I am a woman of a certain age. I remember someone at a high school reunion almost twenty years ago saying “We are in the last third of our lives. We need to make the most of it.” Mortality looms, even more so with this condition. Time is becoming more finite. It’s not morbid or depressed. It just is. If you have read me, you know that I have lost old lovers and husbands in the past. Dead friends are no longer as surprising.
This month I have learned of two people from my youth that have died. Somehow, these have hit me.
This weekend, I saw that HV had died. I hadn’t really known him in high school. We mixed in different circles. He was a year older. He wasn’t quite fat but rather pudgy, the type of guy, I call vanilla pudding, bland features swallowed in his face, outstanding only in his vanilla-ness.
I graduated college and ran into TM, definitely not my set, also a year older. He was a football player. I was a nerdy hippy type. TM asked me out. Fourth of July 1977 was on the horizon. There were going to be a group from high school going to Montauk for the weekend. Montauk at that time was still definitely, the un-Hamptons. We were Levittown, still gritty and blue-collar middle-class. HV was a charter boat captain and he had a house there which was to be the base for the weekend. T and I drove out early in the morning. People were already there. It was a crowd from high school that had never been my friends – football players and cheerleaders. Since I had left high school and Levittown, I had blossomed. Well, everyone does, don’t they? You leave behind high school, teenage hormones and expectations. I had shed my glasses and emerged from my chrysalis. They saw me as a new thing. I grew up in the era in Levittown where everyone drank. It was a fact of life. You went over someone’s parent’s house and you were given a drink. My mother’s boss, when I was 15, asked me what I wanted to drink and said, “And don’t give me any of this Coca Cola shit.” Vodka stingers! Even given that background and mindset, I had no interest in drinking before the early afternoon. We walked in and were immediately handed beers. I realized that the weekend was going to be longer than I thought. At that age, I was very good at holding onto a drink and/or pouring it out. I was still fascinated and slightly intimidated by the former cheerleaders. I remember Crosby, Stills and Nash on what appeared to be a continuous loop on the stereo. In those days, there were record players and probably everyone was too drunk to change the record. I hated “Dark Star”.
H had also undergone a metamorphosis. He was tan, lean, bleach blond long hair, deep, startling green eyes, gorgeous and charming. I was stunned, tongue tied. His girlfriend was one of the cheerleaders and so friendly to me. At some point during the now evening, H approached T and suggested that we leave and go to the boat. People were bleary and passing out. The air was thick with cigarette smoke. Levittown and jocks during that era was all alcohol and no weed. We went to the boat. Remember the excitement and newness of being “adult” couples? We drank more and then T and I retired to a berth. Hormones, alcohol, excitement. What can I say except to the inevitable outcome? I hadn’t the experience I was to later acquire, starting with T, to understand that sex with football players is a non-starter. T, especially T drunk, had all the technique of a stray, horny dog. My outstanding memory of the evening was looking through the portal and seeing the 4th fireworks. I said something about it and T thought I was seeing fireworks because of him. I was too amazed to rid him of that notion. He then declared that he was looking for three things in a woman – she had to be pretty, good in bed and know how to cook. H had already checked two of the boxes but didn’t know if I cooked. We all passed out. The beer started again at dawn. I never ran into H again but still see his dark green eyes, deeply tanned legs and remember his kindness.
T and I continued for the summer. It was the Son of Sam summer. We were in a NYC suburb. T, big jock that he had been, was deathly afraid of spiders. So, that combined with the fear of sitting in a car, led to me being practically thrown out of the car with the motor running. Romance was not in the air. Mercifully, I never cooked for T.
The ramifications for the weekend did not end there. I had a high school boyfriend who I have always loved and adored. He was an artist. He had moved to California. We stayed in touch in a distant way. A few years after the Montauk party, B came for a visit from CA. The first thing he said after we walked out of my parents was “What’s this I hear about you sleeping with H on his boat in Montauk?” “I slept on his boat but not with him. I was there with T.” “T, even worse!” The world is small. B was working temp at a factory in CA as was one of H’s brothers. They got to talking…. And I guess it was a better party than I thought. B and I got straight after some difficult awkward moments. We are still friendly to this day.
The story doesn’t end there. There was a reunion of 70’s classes from my school in early 2001. An H brother was there. He had a few brothers. Reunion, Levittown, alcohol. Someone introduces me to the brother. I go off on him. “And you, you had the nerve to tell B I slept with H! How dare you! It wasn’t true and even if it was how f’ing dare you!” Uh, wrong brother? Levittown was like that back when we were growing up, huge families where all the kids looked the same. And we held and hold onto those associations.
The second death preceded the first death and is a different story. A family moved in diagonally from our backyard. There were two girls, M and C, M, a year older and C, a year younger. The elder was fragile, tiny and stooped as she had had polio. The younger suffered ridiculously bad acne. High school was almost 2 miles away. We were just under the bussing line. I used to walk home sometimes with M. She was terribly slow. Children and teenagers are cruel. As I mentioned, I was in the nerdy, hippie set. I was bullied which made my later acceptance by T and H odd. However, much I was bullied, it was worse for C and M. I have always felt it important to be kind. It’s one of the adjectives most used to describe me in recent years. It’s been part of my life. Being “other” offers choices. You can either reject or embrace the world. I go for the positive. As with younger siblings of odder elders, C tried to distance herself from M as did my brother. It didn’t really work. However, she was stronger and bigger so superficially, at least, she was better able to stand up for herself.
It is said, revenge is a dish best eaten cold. C went on to work for unemployment. It appeared that all those years of bullying and childish spitefulness had taken a toll on her. She was now in a position to fight back. Unemployment is difficult in the best of circumstances. C certainly got her own back in that position. Nasty and unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe it. I remember once telling her but I was nice to you! I moved out of the neighborhood and stayed employed. They passed from my existence.
Then I saw a notification on my high school FB page from a former childhood neighbor that C had passed away. Sad. But. People who hadn’t known her expressed sympathy and condolences. Fine. I don’t understand that but it’s the intent. The guy who posted was also her age; she lived directly behind him and he was also distinctly odd and bullied. I have no idea of the depth of their relationship. What did amaze me was the comments of the people who had known her. One likened her to a “shy kitten” yet despite this I remember him being one of her tormentors. The family had a name that was similar to a brand commercial. Some people remembered calling this out to harass the sisters. Most of us grow up. What disturbed me was that these people expressed no regret only an “I remember doing that to them.” Now, written in my yearbook as well as in later years, I would run into people and they would express regret or that they wished they had known me better or they went along with the crowd. I was horrified that there was none of that for C. So, how much has really changed for some people since high school? Are we stuck in a high school/childhood loop? How and why do some of us change? I like to think that I have but maybe not? The childhood neighbor wants to friend me on FB but I have no interest. Yet, I am close on line with childhood people that I had issues with in high school. I remember working on my 10th reunion and a mean girl was on the committee and she told me I was no longer weird. I told her I was the same as I ever was. I believe I am except I had contact lenses, a good hair cut and an enviable job. I always told people after high school that perception changed just as long as you were well-groomed.
Two passings. Two different lives. Carpe Diem. What will be said after I’m gone? Will I be remembered as the Montauk girl? High school nerd? Or the woman who can’t really walk, the disabled? Or the woman I see myself as?