Sunday, May 12, 2013

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

IMAGE: Archbishop McNicholas High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, as it appeared back in the day.

You might remember that expression from when you graduated from high school. It signaled a rite of passage, of moving on in life, whether to college, a job, a marriage, or whatever fate decided to bestow upon you as an adult. Mine actually occurred in the weeks before graduation, in two parts.

The first was forty years ago this evening.

+    +    +

I spent my senior year of Catholic high school in the advanced placement "Humanities Seminar," which combined the mandatory subjects of English, Religion, and Social Studies, into a unique interdisciplinary symbiosis. It was quite the challenge compared to conventional high school classwork, but one that cultivated a scholarly atmosphere worthy of college. The experience saved me from the boredom of "senioritis," not to mention the occasional degeneracy of whatever upper-class suburban white trash managed to slip through the cracks of the Admissions office four years earlier.

Mary Margaret -- her real first and middle names; I will spare her the disclosure of the rest -- was the quintessential "nice Catholic girl." She was very pretty without being overly glamorous, and had no pretensions about herself. We spent much of the latter part of the school year sitting next to one another. Even then, the way to my heart was for a gal to laugh at all my jokes. I won't say that a romance blossomed, although part of me at the time wished it had. While she was very much down to earth, something about her was inaccessible, untouchable, rendering me almost unworthy. This did not prevent a deep and apparently abiding friendship from developing. I had no steady girlfriend, and would not have known what to do with one anyway (having learned the hard way earlier in the senior year -- twice). So when the equivalent of the senior prom arrived -- we called it the "Spring Formal," don't ask me why -- I called her on the phone and asked her to accompany me, and she accepted. Fortunately for me, she was equally inaccessible to everyone else. She made no attempt to be. Mary wasn't one of those girls who hiked her uniform skirt six inches above the knee when she was a safe distance from the house. Nor was she interested much in "dating," so far as I knew.

I will save the perspective on that for later. Meanwhile, back to our misadventure ...

IMAGE: Some guy named Bill with his prom date. Used without permission or shame.

When that magic evening came, it was without a tuxedo. My mother could not fathom my going to the expense of spending twenty dollars (one hundred and five dollars in today's currency, oh yes!) to rent a suit that I would only wear once. This was actually a mixed blessing. That meager price would have afforded me a garden-variety black tuxedo, with a plain white shirt and black bow tie, as opposed to the more expensive, and eminently more "stylish" brightly-colored polyester regalia with a ruffled shirt that was popular back then, and the subject of retrospective shame in the present day. So I wore my favorite brick-red Norfolk jacket with grey slacks, and my favorite tie.

Mary's mother was very nice, and took our picture by the fireplace before we left. She seemed to know my parents, my father in particular, but I don't remember how. I also don't remember who the other couple was that we went with that night. But he drove, and Mary and I sat in the back seat, holding hands, her head gently perched on my shoulder, wearing the orchid I bought for her. We had a very grand time, dancing the night away in the suitably decorated school cafeteria, as this was before renting an overpriced hotel ballroom was de rigueur. When it was over, and I finally took her home, that goodnight kiss that every teenaged boy meets with anticipation and dread, never came. Girls like Mary didn't take kissing lightly, if at all.

I was driven back to Milford, and stumbled into the house at about three in the morning. My father was waiting. Now, in my younger days, there was rarely a euphoric occasion that the old man could not find a way somehow to ruin, at the breach of any infraction. The good news was, it wasn't in front of a crowd, not that that ever stopped him. The bad news was, I was up for an eternity (which was probably closer to an hour), admonished in no uncertain terms, for keeping a young innocent girl out so late at night, and bringing shame and dishonor to our entire household. Immersed in his own Euripides play that he was, I was ordered as a matter of obedience, to apologize to the poor lass at school on Monday morning, for being such a thoughtless rogue.

Needless to say, she was sufficiently amused by the whole thing.

Before I left high school, I gave her a final token of my affection; a pair of Snoopy earrings I bought at a greeting card store. (It was the early seventies, after all.) She put them on immediately. After I left, we managed to stay in touch during the summer, but not as much as I might otherwise would have wished.

There were other events on the horizon, and the matter for our sequel, one week from today. Stay tuned ...

No comments: