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An Old Friend's Birthday

Posted Nov 08 2011 12:54pm
Thank you so much Jen and Karen, as always, for your intelligent, thoughtful and kind comments.  You are part of the reason why I'm going to continue with this blog.  You inspire me with your  blogs.  I think you are exceptional woman and I'm not just saying that to be nice.  I'm honored that you continue to follow my blog and that you stay in touch with me as a few of my best online friends.  Together I think we set a fine example of what individuals with our disability can accomplish.

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I'm writing this morning because today is an old friend's 49th birthday and I've been thinking about her a lot lately.  She was my best friend from high school and I thought I'd like to pay tribute to her in this blog. In real life she has a French name, so I've decided to call her Colette after one of her favorite writers when we were in school.  I haven't seen her for over 30 years.  In the last few years I've looked for her on Facebook but couldn't find her, then I looked for her on Twitter and I did find her.  I knew for sure that it was her because there was this great photograph of her looking away from the camera but smiling broadly.  I snooped around a bit and followed some links and got some information about her.  I discovered that she's bilingual (French, of course) and a college teacher now working on her Phd.  She is the "Deputy Director" of a reputable New York City college and I have no doubt that one day she will become the Director itself.  From her language I can see that she is highly intelligent and sophisticated, a real success story.  On top of all that she's also the mother of at least one child who is probably around 10 years old now.  I found her work email address and in the last two years I've written a couple of emails to her that I never sent.  I felt too ashamed of my circumstances to contact her, especially since we didn't separate on the best of terms.

Colette and I had been so close during high school that we nearly became lovers.  But then in our senior year a boy I'll name Daniel from the grade below entered the picture.  At first he hung out with both of us.  He was very bright and funny, Jewish on his father's side only, quite similar to Colette.  He was a writer and a film buff, spent hours after school watching foreign films at revival houses sprinkled throughout Manhattan.  Sometimes we would all go together.  But gradually, he began to single me out; he made romantic advances.  I realized that he didn't have a happy home life.  His mother was morbidly obese, a smoker and an alcoholic.  They lived in a one bedroom apartment.  He got the bedroom while his mother camped out in the living room.  His mother and father had divorced when he was just a child.  It turned out that his father was mentally ill with schizophrenia and didn't see his son very often.  I got pulled into Dan's world.  He was a little too close to being mentally unbalanced himself and I became protective of him.  I started sneaking him into my house at night trying to save him from having to go back to his cramped apartment and his increasingly drunk mother.  Sometimes we would skip school together.  He became my first boyfriend.  Eventually Colette got fed up and rejected me.  But before that, for a couple of years, she had been my faithful friend, really, my only friend in school.

During high school Colette had been an uneven student and a bit of a pot head.  She was also a good actress (like her father, who was a professional) and a talented modern dancer.  Quick and lively, with a flair for the dramatic, she had thick dirty blonde hair, candid blue eyes, a distinctive Jewish/French nose and a small cupid mouth which easily turned into a wide and pleasing grin when she was happy.  Our high school was located on the edge of SoHo in Manhattan.  Colette lived in a two bedroom apartment with her divorced mother and sometimes her older brother in the East Village.  Her father, too, lived in the Village, though in a somewhat more fashionable part of it.  Colette would take me on walking tours occasionally stopping by her father's apartment when he wasn't home.  She doted on her father.  He was a character actor and a good one, but he was not always available.  She wanted badly to please him with her acting and dancing.  He was the favored parent unlike her mother who invariably got on Colette's nerves.

I entered ninth grade in this strange, private school complete with a Brooklyn accent, nice clothes and a work ethic garnered from having gone to "advanced enrichment" or AE classes in my public junior high school.  No matter how hard I tried to recede into the background, whenever I opened my mouth and spoke, I stood out as different from the more slovenly, generally white, often wealthy, not particularly hard working Manhattanite private school kids.  The first time I became aware of Colette was in French class.  She might have even been one of the kids to try and cheat off my paper while we took a test.  That first year I kept mostly to myself.  I was neurotic enough to avoid the cafeteria because I was afraid of interacting with the other kids.  I wound up eating my bag lunch on the no longer used back staircase, furtively listening to the sounds of the students below me.  During free periods I would either go to the small library on the third floor or outside to wander in the streets of SoHo and Greenwich Village.  I didn't fit in this school and, with typical stubbornness, I didn't try to fit.  I was even proud of being different.  But I was depressed and lonely, too.

I'm not sure why Colette took an interest in me.  She was not particularly popular, but she did fit into the school much more than I did.  By the time tenth grade rolled around, she had taken me under her wing.  She began inviting me over to her apartment after school.  She told me many stories about her old school (another private grade school) and her old friends and stories about her family.  She took me to her favorite places in the Village.  She shared her active imagination and dreamed up fantasies of how we would grow up to be successful, artistic types.  She was warm, engaging and vibrant.  Neither of us were particularly thrilled with our school or with the students in the school.  We went because we had to; we stuck it out together.  Pretty quickly, I lost my Brooklyn accent and my nice clothes.  I cut my hair short one day while listening to Elvis Costello's song "Pump It Up".  I started dressing more androgynously in sneakers, pants, t-shirts and a black oversized man's jacket.  Colette dressed more stylishly and more femininely.  She fell in love with a pair of cream colored cowboy boots and would wear them with long dresses.  Our school was very small, only around 200 students, so there wasn't a lot of choice when it came to boys and so Colette and I stuck close together.  I was a little in love with her and sometimes I felt as if she felt likewise.  She really saved me from being quite miserable.

But then I went astray and got involved with Daniel.  I neglected Colette.  I hate to say it but maybe I even betrayed Colette.  She began to become friends with other kids from school and became progressively colder towards me.  I really hurt her and so she, in turn, really hurt me.  That last semester of senior year was horrible.  Daniel was pressuring me to be sexual with him, but I was such a virgin and I was scared.  I was seventeen years old and I had never been tongue kissed.  When he finally got me to try, I was utterly revolted.  I wasn't all that sure that I wanted to be with him, but I was so insecure I thought I may not ever have the chance to be with a boy again.  And so, I stayed with Daniel...and lost Colette.

I stayed with Daniel all through college, but never made any new friends.  After college we broke up amicably.  A couple of years later I began hearing voices.  Colette and one other friend were the last real friends that I ever had.  And that's why I still think of her.

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