Storyworth #3

What were your friends like in high school?

Just in case you’re wondering what happened to Storyworth #2, it was a rewrite of My Mother’s Earring in response to a question regarding the strangest thing that has ever happened to me.

You can access all my responses here.

And now for this week’s response regarding what my friends were like in high school.

Approx. Read Time: 7 minutes

–⋅ o ♥ o ⋅–

Not quite the ‘nerds’, not entirely the ‘outsiders’, and nowhere near the ‘in crowd’ – we were a rag-tag bunch of misfits who found not only a kinship in each other but also fierce loyalty. Behind the Science block was our spot, our place of refuge, the area where we found escape from the torment of other students who didn’t – or couldn’t – see us as a vital cog in the wheel that was our year level.

I guess on that note, we were the outsiders.

We would meet behind the Science block each morning and discuss what we’d done over the weekend, or what the day had in store. It’s where we’d enjoy our lunch. Sometimes we’d share our lunch. At least I remember sharing packets of chips, but sometimes we’d each buy a packet and a buttered bread roll so we could make ‘chip butties’. These were especially good made with crushed salt and vinegar chips. 

Behind the Science block is where we’d speculate about our latest assignments and what surprises our English teacher might have in store for us. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be more Shakespear because we hated that. That makes me laugh these days, but back then I struggled to comprehend stage direction. We’d talk about learning to drive a car, going to the movies, going roller skating, getting a part-time job, who we’d like to go to the school dance with and what we were going to wear. 

I was in primary school when I met Peter and when we crossed paths again in Year 11, although we’d not seen each other for five years, it was as if we’d never been apart. I remember his big sister and his parents and having dinner at their house once. I can’t remember their names, but I can still see their faces, and I can still see the amber glass panelling in their home that separated the living space from the dining room. It was bubbly and streaky at the same time and you could only see silhouettes through it.

Peter and I were really good friends and we stood up for each other – always no matter what. He took me on a date for my sixteenth birthday and as much as I wanted him to kiss me, equally, I didn’t want him to because I thought that would ruin our friendship. He didn’t kiss me, and that’s ok. Peter was shy, quiet and reserved, but not around me. He was funny and we’d always laugh and have a great time no matter what we were doing. 

Rodney was outwardly gay, something that was not as acceptable as it is today. But, more than forty years ago, Rodney didn’t care what other people thought. He lived with his mother and grandmother and even though he never spoke about his father, I assumed his parents were divorced. 

I would sometimes go over to Rodney’s place after school and my father would pick me up on his way home from work. During our last year of high school, we were walking to Rodney’s place after attending the school swimming carnival. It was March of 1980 and I remember it so clearly because suddenly it became difficult to walk. My feet were screaming at me and hurting so much that Rodney ended up carrying me, piggyback style. 

A few days later I was diagnosed with Ross River virus – a polyarthritis spread by mosquitoes endemic to where we lived. I can talk more about having Ross River virus in another story, but for now, I will never forget what Rodney did for me – carrying me to his home and making me comfortable and then carrying me out to the car when my father arrived.

Liza was my best friend. We looked alike, we were the same height, we had the same build, and we were often mistaken for each other, especially by the teachers. There were advantages to this and it was easy to get away with “No sir, it wasn’t me! You must be thinking of Liza/Clare” But we only did this a few times before the teachers woke up to what we were doing.

Liza lived with her mother and big sister. Liza’s father had passed away when she was little. I can’t remember how old she was when he died, but she was old enough to know what was going on and be deeply affected by the loss of her father. Conversely, she was bright and cheery, happy-go-lucky even, but I knew this was a false facade hiding her pain.

Others would come and go from our group and our coveted area behind the Science block – new kids who were still testing the waters and trying to find their place and occasionally others we were partnered with on joint projects. Rarely a teacher would walk past to see what we were doing, and once, only once, we were all sent to the vice-principal’s office because – if one of us (Rodney) was smoking, then all of us must have been smoking.

The office was empty when we got there so we snuck off to our next class and dodged that bullet. But teachers talk and although the vice-principal didn’t come looking for us, our Physical Education teacher heard about it and gave all of us a stern lecture and an extra assignment.

On our last day of Year 12, we all arrived for our final English exam and, when we finished and were allowed to leave the exam room, we patiently waited for each other behind the Science block. It felt weird to be sitting there in clothes other than our school uniforms and from there we walked into town – about a 30-minute walk. We laughed and danced all the way and even more so when we arrived at the mall – we were free from the shackles of education. None of us had plans to enter further studies, so we celebrated leaving our books behind by riding horses on a coin-operated kids’ ride. 

The horses were part of a little carousel, large enough to house four horses, yet small enough that we were too big to be on it. But that didn’t stop us. We put in coin after coin and rode those little horses around and around until we were giddy and heady with delight.

I stayed in touch with Liza for the next four or five years, right up until she got engaged and moved away. I laugh when I think about the night she and I had a pyjama party and decided to watch Jaws. We’d rented it on VHS from the local video store. We were both 20 years old, and the movie itself was eight, but neither of us had ever watched it and we thought it was time we saw for ourselves what all the fuss was about. Well, we screamed and proceeded to pretend to watch the movie from behind pillows and declared we’d never watch it again. I think I’ve watched it maybe once or twice since 1983.

I don’t know what happened to Rodney but, somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s a thread of detail related to him moving to the US to be with his father. As for Peter, I ran into him a few years later. He was still the same boy I’d met in grade four and took me on a date for my sixteenth birthday. And yet, he was also a grown man doing a chef’s apprenticeship. 

It’s been almost forty years since I’ve seen or heard from any of these friends with whom I shared the last two years of high school. One day there might be a school reunion I am able to attend and if so, it would be nice if they could too. I imagine we’d reconnect and reminisce about all the good times we had behind the Science block.

Author: Clare

Ever-expanding one star at a time, my cosmos is a galaxy of thoughts and creativity where you can find poetry, short stories, photography and so much more.

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