It’s curious how memories burble up from the depths. I think characters in two books I read recently — Sarasati in Blindsight and Bucolac in The Scar — caused the release of this one…
In high school I didn’t fit with any group — the grease-balls, the burnouts, the jocks, the geeks, or the nerds — but I was comfortable with all groups, and was able to communicate freely with any of them (which came in handy occasionally, such as the time Spencer (thanks buddy, wherever you are!) told the three rather largish young gentlemen — who were about to bounce their knuckles off my head and body — that I was ‘all right’, and I was able to walk away without causing undue damage to anybody’s hands). I suppose I had an easy road: I was athletic, which opened doors denied to many.
I couldn’t understand why there were all those separate groups in school, or why some types were harassed because they were ‘different’ (after all, by that time I’d figured out that I was different too).
When I was planning my course-load for grade ten, a close friend — let’s call him Saul — and I decided to sign up for a special ‘shop’ class (my memory is shaky on details, but I think it had something to do with engines, and I recall one project when we took apart a Briggs and Stratton engine, put it back together, and worked on it until we could get it started up again).
When Saul and I settled into the class on the first day the instructor separated us, paired us up with other students. I can’t recall who Saul was paired with, but I was paired with ‘Freddie’ because his last name was the closest to mine alphabetically. Freddie was generally referred to as a ‘geek’. After that first class Saul wondered, aloud (within Freddie’s hearing) why “such a geek would take a class like this”; to my shame, I just shrugged and continued on with my day.
The weeks passed, and Freddie and I worked about as well as any pair of inexperienced ‘mechanics’ would.
At the beginning of a class late in the semester the teacher announced that we could choose our own partners for the final project.
I turned to Freddie and said, “Do you want to pair up with me for the final project?” And he accepted the partnership.
At the end of the class, Saul walked up and asked me to be his partner for the final project. “Can’t,” I said; “Freddie and I are partners already.”
Saul looked at me like I was stupid, shook his head, and said, “No.” He glanced obliquely at Freddie, barked out a deprecating laugh, looked back at me, and said, “We can choose who to work with on the final project!”
“I know. I asked Freddie already. Sorry.”
Saul rearranged his face into a look of disgust, and he said, “But he’s a geek; he looks like a freaking vampire!”
It was a difficult moment for me; again, I had no reply for Saul’s offensive words: I shrugged and walked away.
My friendship with Saul was pretty much over after that (our relationship had probably been disintegrating for quite some time). Wherever he is, I wish him the best.
I don’t know what happened to Freddie after that class (we never travelled in the same circles), but I wish him the best too. I must admit, he did look like a vampire, but nowadays that might make him a popular dude.