That’s me, not looking back. It’s a two-page photo spread in my senior year high school yearbook taken the day before graduation.  I do have clothes on underneath, but the thought did cross my mind the day we took the photo that being naked under my gown might be an option.  I leapt off a brick wall just outside one of the buildings of the high school campus and if I remember correctly, we took two photos; one to frame the shot and the second to do it.  I like that kind of work; neat, thought out, get in and get out.

The not looking back part:  it’s not that I haven’t looked back at my high school years and plumbed them for the markers that made me who I am today. To be fair there are many people that I should thank, particularly the teachers, but the other students, well, they’ve fallen behind—except for one or two and one teacher who I am still in contact with, the rest are consigned to the very untidy dustbin of forgotten memories.

If I make myself think about it, I wonder if those memories are untidy and dusty on purpose.  I had one meltdown my junior year, when my ego and puberty and my stubbornness collided with the implacable drama coach during the rehearsals for “A Thurber Carnival,” but other than that I’ve always looked back at those three years of high school with pleasure.

Would it have been different if I had stayed in the area?  I don’t know.  I do know that it would have become increasingly difficult for me to be who I am/was, even though I breezed through high school without any dire bullying (junior high was a whole other story); I’m not sure the gay revolution of the 1970s made its way to the Black Hills of South Dakota and if it did, I don’t know if it made life there any easier for those who were like me and had stayed. I imagine not.

I can conjure up images of Mark and Chet who for some reason always seemed to be there when I needed to be pulled out of sticky situations—of my own making, what with the smart mouth I carried around — a defense if ever there were one, but I wonder if my memory of their assistance is apocryphal, more wish fulfillment than truth.

When I read some of the ‘good lucks’ and ‘bright futures’ and ‘you were so funny’ and ‘loved taking French with you!’ written sideways and on angles and with  i’s dotted with hearts and open circles in the back pages of this yearbook, I am chagrined at the distance they put between me and the writer. Nothing like ‘we should stay in touch’ or ‘I so enjoyed your company we’ll be best friends forever’ (way before bffs, you know.)  and of course, it’s mostly girls who have written in my yearbook and the boys who have are the ones who, like me, lived on the edges of the mainstream.

It’s not that students (all 1100 of them) didn’t know who I was.  It didn’t take me too long to figure out that being a reporter for the school newspaper or on the yearbook staff was a sure way to wield some power.  And I was in the Blue Masque Drama Club and we brought home some serious trophies my senior year and of course, we performed in front of the student body, well, you would have had to be a complete stoner not to know who I was and that was important to me, that being known.

Perhaps that notoriety, as mean as it was, made up for the lack of close friends or for the lack of enduring friends.  It was only when I finally got to Chicago two years later and the Goodman School of Drama that I started to really connect with people and I still have friends from then.  The difference of course, is that we were able to share our true lives with each other without cadging; I am who I am and you are like me and we are open about who we are (safely.)  That wasn’t there in Rapid City, or possibly it was but i didn’t know where to look for it because I had not put it in words yet–that part about being who I am and being true to that person.

And now, marking this milestone photo (46 years ago!) I look back and am surprised that it took so long.

A “Bread & Butter” Note

A manila envelope would be stuffed into my mailbox, its arrival unannounced by the sender even though we spoke every week.  I admit I’m not a big mail opener, I’ll take it out of the box and put it (sometimes I toss it) on the table or any other flat surface I first encounter when entering my home.  (Of course, it’s different now with M. who is a committed “let’s open it right now” kind-of-guy, but I’m speaking of those years pre-M. when I lived by myself.)

It would sit there unnoticed for a day or two, but eventually, I’d redirect my energies to slipping my finger under the glued down flap (after raising those little golden flanges in the center that had been pushed down as a security precaution) and ripping open the top.  Sometimes it would be filled with recipes and news-clippings, along with a short note or even a longer letter catching me up on the news back home.

As my mother’s health deteriorated though, the envelopes came a little more often and instead of the recipes I would never have used she filled them with odds and ends of my young life, my childhood, objects and papers, some important, such as my Naturalization papers, my German birth certificate (legitimacy being what it is, even that long ago–remind me to tell you one day how I nearly became persona non grata in the United States when I was 8 or 9 years old.)

The relics and their stored away mustiness, would slip out of the envelope and flutter down to the table or drop with a thud (see the boy scout knife above) and I’d wonder at the careful way she had saved parts of my life that had long ago lost meaning for me.   In my youth (shall I say “callow youth”? yes, possibly I should), I’d turn them over, perhaps give them a second turn, and then slip them back into the envelope and pop them into a shoebox in my closet.  Please note that I did not throw them away.

This went on for a couple of years, until I had quite the collection of mementos detailing my life from birth (and before) up through high school.  Not having children, I have to imagine this is something that all parents do–keeping the little things that make them realize how lucky they are to have had you (and your siblings, if applicable.)   And so today, because it’s sanctioned by the state and Walmart, I want to say thank you to my mother for loving me so much that she had the foresight to help me remember my past.




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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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