Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Good Visit

It's 1971 and the Complete and Total Loser is coming into his loserdom in his early teens. He attends an all boys private school, where he's been since third grade. His grades are awful; he's at the bottom of his class. His social life is nil outside of school. He lives in the suburbs and it's impossible to walk or bicycle anywhere from his house where you can meet others. His childhood friend Steve, who lives across the street and goes to a different school, does things on weekends with girls and other boys. 
The school the Loser goes to is a high status school. Do well there and getting into an Ivy is easy. Relationships form that translate into business partnerships that keep them in the top one percent for life. Leaving that school and going someplace else is always seen as a step down. 
The Loser's parents are not blind to his problems, however. He is a boy with a bad leg going to a school that emphasizes field sports and when he speaks of girls at all it's with hostility. (His way of crying for help.)
So the Loser's parents both take a day off from work and take him to visit another school.
It's a friends school, which means its background is Quaker but there's nothing particularly religious about how it's run now. It's co-ed. 
Forty-two years later, the Loser remembers very little about this visit. He remembers the ride to unfamiliar territory in the back seat of the car. His father and mother are in the front seat. It's spring, warm. He meets a man from the admissions department who talks to him as if he's an adult. He sits in on a class. The most vivid visual memory is of limping down a hall and seeing a girl around his age wearing a skirt. She smiles at him. Him! 
The Loser will never see the girl again. Later that day—or a day later, perhaps —he tells his parents he wants to stay where he is. He says this with little conviction, hoping they will overrule him. They don't and it's the last time he looks at another school.
Years later when he brings it up his mother tells him he yelled and insisted on staying at the school he graduated from. His memory is entirely different, but age has taught him that memory can be inaccurate. It's memory, not data. Whatever the case the Loser, who never had a girlfriend and will surely die alone and unloved, wonders. What would his life be like now if he'd gone to that school? That girl. That skirt. That smile.

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