Friday, December 14, 2007
WRITTEN WORD 44 - Debating & Writing III
I and Mr. Abbey, our coach, and Dmitri, my debate partner, left the self-contained boarding school campus long before sunrise and headed off on salted New Hampshire state highways and snow-covered mountain roads in Mr. Abbey's new Ford – the new 1951 model! – so up to date it had a middle headlight that turned when you turned the steering wheel.
We stopped for breakfast at a diner. We took a booth. The snow outside had drifted up to the frosted-covered, chrome-edged windows. I ordered a hot dog – this was freedom!
Waiting for our order, Dmitri and Mr. Abbey were talking and I was looking towards the counter, admiring a soft, sweet-faced, tousle-haired local girl who was sipping something through a straw. Over a fluffy sweater she was wearing a silk jacket with a dragon on the back – clearly from a local boyfriend drafted into the war in Korea.
I am feeling free and I am admiring this sweet local girl in the diner. This is the year I have been bringing back to the school all those plastic and wood and brass trophies, each topped by brass woman, naked though without nipples, who holds a laurel wreath high above her head – these trophies towering over the minor second and third place trophies for ball games that were – before I came along – all that could be found in the school trophy case.
Eating my hotdog, drinking coffee, thinking of the debate tournament ahead, feeling I had climbed high. And over at the pinball machine there is a big local guy my age in a red-checkered ear-flap hat and army surplus field coat. He is looking toward our booth – as if he knows us.
He does. It is Harold. He's coming over. Harold, last seen wearing a necktie and school blazer when he'd been in our 4th form class. Harold.
I'd known he was from a New Hampshire town. Most boys in the school were from more advanced states. And he had disappeared, not come back for 5th form – had been sucked back into this wind-swept landscape.
Harold had been my assigned roommate in Niles House in the worst time. This had been before I learned I could be seen as smart. We had started to become friends, but when the popular boys on the floor poured into our room to beat me, he'd stepped aside and watched, then egged them on. And then – worse than the beatings – he'd moved out on me because I was so unpopular. Leaving me the only boy in the school without a roommate.
In the diner I see Harold walking over from the pinball machine. He has his hand out tentatively, shyly, smiling at us – friendly. Supplication.
In 4th form he'd never been a shy outsider like me. But this time Harold is so clearly not from our prep school, but rather from the landscape outside it.
Harold – so easy to dismiss now in the diner, as easy as it had been to dismiss me before I was smart,
Before girls liked me,
Before I was a reader and a writer and a champion debater who traveled.
Harold hardly suitable material for the life I would lead and the books I would write about it.