I have this belief that we are always every age we’ve ever been. We are who we are now, but we are also all the various forms we’ve taken in life – the shy one, the one who tackled the boys and kissed them, the one who didn’t comb her hair, the fibber, and so on. To uncover another layer of someone is a privilege and a great act of intimacy. I think this is why it’s such an honor to hear the stories of who you were in high school.
I’ve been trying to catch up on my email the past few days (if I owe you, be patient, I’m trying my best), and I noticed a trend. Just in this most recent batch, three different people have referred to me as “kid” or “kiddo.” This is a name I’m given quite a lot, and it reminds me how much I’m still the kid I was in high school. Approachable? Yes. That’s a good thing. But I think I’m comfortable to people in that kind of cute, kind of pesky, kid sister way. People like to punch me in the arm, talk to me with their hand cupping the top of my head, tell me about the other girls they like as if it’s not hurting my feelings.
Here’s a quick story about a homecoming dance, and then I’ll move on from high school. My junior year, I had a huge crush on someone from my crew team. I can’t remember if he rowed lightweights or if he was their coxswain, but he was shy and geeky and had Dave Eggers-like hair and was the kind of nice boy you’d want to introduce to your grandparents. I waited and waited to see if he’d ask me to the dance, and I made myself prominent in embarrassing ways, just kind of always being around and available so I could look surprised when he finally asked me.
In the meantime, a boy from my AP English class asked me to the dance, and not wanting to hurt his feelings, I said yes. Now, he probably has his own sad story to tell, but for simplicity’s sake, he’ll be the villain in this story, the one who got in the way.
Every day at crew practice, I just wanted to be near the Eggers boy. My voice did weird things when I was around him, and I wanted to touch him so badly I was always on the verge of crying. So one day, just needing to be near him, I convinced him to ask a friend of mine to the dance. He said, “Her? Really? She likes me?” And I said, “Yes, and we can all go to the dance together, all four of us.” And on the night of the dance, he drove his mother’s van to my house, and we took pictures together in the living room, and then I sat in the back seat with the wrong boy, listening to the one I liked talk to my friend so nice and shy. And that was almost enough, just to be near him and not having him.
So that’s my high school profile as I remember it: the kid sister, the shoulder to lean on, the door opener, the one who can introduce you to the pretty girls and then step aside.
I’ll get to your comments this week, but first, this is from Carolyn – it’s one of those games where you have to tag 5 others. So if any of you want to consider yourselves tagged, just post a link to your blog in the comments section so folks can find your answers.
Okay, here is the question: What are 5 things about yourself that are not commonly known?
1. My first crush was on Richard Nixon, the day he announced his resignation. I think I was 5, and I had no idea who he was but loved him because he looked ashamed and defiant and I found those to be mesmerizing characteristics. I think most characters I write about have that quality – beaten down but not ready to lie on their backs and say it’s over.
2. When I was a sexual abuse counselor, a very famous person was doing a movie in town, and 3 different women on the movie set (each one came to me separately) claimed he’d raped them. None wanted to press charges so it’s my secret to keep.
3. One game I loved as a child was to sit on my open windowsill, close my eyes and tip back and forth to see if I’d fall out.
4. I used to date Sarah Vaughan‘s stepson.
5. I’m going to finish revising my novel this month, and it’s going to be very very good. I’ve been reading it out loud as I go, and it kind of takes my breath away.
Thanks to those of you who answered my Question of the Week: Betsy, who was unblossomed and uncool but had cool friends; Aimee who was a majorette and Skipper to her friend Barbie; Robin, who ironed her hair and heard shouts of “John and Yoko!” as she walked to school stoned; Kathy, who worked in the school library; Aurelio, who was stick-thin and worked at the concession stand during football games; Amy, the drama geek, who loved the spotlight; Lance, who had torrid flings with grownups; Carolyn, the surfer-chick art student, who was not part of any clique; Gail, who hitchhiked to the beach during school; Robert, the drama geek, who was determined to get a scholarship to the best college; Keith, who refused to read any assigned books because he didn’t like being told what to do; Grant, who never went to a dance or a game and whose name was misspelled in the yearbook; Mary, whose teenage girls now look through her old yearbooks; Amy, who wore all black and listened to The Smiths; Sarah, who was fixated with death and scribbled poetry into a spiral notebook; Terry, who needs to send me a photo of his days as the breakdancing white boy; Julie, who wrote poetry in the life guard stands; Lori, the French-speaking cheerleader who ran track; Tish, the skinny girl with weird boots who partied with strangers on Errol Flynn’s burned-out estate; Joe, who could fit into any group but was close to no one; Ellen, who would to skip school to go into The City so she could visit art museums and see Monty Python, Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers; Juliet, who tried on such looks as gum-snapping tart, preppy, drama geek and beatnik; Lauren, who has known the highs and lows of popularity; Teresa, who freed the lab animals before Biology class and smoked with the Spanish Cobras; Mikel K, who was even skinnier than Aurelio; Kasper, whose school nurse wanted to put him on a milk diet because he was even skinnier than Mikel K; and J, who was and is tall, skinny, and kind of geekish. What great stories – thank you! And thank you to the lovely and fascinating Marcy Dermansky, who allowed me to post all of those great high school photos!
Tomorrow: Mark Hughes is here to tell us about a writer’s service called Writer’s Relief. If you know anything about the service, good or bad, I hope you’ll chime in with your opinions.
TerryNovember 3, 2006
My 5 Things:
5 Things About Terry
Lance ReynaldNovember 3, 2006
for starters, that intro ripped my heart out. I adore you and I so woulda stepped up and asked you to the dance. But alas, my prom date got lucky with someone else and I was off somewhere else doing something way too…..not even decent enough to mention. And yes, sometimes just sitting in the back of the van watching the object of your affection is more than enough.
5 things, my writing tends to reveal 500 things…so, I’ll pass on the tagging this time 🙂
All my best wrapping that novel; again I think we are currently in the same place. I’ve promised myself by the end of the year and it’s killing me, but in the best way. It’s almost alive on it’s own, ready to go live without me; and that is a pretty good feeling.
This has to be one of your best wraps yet! Very happy to be here and Proud to know you.
amyNovember 3, 2006
Iâ€™m going to finish revising my novel this month, and itâ€™s going to be very very good. Iâ€™ve been reading it out loud as I go, and it kind of takes my breath away.
That’s a wonderful feeling! And it makes me happy to know that you are experiencing it, even if I’m not quite there today.
LaurenBaratz-LogstedNovember 3, 2006
I can’t wait to read this novel – totally stoked!
AnnelieseNovember 3, 2006
“…and itâ€™s going to be very very good. Iâ€™ve been reading it out loud as I go, and it kind of takes my breath away.”
How cool that you feel like that?! I’m very happy for you that you get to enjoy such a feeling. 🙂
My Top Five.
JimNovember 3, 2006
How wonderful about your novel, Sue. I so want to read it!
And I’ll save my 5 secrets for now, maybe tell them here in another week or two.
mikel k poetNovember 3, 2006
What are your feelings on a rapist being allowed to move forward in such a manner, because he is powerful?
Susan HendersonNovember 3, 2006
Mikel K – My counselor oath and the agency I worked at were both very clear about what to report and when. And the counselor is useless if she doesn’t uphold the promise of confidentiality. So in this particular case, there’s nothing to do. I can’t harm someone’s reputation with hearsay, and I can’t force women to go through the hell of a rape trial for any of my own convictions.
But you asked how I feel, and that’s a complicated answer. The most devastating thing a sexual abuse counselor has to learn is how to have compassion and understanding for perpetrators. Because the rage and shame and powerlessness a victim feels is often what leads them to act in the same way. For me, love is love and shame is shame; and whether I’m counseling a six year old victim or his father who harmed him, that’s the model I work from. And I say this with all respect for victims and the hate they may feel for their abusers. I understand that, too. But my job when I was a counselor was to bring about healing, and I worked with cutters and multiple personalities and prostitutes and some very complicated people, and I wouldn’t judge any one of them.
AnnelieseNovember 3, 2006
I had to make my Top 5 in my blog Friends Only because of the Secret! I moved it to MySpace where you can read it as we’re friends there. 🙂 Hope you get a laugh.
Shelley MarlowNovember 3, 2006
Sorry to join the conversation so late…mercury is retrograde until nov. 17th. and I was posting photographs from halloween all week.
My parents always encouraged me as an artist. I made a realistic hand, too, that I still have. I was a serious artist at a young age.
Before getting to h.s. I heard rumors of girls beating up girls if you went into the wrong bathroom or hallway.
At 12,my cousin took me to her college classes where I was turned onto French Existentialism. I read Sartre, Beckett and Camus then. I made interesting art then, like an ink drawing of a hill made of insects with a tree made of hands and arms. Or a watercolor of the art room but with bars on the windows which we not there,but I was making a statement about freedom.
I had a very hard year at 13 when I barely spoke at all. A painful year.
My english teacher, Sylvie brought me from Existentialism to Humanistic Existentialism, like Herman Hesse,Rilke, which helped me out of my French depression. Sylvie also encouraged me to learn how to write, saying language is power.
At 14, I had a crush on Richard, who looked like an angelic Michaelangelo’s David, to me. We became friends that would smoke pot, etc, before philosophy class or music class. Richard did well, but I couldn’t be stoned in class, so I stopped that. It feels strange to say Richard, now since Richard is now Rachel. I wore a purple velvet cape, in a nod to glam rockers like David Bowie, Lou Reed that year. On halloween, I would dress up like a male dandy with a stuffed sock in my pants and Richard would get in m to f drag. At 17, I took my girlfriend to the Opera and I wore a white tuxedo.That girlfriend slept around with boys and I found out and broke up with her. She said she would kill herself if I broke up with her. I didn’t beleive her, but she did take a bottle of some kind of pills the next week while her parents were on vacation somewhere else. I helped our mutual friend get her to a hospital. We had a nice circle of friends that were artists and musicians. I got to spend a few hours a day in art class. I think I could just go in whenever there was a seat available and continue working on whatever artwork I was into. I would go into a trance and draw distorted faces or watercolor other faces from my imagination. I wrote a poem about loving night time that was published in the local newspaper, the Medford Mercury.
Terry BainNovember 3, 2006
This is why (or at least one of the reasons why) you are so loved. All those who touch your life are blessed.
Carolyn Burns BassNovember 3, 2006
I am not a trained counselor, but for some reason people see me as a safe haven for their secrets. I have so many people’s secrets in my vault it scares me sometimes. There are probably other secrets about victims and perpetrators that squeeze your heart as much as the famous person, but still… that’s a hard scenario.
Thanks for playing tag, Susan. It’s been a kick learning these little known tidbits about my webpals. My life seems so ordinary next to some of the kids here. A direct link to my five is at: Ovations.
Sarah RoundellNovember 3, 2006
What a wonderful week on LitPark. Thank you Susan, Marcy, and all who posted this week. It’s lovely to get a glimpse in to the past lives of such an amazingly cool group of people and Susan, you hit the nail right on the head when you said that we carry the person we were back then with us today. If not for who I was in highschool and the things I went through back then I know I wouldn’t feel complete as a person today.
n.l. belardesNovember 3, 2006
I’ll count this as my #1-5 stories (breaking rules, I know… ) On the rape topic:
I once had a college history student who was hanging with the wrong guy in class. He was an obvious player, and a moron, and she expressed a desire to learn. So I told her if she wanted to learn, to go study with the more engaging students.
She disappeared for a while until a week or so later I saw her walking across campus.
Of course I was a jerk as usual and said something of the sort, “Why the hell aren’t you coming to class?”
To which she broke down and cried and explained that the very night I recommended she not hang out with the playa playa to study, that he raped her.
I begged her to go see the campus police.
She refused and asked me not to even though she had evidence.
So I went to the campus police. If there was an issue, they could explore for further evidence. I think that’s my responsibility: to tip the authorities.
So, yes, I would lose my job as a counselor because I would never sit idle (as long as I knew there was some form of evidence).
Well the college kicked that punk out of school.
The girl. She dropped out and disappeared.
Although a lot of students drop out and disappear, I’ll never know why she dropped out… it was always sad to lose students to anything: trauma, poor motivation, etc… As a professor you want them all to succeed, just like we want ourselves to…
MOMNovember 3, 2006
I am also like every age I have ever been, but I always feel like I’m 1 or 2 decades behind. I’m not sure I want to catch up quite yet. MOM
Carolyn Burns BassNovember 4, 2006
Susan, I love your Mom. I think if mine were still alive, she would comment in my blog too. Happy weekending.
Susan HendersonNovember 4, 2006
Carolyn – Thanks! My mom’s my favorite.
I enjoyed reading your quiz answers. Thanks for tagging me.
Mom – I think we both have large doses of child-at-heart.
n.l. – I’m glad to see that not everyone behaves like counselors. The world needs its activists and protectors and irate friends to help create a balance.
Sarah – I always smile when I read your comments.
Terry – You are something. I liked reading your quiz and knowing about Buddy.
Shelley – Those are fascinating stories, and I’m kind of bowled over imagining a 12 year old reading all that Existentialism.
Anneliese – Incredible story you told on your MySpace page!
Jim – Yes, maybe next week.
Lauren – Thanks. I’m tired of diddling away at it and want to set it free.
Amy – I have to enjoy the bliss while it’s there because I know on other days I tear myself down.
Lance – Aw. Sweet.
Robin SlickNovember 4, 2006
I don’t know what I enjoyed more this week, Susan…your interviews, your personal stories (oh my god, the dance story is heart breaking and sounds so, so much like something I would have done)…or the comments of all of your readers, most of which seem like the basis for great novels themselves.
It’s so funny how when we’re younger we think everyone has the better life…everyone else is more well adjusted than we are…everyone else has the more “normal” family…and then as adults most of us are pretty thankful that we’re just moderately f*cked up compared to the rest of the world and if we’re lucky, we appreciate what we have instead of moaning about what we don’t have.
Am I making sense? Hahahahaha – too much coffee at 6:47 a.m. and I’m still on a high of being liberated from my family for two weeks. And we’re still on for that “Finish my novel by the end of this month” competition…just cross your fingers I don’t send you the final ms as…um…proof. (ha!)