I'm on Facebook and a name I recognize comes up asking for a "friend request." Usually I love these invitations: they're great.

The only ones that make me panic are ones sent by people I knew, sort of, from my youth.

So when I see that there's a name I once knew, I sink into down into my office chair and feel awkward, weird, sweaty, and fourteen years old. It's not a name I actually remember because there's another name tacked onto the end. It's always the photograph that gets me in these kinds of invitations. She'll have pictures of herself standing next to her dog or her kids or her man or her woman. Sometimes she's chipper and happy; sometimes she looks like she wants to hang herself. Either way, I'm still panicking.

I recognize the face, the jawline, the shape of the eyes, and the tilt of the head. The memory is buried deep but although I have to dig for it, it comes to the surface fast: long roots under dry soil.

I have dreamt about this woman, but not in a good way.

She has haunted me since I knew her in high school. In those days she had hair glossy as Saran Wrap. She had great skin, perfect teeth, tweezed eyebrows and small, delicately pierced ears. She carried her books in one arm, casual, against her hip and walked like a runway model down the fluorescent-lit school hallways.

Why does she want to be my friend now?

And why haven't I been able to get over the fact that I wasn't invited to her pool party at the start of our senior year?

I remember details from my youth the way avalanche victims remember the distant sound of a cracking branch. I can tell you where I sat in almost every classroom and I could describe to you the outfit my English teacher wore on the first day of 10h grade.

What I really remember from high school is the constant, unrelenting, enslaved  competition.

The electrically charged hyper-awareness of what other people were doing, were saying, were wearing, and were thinking was the current running through those days. Before cellphones and texting, adolescence was still an uninsulated live wire. You could read people's thoughts like a ticker tape across their foreheads.

You knew who was thinking, "Please don't let the teacher call on me today." You knew who was thinking "If I don't get my period by tonight, I'm going to kill myself."  You knew which boys were going to the bathroom to masturbate and you knew which girls were sneaking out of class to call older guys.

There was no need for a crystal ball because we lived in a fish bowl. In my high school, built in the late '40s, we moved through the hallways like fish in a huge glass aquarium. The windows were floor to ceiling, braced by faux-modern suburban architecture that didn't imagine fingerprints, nose prints, forehead prints, back-of-the-head-oily-hair prints, and every other kind of imprint the fluid, unformed soul of a teenager could leave.

We floated down those corridors in bright colors, angelfish and clownfish, rabbitfish and sharks, desperate to be caught, always searching for the bait, grateful for the hook, if only to be pulled up out of ourselves.

What it all comes to is this: I stare at a screen where a perfectly nice woman is making a perfectly friendly gesture.

I hit "Delete."

But nothing goes away.




crossposted with The Chronicle of Higher Education

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