Sunday, October 30, 2011

Seventh Grade


A couple of weeks ago something made me think of a girl called Nancy that I "liked" in seventh grade.

I don't have the slightest idea what did it.

I know the last time I thought of her before that. It was back in January 2010. That was the first time in ages. It happened because I needed a name for the Summer of 69 story. At least I can explain what made me think of her then. So let's go there first.

The name of the main girl in the story, Terri, came from "one soft infested summer me and Terry became friends". Hiding on the backstreets. We'd swear forever friends. Like that. And then it wouldn't last. Like that too. Because that's how it is.

I decided her real name could be Therese (pronounced te-RAZE), and that made me think of a Therese who "liked" me in eighth grade. This is how the mind jumps from one thing to another.

Oh Therese. I am sorry. She liked me, and I didn't feel it. This is the oldest story in humanity, isn't it? That unequal feeling. It's so awkward. But when you feel it, you should say something, and hope the other person at least is kind.

The rare thing is when two people do both like each other. It didn't happen here. Only the very young are surprised.

Therese made me a cookie or something, like Terri made the cake in the story, only I was young and stupid and I didn't tell her it was great. No matter what I felt, didn't I realize that it was great for anyone to do that for me? I realized that truth eventually, but not in time. It was only eighth grade. Not the last age when I was an idiot, but maybe the first. I suppose she got over it. I still wish I'd said something nice to her.

When I needed another girl for the last chapter, I went back to school again, and I found Nancy. I hope she seemed different in the story.

We were really the same age, in the same grade. But she was much younger than high school when I was paying attention to her, so the memory helped me write her younger than Terri for the story.

"Blond hair, bangs, cute like a kid is cute." I forgot that I actually wrote it out. That is exactly the picture I have in my mind of Nancy. That's how she looked in seventh grade. How old were we? Twelve? She was the first girl who made any impression on me.

I picture her sitting one row behind and one chair over. I think that was right. If I glanced over my shoulder, there she was. We must not have been seated alphabetically that year, because I'm a B and she was an R, and we were that close. It was probably size place. I was short.

The usual Catholic school uniforms. She wore a white blouse of some thin-looking material, with a dark blue wool jumper, with the SCS initials in a shield on it, over her heart. Bare knees, and white socks and the approved kind of shoes. I wore a white shirt, dark blue tie with SCS in a shield, and dark blue pants.

I don't remember how much I actually spoke with Nancy. We did some group work in those older grades, so I think I did manage to do a few projects in the same group with her. I must have said a few words.

I knew where she lived. It was just a few blocks from me.

I don't remember how I knew. Maybe we just mentioned it. Or maybe it was by accident.

I was a big bicycle rider in those days. I went all over town. I went three miles from home. I knew all the streets, and I drew maps of them to see the connections.

I know that I rode past her house and saw her playing or doing something out front. Was that how I knew where she lived? Or did I already know, and was that was the reason I rode by on that short street? I guess I rode down that street whenever I was going in that direction, just in case.

This doesn't mean I stopped and said anything to her. I waved at her. That was pretty far out. What do you expect?

I knew boys who collected comic books. I knew boys who liked to play with model trains and building sets. See, I knew what my friends and I could do together. I had no idea what Nancy and I might both want to do. With that impenetrable obstacle of ignorance, I missed the chance to just simply talk to her for a couple of minutes and find out.

Well, that was January 2010, and that was all. That's almost two years ago now.

Like I said, I don't know what happened a couple of weeks ago. An idle thought that connected to another, and there you go. Something did it.

And then the trouble started.

Why? Why do I do things I do?

Here is what I did. I decided it would be interesting if I could find her online, just to see what became of her. Was she well? Had she done anything interesting with herself? It would be satisfying to see that she had. I wanted that. I wanted her to have had some kind of a nice life.

Obviously her last name could have changed by marriage decades ago, but if she wanted to be found, she would have put her old name on the web, and her schools and her home town. So I tried.

I tried her name and the name of our school. No hits there.

I did find a page for our school. There were a few other familiar names. They took attendance at SCS by calling out names every day, so after a few years the names were burned in. Not that I can recite them, but if you said a name now I could probably tell you accurately whether it was a kid in my year. I think one guy I saw on the website was a friend of mine for a while. I haven't thought of him in years either.

Then I was starting to wonder about what high school she might have gone to. Many kids went to the town's public high school, and there were only a couple of Catholic high schools near enough to have bus service. That narrows it down. She must have gone to one of those. I tried her name and the town high school and struck out.

What I tried next was her name and the name of our town.


Not on her name, exactly, but on her last name and her address. It was on a page for a real estate agency. They were showing recent sale prices of houses in town.

Her street was only two blocks long, and the house was on the inside of a curve in it. The little Google map on the page showed the house right where I remembered it. This was the house she lived in. I knew where it was.

Luckily, the database's idea of a recent sale went back twenty years. The house was sold in 1992 by a man and woman with Nancy's last name. Her parents sold the house— it had to be.

There was even a link on the sellers' names, to another web site for people searching.

There they were. They live in Toms River now. Of course. I'd keep that nugget of information to myself, except that I am secure in the knowledge that they don't stand out among the hundred thousand other retirees who live in Toms River. My parents lived there for a while too.

Their ages are given. Mid eighties. That's her parents. No doubt about it. The right generation and the right place to move to.

And they list some family and friends, also with ages. (What is this with the ages?)

Anyway. There are two women with different last names. Neither was named Nancy, but they were the right ages to be slightly younger siblings. That's pretty much the only reason they'd be family and friends to eighty year olds, right? Did Nancy have younger sisters? Beats me. I don't remember. My memory of her in the front yard: were there younger blond girls there with her? I think so. Or I am filling it in?

But neither one was named Nancy.

The absence gave me a chill. A bad feeling. My heart sank.

Now, I'd like to think it means she did something cool. Like she's the black sheep. She did something so wonderfully outrageous that her nice parents disowned her. She became a communist, or a performance artist, or she married a divorced man. She joined the circus.

No, I don't believe it.

Let's get real. I know why she's not listed.

I'm sure I wasn't going to contact her anyway. But it looks like that is not a choice I can make.

I wonder how long ago it was. A high school car crash? It would have been in the local paper, but I'd moved to another town in another county. I wouldn't have seen it.

Maybe she had a nice life. Maybe she found somebody she loved who loved her, and it was good. That's what I want.

Maybe she had kids. If she started earlier than I did, there could easily be a granddaughter by now, a granddaughter with blond bangs, sitting in a seventh grade classroom, cute like a kid is cute.

I have to face the fact that I'm never going to know.

But that's the ending I want to write.


1 comment:

  1. "The moon hangs over the empty sea;
    where in all the wide world is she?"

    (Vivian will never see this, but those lines relate to her)