Monday, June 29, 2009

the freshman

Driving to Tepeyac today (there's another post I need to write - Gettysburg trip, and information from the RE consultation), I was listening to the local pop music radio station (I'm a country fan really, but I find pop music gives me more energy, so every few months I switch to that for a while). It's supposed to be "fresh" music, but a lot of what they play, while enjoyable, is hits from when I was in high school. Not sure what's up with that. The Verve Pipe's song "The Freshman" came on. I think this song came out after my freshman year in high school, and I haven't heard it since college. For those who'd like to share my trip down memory lane, I found the video.

I sat in the parking lot (I was early, for once) and listened to the whole song before I went in, remembering. What this song so strongly evokes for me isn't my story - it's someone else's. As a freshman in high school my best girlfriend was my next-door neighbor, who was one grade ahead of me. She and her sisters had lived a very hard life already - the victims of sexual abuse by their stepfather. I had only an inkling then of the kind of deep and lasting harm that could do, but looking back at their lives over the years has made it clearer. My best friend (we'll call her S) had a huge crush on a guy in her group of friends (I knew him less well). He was kind of a cutie, athletic, a nice guy, and a darling of the whole gang, so there was a bit of competition for him.

Her crush had an inseparable sidekick. This guy was younger, and entering his freshman year as I was entering my sophomore year. Everybody called him "Frosh" - not only then but for all of high school - maybe because he was so little. My friend was tall, and this fellow was diminutive. He didn't share his cooler friend's easygoing temperament; he was kind of obnoxious. He was also really funny-looking, not in the sense that high schoolers think everyone is funny-looking but three pre-designated people, but really - he had some odd physical characteristics, like bizarrely tiny eyes and crazy hair. Anyway, Frosh had a crush on my friend - he would pine after her and stare at her and whine at her occasionally. Not attractive. She was uninterested in him and made fun of him. I remember this happening a lot that summer - as this song would periodically come on the radio, and we would laugh at "the freshman." Some months after the school year started, my friend confessed that she had begun secretly dating Frosh - already then for a few months. We were all bewildered by her judgment, but moreso by the fact that she had lied about it. She made a show of elaborately apologizing to another friend, and told this girl that she would never keep anything from her again. She pointedly did not say so to me. I said nothing. I decided that I simply wouldn't talk to her until she was ready to tell me she was sorry for keeping a secret (and my friendship was just as important to her as that of her other friend). It didn't happen. Though we had many of the same friends, in the blink of an eye I hadn't spoken to her in six months.

Ultimately I spent less and less time with our erstwhile mutual friends. I became a loner and spent little time with anybody, but most was spent with my own classmates. I took every advanced class at my high school, skipped ahead, took college classes in the summer, and set a school record on the PSATs. I was an uncool kid socially, but I was well on my way to getting out of our backwater town, getting a great education and being able to decide what kind of life I wanted - although I didn't appreciate it at the time. S had once been a B+/A- student. She had stopped studying in her junior year (in my sophomore year, before we stopped speaking) and failed every math test spring semester. Another friend and I stayed up late with her before the final to teach her all the material, and she pulled off a C+ - a testament to the fact that she was pretty bright after all. But she didn't turn things around after that. In fact, she failed her senior year of high school - forcing her to repeat the year with my class. We still weren't speaking, but by this time it was my fault - she had made overtures to repair the friendship, but I would have none of it. I was irritated and, after several years, saw nothing to repair. I'm not sure what I was thinking - I was holding a grudge for the sake of holding a grudge.

She had continued dating Frosh throughout. In my senior year (his junior year, her repeat senior year), she got pregnant. A mutual friend of S's and mine (who was still speaking to both of us) went ring-shopping with Frosh toward the end of spring semester. Everyone involved was very excited about the prospect of a wedding. I thought he was a disaster for her, but they might as well get married under the circumstances. Who knows what I thought - I was 17. I went off to college. She stayed in our sleepy town and had the baby. Maybe a year or two later, I looked back and realized what I had done. I couldn't necessarily have changed the trajectory of her life, but while she was my friend she was college-bound. After I stopped speaking to her, she took up with a worse and worse group of people. I might not have been able to help, but I never tried. I let someone's life be ruined as I watched, because I didn't care. So I tried to get back in touch with her. Mutual friends gave me some guesses at her email, but my messages went unanswered. Every year or two I tried again. She and Frosh would have been married for years, but he wouldn't know why we stopped speaking and presumably wouldn't get involved. She never responded, and I finally decided that it was her prerogative to decide to drop me, after all this time. She never got out of our town, or went to college. By now, I was in law school. I wouldn't have wanted to talk to me, either.

A year ago, my husband got a facebook account (I don't have one) and used a shot of the two of us as his picture. She friended him immediately, apparently thinking he was me (oddly). She gave him her number and, trepidatiously, I gave her a call. I then learned she had never married Frosh. I don't know whether he ever bought the ring. I did know that he had cheated on her repeatedly over the years, though she didn't mention that. Maybe she didn't know. However, she has three children with him (and none with anybody else). I don't understand how he could have cheated; I don't understand how that kid found one girlfriend. But apparently he did.

Her eldest was already nine. In fact, her younger sister (several years younger than I) had married his younger brother and was then expecting their second! When I talked to her last year, they were planning to get married as soon as his job transferred him back to her area. She sounded so excited, and said how much she loved him. I decided it was too long gone to ask why she trusted him to marry her after all this time, or to be faithful - or why she wanted him in the first place. I never had asked. I guess I'll never know. She did say she couldn't imagine raising her kids anywhere else than the town where we grew up. I thought that was touching. She was right; it wasn't all bad, although I don't remember it fondly. From the pictures, her kids look well cared-for, even though she has to do it all by herself. I can't imagine how hard her life is, or how many lies she's had to tell herself about this guy.

I haven't talked to her in a year. I should probably call her. I would guess they're still not married, and may never be. I imagine they probably won't have any more kids after the three, although she's not even thirty. For a long time, I thought hers was a ruined life. As I get older, I think it may not be that simple. There may be more good there than I see. And she might never have had any path in front of her that was much different from this one. I could never have imagined this story when I was a sophomore in high school - although I bet my parents would have called it pretty close to the mark.

But every time I hear that song, I remember Frosh, and my one-time best friend, and the lives they've lived since I was there.


  1. That's a sad and sweet story all at once. Brings back some memories of my own high school friends...don't keep in touch with anyone anymore, though my mom still gets updates and passes them on (I don't ask, but she tells anyway). I had a friend who pulled away from me as well, and took a downward turn in life. She still hasn't graduated college, and managed to hold onto a guy longer than a year. I tried to repair things with her, but she wasn't having it. Sometimes, people have to take their own path I guess...
    Oh, and that "Fresh FM" radio station? Yeah, I know that one. It SUCKS! Haha, hope you're not offended :).

  2. You know, it was not your fault that she went down that path. It would have happened regardless of what you had tried to do to intercept. Luckily you did not get sucked down into her path of life.

  3. It's interesting the paths our lives take. They're rarely what we'd imagine they'd be. Three kids. She's lucky in that respect, but three kids is a lot of work without help.

    I haven't heard the song in a few years. I used to listen to it driving into work. I love the tune, but the words are so sad.

  4. Such an interesting and sad story... High school is a weird thing -- old friends follow totally different paths, things you would never have guessed for them at the time. I've actually found that Facebook is both a blessing & a curse -- I've reconnected with tons of people from high school. It's been really interesting to see where they are now, although infertility makes it difficult to not feel somewhat left behind too.

    Anyway... just a tangent. Thanks for sharing this story...