I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this girl I went to high school with. I remember her name, what she looked like, the names of her parents, and everything she told me during that one semester we shared together in 1985. Out of all the students I met during my years of school, she is the one that sticks out the most and the one that once that class had ended; I never spoke to her again.
I had decided to take a class called Food Studies when I was in grade 10, or 15 years old. I thought it might be a good idea to learn to cook. My mom wasn’t going to cook for me forever (technically she would if she could), or, what I thought would be most likely, I’d be kicked out of the house for being a dumb ass.
First day of class was always my least favorite. This was the day you had to introduce yourself, starting with your full name. My given name, starting with a G was easy. My family name, started with an I, a dreaded vowel, and I could never say it immediately after saying my first name. I spit out my first name no problem but my family name, Isitt, just doesn’t want to escape the deepest recesses of my trachea. After what seemed like the entire class, and a couple of snickers from the guys who would eventually get cut from the football team that I would make (yay me), I took two deep breaths and managed to spit out my name. I could tell it would be a long year (this was the day before the famous reading incident, found here).
We had to break off into kitchen teams of 4, and I sat at my table as the two “strapping young men” were quickly taken by two “bubbly and giddy” girls.
“Come on, Geraint. You’re my partner for the term.” I looked up and the most beautiful girl I had ever seen was standing over me. And she used my proper name as well. A couple of the other guys tried to swoop in but she kindly told them she was already in a group of 4.
She took me by the hand and practically dragged me to our kitchen area where the two other girls were waiting. All three of them of them were at least a grade older than I was. The one who came to get me, was 19, and needed 4 credits to get her diploma. She had spent most of the last two years modeling in Japan, Europe, South America, and other places I hadn’t heard of at that time. She was back in school for a few months to get the credits she needed to get her diploma to get to university.
“My uncle stutters.” She told me as we searched through all the drawers in kitchen unit 5, our kitchen away from home for the next semester. “And people are assholes.” She put her arm around me. The top of my head barely registered above her breasts, such was the gulf in height between the two of us (I would have a growth spurt at about 16 and finally peaked at 1.77 meters). “Come on, let’s bake some muffins!”
She had an infectious laugh. And when she laughed, she laughed with her whole body. And the smile. I can still see it. That first one as she stood over me as I contemplated burying my head in my backpack and looking for an easier way to pronounce family name. It was the most honest thing I have ever seen. EVER. She knew. She was a certified grown-up in a class of children. She would tell me on that final day of class together that she had seen the most maturity in me compared to all the other students. I didn’t know it yet; but it was there.
I rarely saw any of my kitchen buddies in the hallways, but when I did, they would say hello, ask me how I was finding my other classes. They didn’t have to. Perhaps she had a hand in that too. She even came to see me perform in the school play, which was no small feat, and you can read about it here if you haven’t already.
For our final assignment, which was worth 25% of our grade, we opted for a Polynesian theme. She paid to get inflatable palm trees for the classroom from a party rental store. We had leis for everyone in the class (cue an endless array of clichéd jokes). We served a sweet Leilani punch as we sashayed through four courses. The girls were in grass skirts and coconut shell bras. I had to think of all the sports I knew just to remain “presentable” in public. I was in Bermuda shorts and a linen floral shirt with a shark-tooth necklace. She even brought in a surf board she had on a photo shoot in Hawaii for me to pose with.
By this time, I was a lot more confident, but would still shrink away if challenged. She was always there in class to defend me, should I need it. She was the one who told me I was funny. “When you manage to spit out what you’re saying,” she’d say while sticking out her tongue, “you’re pretty bright for a guy who doesn’t even want to be known by anyone.” I didn’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. I wanted to know her. “Laughter,” she told me, “will win and break many hearts. Sometimes my own.” She would pause like she had to re-adjust a pose for a photo shoot, “but you’ve got to let those dimples out of the bag you’re hiding them in.” When I laughed, I smiled. When I smiled, the dimples popped (allegedly).
So, we aced the final assignment and our kitchen group of 4 left with an A+ mark at the end of semester. I cried on the last day of that class, when she hugged for what would be the last time. It turns out I would never see her again. Not even to thank her. Although, if I know Suzanne like I think I know her, knew her, she knew just how thankful I was.