Saturday, January 14, 2017

Where are you now?

Back in the mid-1990s, I was sitting in the back row of my English class, in perhaps the most un-disadvantaged non-private school in the state. A school with a catchment so that not just anyone could send their children there. Where the wealthy (but egalitarian) and upwardly-mobile bought expensive houses to send their children to an elite public school subsidised by the less-well-off.

But, being a public school, there were no fees, and anyone who lived in the catchment could send their children there. Because there were plenty of rental properties, and as-yet un-gentrified pockets of houses, the students attending the school were more diverse than the equivalent pool in one of the nearby private schools. This diversity manifested as a general reluctance, on the part of the student body, to conform to the wishes of the school administration (whether it was uniform, attendance, homework, drugs, you name it).

Next to me, in the back row of class, was a girl I thought was pretty good. Sitting there, the English class passed me by. Perhaps I had reached an age where I could consider her sexy, instead of merely attractive. I never really knew what her thoughts were – she was very intelligent: maybe the smartest kid in class – and had a bit of a detached air that I liked and was a little intimidated by. Whether it was wishful thinking, or actual encouragement, I felt like we were a something.

This went on for some time, I can’t remember now. English class was a bit of a blur for me at that point. One day, I remember her laying her head in my lap and looking up at me – her eyes alive with intelligence, humour and irony.

But all things come to an end, and we drifted apart (from whatever it was that we were when un-apart). It occurred to me at some point that if I wanted to go to university, I might actually need to do some work (that, and I really liked English as a subject), or maybe she just got tired of my juvenile attempts at wit and insight.

By and by, school came to a close. I learnt some hard lessons about overindulgence in alcohol. Others were exploring other possibilities, maybe she was one of those. Either way, I didn’t have much to do with her after our brief and platonic affair.

When school finished, I saw her once or twice by chance, but essentially never spoke to her again. I’ve often wondered about her over the years. I always knew she was smarter than me, but felt that she had somewhat squandered her final school years. I also believed that for smart people there remained options – that she could make something of her life (whatever that meant to her). I now wonder what might have happened if I’d had a bit more guts – hadn’t been so perversely shy of self-exposure. Perhaps it would have only taken a nudge, at that point, to make all the difference – like the shoe that was lost for the want of a nail.

I never did find out what she was doing or how she felt about it.

This year is the 20th anniversary of my cohort finishing school and she was one of the people I particularly wanted to see – to hear about her tussles with life, and how she’d coped with some of the bitter lessons that adulthood brings. But I now know that conversation can never take place because she killed herself a few months ago and that door is closed.

All this time, she remained (I am sure) a friend of a friend of a friend. I could have contacted her, but never did. It probably would not have helped anyway to see this long-lost-forgotten person from school settled into some comfortable stereotype of middle-class suburbia.

I can only imagine, but not know, what feelings drove her to it. A rapid shutter-fire of thought-feelings flitted through me -
An emptiness of unknown, unappreciated and unrecorded days. Of drabness and aloneness (even in the presence of others), then
That my inaction could have led to this, then
The ridiculousness of that thought, then
What it must have felt like, standing there at that final moment, then
That such thoughts are but easy stereotypes, fettering the mind from the complexity of real life, then
There must have been some kind of moral miasma, long fermenting, to lead to such a strait, then
That despite the finality of death, her life must have contained many pleasures, then
Sadness that I never attempted connection to realise any such pleasures, then
A re-kindling of an echo of a crush on the now-dead, then
That the collective mind-image we, who knew her, hold, is now all that remains -- tethering her to the world. A tether that time and our own mortality will eventually sever.

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