then accepted them gracefully, and we agreed that our friendship was worth more than what might have developed over time… because he was staying Catholic and I wasn’t converting. Fortunately, he was a man of his word. We didn’t have any kind of breakdown in our relationship. If anything, it was stronger afterwards.
The school year progressed beautifully, full of more love of English with Mrs. Dobson, fun in French II, a new found love of chemistry (Loved Mr. Como and his teaching style, not to mention the experiments!), and of course Concert Choir. Yes, readers, I progressed enough to make it into the top choir. Woo hoo! It didn’t matter that I went from a first soprano to an alto. I was just so happy to be in the class. Don’t ask. I don’t understand it either. And the bonus was that there was a new teacher whom I adored, Miss Morrow. I loved being around her so much that I was soon given the nickname Shadow. Unfortunately for me, she was only there for a semester because she was getting married. The nerve of her! (At least she let us sing at her wedding.)
So we had a new teacher, Ms. Thomas; she was just as likable and kind to us. We were quite pleased with her as a teacher, even if she did start the semester off track. She was in an accident and began her classes a week late on crutches and with a black eye. Hey, at least everyone listened well to her out of pity.
Plays became a vital part of my high school experience. We had a new drama teacher, Mr. Collins. He was a large, gregarious, young teacher who brought new life to the stage. His first production was Godspell, and though I didn’t win a part, I took on a backstage role as a set maker and a props assistant in order to learn all that I could from theater experience. One huge role that I took great pride in doing was being the daisy pusher-upper. (In one scene where Jesus was talking about the flowers, he made them “grow”. My being the skinny-minnie, 80-lbs-soaking-wet person that I was, I was the one deemed small enough to crawl under the slightly raised platform to handle that task. I relished that distinction.)
I worked on the other plays as well: The Star-Spangled Girl as the Prop Manager, and finally I had my chance to be on stage as an extra in Grease. I was a pink lady and other various extras throughout the play. My favorite part was at the opening of the second act where I was one of the many people getting ready for the big dance. During the rehearsals, Mr. Collins let us do our own thing to see what would come out of it. For my part, I started stuffing my bra with tissues, making me much more endowed than God had in mind. He watched me, started busting out laughing and then told me to keep that bit, no matter what. Later in the dance scene, when some girl stole my date, I reached into my bra, pulled out a tissue and started wailing as I ran off stage. I got more laughs out of that little gesture. That made me happy.
In 1987, I turned 16. My friend Jennifer threw a huge surprise party for me and all our friends. It was wonderful, not to mention really crowded… I felt so good that night. My hair looked good and no pimples the size of Ireland. I was wearing my oversized white button down, my beige pants that were rolled tightly against my legs, my slip-on tennis shoes and my really cool Swatch Watch. As a matter of fact, it was so cool that Jennifer asked to see it to show it to someone else. Then Danny said that it was a warm party night and everyone should take off their shoes. Then Ken asked me to go out to the back yard with him to say hi to those out there. As soon as I hit the back yard, the next think I knew two guys had me up and over the side of the pool. I’d say that it bothered me, but that would be lying. I used that time to splash everyone else. My only problem came when I realized I was wearing a white shirt… Ummm, white and water do not a good combination make. Laughs all around, along with a towel and a new set of Jennifer’s clothes and the party was a lot of fun.
It was actually a great start to that fun summer and the joys of being allowed (finally) to drive.