AP English

We didn’t sit at the back of the classroom, though we were closest to the door. As the classroom was long and lean, we sat at the outer edge. The two girls on my left were new to Hawaii for their senior year of high school. I can’t remember if they were military kids, but that seems most likely. The blonde told us, on the first day, that she was from Texas, and the other girl, whose posture was so upright that she could only have been a ballerina replied shrewdly, “Have you ever noticed that the first thing you learn about people from Texas is that they’re from Texas?” And the blonde laughed and said it was true, and they were close friends in that moment and for the rest of the year.

We had AP English in the afternoon, and our teacher loved to fuck with our nerd tendencies. Our spelling test was a list of definitions and you had to know not just how to spell the answer but remember exactly what the word you were meant to be spelling was. There are, after all, many answers to adj. tireless. Once, when asked to respond to a Steinbeck story, the beautiful boy in front of me, who inexplicably called me “Malone” as though we were in a frat, said, “It gives me this overwhelming feeling that I can only describe as yellow. The landscape, the flowers, the woman, the entire story — just crushingly yellow.” And we all nodded, because he had captured it exactly.

I knew at the time that they were the smartest kids I had ever been in a room with: our valedictorian, and the five kids who were taking all seven of the AP courses available to seniors. Our teacher’s office was on the opposite side of the classroom, behind a partition, and when I had my first meeting with her, she took off the thickest glasses I have ever seen and told me she was grateful that any time I spoke, I prefaced my comments with, “Miss,” so that she knew who was speaking because she couldn’t see anything more than six inches away from her face. Posters of terrible hair bands covered her office walls; she was especially infatuated with Bret Michaels.

Later, in college, I realized that she treated us like we were already done with high school. That first month, she welcomed us all to the English Club, and assured us it was fine to declare ourselves English Club President for the sake of our college applications. That final year in school, I sat on the outer edge of everything. I dropped out of cross country, and didn’t even bother to try out for basketball. All year, I struggled with throat infections that ultimately led to having my tonsils out, missing two weeks of school, and losing 20 lbs. I was in love with a girl in college and the pull was always away, away, away.

Several nights ago, I had a dream about the girl who was best friends with the Texas blonde. I can’t remember either of their names. It’s been more than 24 years since I’ve seen them. I remember she was petite, her hair dark and stylish. She reminded me of Mary Poppins: pretty, bossy, upright, brusque, surprisingly funny. We sat next to each other the night of our graduation. And after the ceremony ended, under the football stadium lights, we were making our way to the giant M sign to meet our families and friends, when she gave me the most determined look. The stadium lights made everything dreamy, and we still had our caps on as we’d been forbidden from tossing them. Her dark hair fell down her shoulders, and beyond her the night held every possibility. We’d made it. We were done, at last. And I watched that look on her face as she suddenly sprang into my arms. Choreographed perfectly as though we had rehearsed it. Her face set, she sprang, and I caught her and lifted her up up up into the lights before slowly lowering her. She had her arms around me and dipped her head to my ear. “Have the most beautiful life,” she said, and then she kissed me.

I never saw her again. Not once until the dream. And I dreamt that moment exactly. I had forgotten that she kissed me. I had forgotten that I set her down and smiled at her, and she’d stepped back into the other Ms and vanished. It had been so dreamy at the time that I wasn’t even certain it was real. Have the most beautiful life. Have the most beautiful life. I wish I could remember her name. I wish I’d replied. And also I wish none of those things. She was so beautiful. So perfect. So light in my arms. Like a dancer.

Hundreds of people poured down from the stadium seats, and draped leis around our necks. Everywhere, the smell of flowers. Crushingly yellow.

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