It's what geeks do when anything happens in life; we write. Our class lost a teammate today. Having just turned 39, I have to say we are too young for this to start happening. And since this happened on the heals of watching "Stand By Me" for the first time since we got our VCR player in 1987, I have to draw parallels... it's what geeks do.
Julie Janis smiled a lot. She came to our school in about the third grade and everyone wanted her to be in their group. We had a strange class. New kids weren't ostracized. We raced to add numbers to our cliques. If Julie could have been in my clique, it would have been us against everyone else... 2 to (x). But Julie was kinda above all that silliness. In the fourth grade, the Winter had been pretty harsh with lots of ice and lots of wind. It made the parking lot where we took recess fairly hazzardous. But there she was one bitter cold bright morning recess, in the sunshine and making a skating skid.
I'd never seen anyone do that and was mezmerized. When she started to slide on it I was enthralled. And a little jealous. Julie always smiled. It was broad and beaming but not so much that it would seem wolfish. And when she skated she smiled even more. Julie had gotten in with the "popular" kids so I hesitated to approach. But she was smiling so much and I wanted to smile like that. It had been so long since I felt so happy that I could smile like that...
I don't know if she noticed me watching or if I had the guts to ask her to show me how to do that. Knowing me, Julie had to notice and invite me over. I don't really know for certain. I just know that it wasn't long before I was on the ice and she was showing me how to keep my balance. She was a patient teacher and pretty soon I was sliding good enough to feel that happy-happy bubbling up. I don't think Julie ever judged anyone. That day, and for the rest of the week, she didn't judge me a klutz or an untouchable. And I felt like I was flying. The ice slide couldn't have been very long. But for an ugly duckling like I had been, it was long enough for me to finally feel graceful. Of course I don't know how I looked on observation:)
It wasn't a blissful Winter of free skating and improved self esteem by any means. By the third day she was showing other uncoordinated classmates how to skate and then had to teach us how to build the ice slide because the lines to slide were getting so long. I'm sure by the end of the week the slides were abandoned due to Sister "Who ever was incharge's" paranoid fears of liability coverage. But for that week those of us who never skated were on even ground and we were all beautiful and for those few minutes at morning and afternoon recess we were all free.
Julie's skating lessons sparked huge arguments at home. I'd thought is was a sport that was cheap enough mom would let me learn and one that I could do since it didn't require much more skill than being able to fall down without getting hurt. I also thought that if I could larn to skate that mom would finally like me because we would then have had something in common. And Julie had put a part of my mom's life that I'd envied close enough to me to reach... a kind of olive branch between mom and me that might have helped if mom would have let the branch grow a little. Skating on the bay stories had been m favorites of mom's. But I didn't think I could do it. Then again no one at home would teach me. Julie had done half the work by showing me that I could at least try something new before I decided I couldn't do it; how to fall without getting hurt; and she gave me a few minutes of commeraderie with classmates that I had begun to fear before the doors slammed shut for several years.
We had our 20th class reunion this year. And we've been keeping in touch via facebook ever since. From those quick posts and blurbs I have learned that each of us thought we were ugly ducklings. Matt poked fun at his 2nd grade grin. Jenny and a handful of others joked about their awkward fashion sense, hair and Geri her choice of knee socks with a dress. What I thought I knew about everyone then doesn't seem to be true in actuality. My perceptions of myself and my place among my peers prevented a lot of interaction in the interveneing years, reducing me to a hermit. And in some cases a few classmates made certain I kept my distance. Julie seemed to like everyone enough to make her own decisions... frequently that amounted to not joining in the fray. She just sent gentle smiles and good feelings when words would have encouraged more taunting from the small handful that actually made school miserable.
When I think of Julie the first thing I think of is sunshine... the next thing I think, is that I would like to fly free again.