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11:52 a.m. - 2011-01-28
Never did get a tassel or sheepskin.

I have no idea why this just popped into my head but I realized I've been graduated from high school for 30 years now. I got out early, graduating the day after my 18th birthday. January graduation was a very, um, low-key ceremony where about 75 of my classmates and I were treated to a coffee and danish brunch in the teacher's lunchroom and then hustled out the school's front door with nothing but, "It's been swell. Buh-bye!" and a relieved smile from the principal. I know why he was smiling like that, frankly we were pains in the ass. Smart but not terribly ambitious. The truly motivated condensed entire years of coursework and graduated with the class ahead of us, even two if they could schedule it right. Whereas me and my compadres were simply too bored to stick around until June. Stacked up whatever requirements we'd needed to graduate and jammed through them in a single semester to get shed of school and out into the future. We'd had enough of farting around like we had for the previous three years- playing spades in the cafeteria, smoking out on the lawn, and rolling dice through endless games of backgammon for a penny a point. The bums of the Class of 81 ate their sweet rolls, gave each other amused shrugs and meaningless hugs and left.

Me? I got a ride home from my friend and fellow bum, Nancy, and let myself into the empty house. I packed up the little I was allowed to take with me and less than 24 hours later I was 2,000 miles west, my mother's parting words ringing in my ears, "You made your bed, now lie in it. And don't come crawling back to me when you screw it up."

Screw it up? That's debatable. Crawl back? Nope. Not even when I fled the ex-ex's place in the middle of the night with a black eye and blood leaking from one nostril. For six weeks I lived in my car rather than stay for one more minute with a man who beat me. But to my mother's house I did not go. Not from being stiff-necked or anything. Honestly? It never occurred to me to go home to my mother's. Wouldn't have even if she lived in the next town instead of two times zones thataway.

I did go back eventually. For eight looooong weeks in the summer of 1983. On my own terms though, with a carefully negotiated rental agreement, paying an outrageous amount of money for the privilege of sleeping on the floor of my sister's empty bedroom. (She, unlike me, had been allowed to take her bedroom furniture when she left.) Only floor space, not food. Good thing I had a job at a diner. And a friend in the fry cook who thought it was his job to feed me. Said I reminded him of his daughter back in Greece. I knew he said that for my pride, I seriously doubted this tiny (but muscle-y) swarthy man had a 6' tall daughter with lavender hair and a pierced nose.

Along with the mild wonder of realizing I've been a high school graduate for 30 years I'm thinking about kindness. Something Mary spoke of in her last entry and something that's cropped up in remembering things from Ago.

Pepe the fry cook certainly did me a huge. (I know, right? A Greek guy named 'Pepe'? A nickname obviously. He'd been tagged with it in the Navy during WWII when a commander assumed every dark-skinned guy with a thick accent was Mexican. Funny the weird stuff we remember. Can't tell you what I had for lunch yesterday, but I remember how a fry-cook I knew 28 years ago got his nickname.)

Nancy was kindness itself. Long before she started giving me rides in her ancient Dodge Dart, (Man, being car-less in the burbs sucks rocks, a friend with wheels is a friend indeed.) Nancy had befriended me back in 8th grade when I was a new kid. Sort of. I'd moved in and out of the district a few times over the years, but those fragile elementary school friendships hadn't carried over into the cutthroat social viper pit of jr high. Nancy didn't mind that I was tall and weird and badly dressed (as so many of my former 'friends' did and scorned me for it), she and I loved books and hung out in the library at lunchtime, swapping tips about cool stories and good writers. I always admired her nonchalance about being dubbed a 'weirdo' and wished I could get a handle on the same kind of self-respect she had. Nancy was okay with herself in a way I'd never encountered before. It fascinated me.

There was Drew, a friend from class in college who took me in when he found out I was living in my car. For sure Drew was a good guy, but he and I struck more of a business arrangement as roommates. He'd recently come out to his fundamentalist Baptist parents who had so far refused to accept their son was gay. So when I moved into Drew's one-bedroom apartment I played beard and Drew's parents were so happy I was a girl they could forgive the idea that he and I were 'living in sin'. I felt kind of bad for duping his folks like that, but Drew assured me that down deep they knew the truth, our shacking up was just a way for them to save face in front of their church and pretend to themselves for a while longer. Drew died of AIDS a couple years later and his parents were still lying. Told everyone he'd had leukemia. Makes you wonder about the worth of a religion that insists burying your only son under a pile of lies is better than openly loving him as he truly was and grieving for him honestly.

Anyhoodle, enough walking down Memory Lane for a while. I'm glad I was able to tell you about my friends. Pepe is probably long retired or has even gone onto that short-order heaven in the sky. But you know what? Think I'll go see if I can track down Nancy on Facebook.


It's been swell. Buh-bye! ~LA

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