Thursday, August 30, 2007

Joyce: The 8th Grade Beauty

Years heal the wounds of youth!
by Charlie Leck
This is another of my series about my
50th High School Reunion, coming in
2008, trying to explain why I just won't
make it to the celebration.

Let’s see, in 8th grade one is about 13 years old. I was 13 years old on the spot when 8th grade began. Eight years had gone by in the very same building and I remember aspiring continuously to arrive in that particular classroom on the northeast corner of the top floor of Chester Public School. Whether that architectural level was the 2nd or 3rd floor depends on whether one formally counts the basement level cafeteria, down near the boiler room, as the first of the stories in the building.
Everyone now knows about the jangling, jittery, jumping hormones of 13-year-old boys. At the time, I knew nothing about the phenomenon even though there was a first-class demonstration of the process taking place within my own viscera. How, in heaven’s name, schoolteachers and educational administrators expected a normal, All-American boy to concentrate on complex fractions, and the multiplication and division of the same, is beyond sane explanation. Can you imagine such a boy reading The Catcher in the Rye when he had piles of emotional difficulty reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson? My mother insisted I read the Salinger book – not the kind of thing a confused teenager ought to be reading while his hormones are totally out of control.

While Mister Rodman was trying to introduce me to the basic elements of biology, Joyce was sitting at just such a perfect angle from me that I could observe some the most important elements of biology for myself. One lesson learned was that some girls pop before and more rapidly than others. Joyce moved at the speed of light in that respect. While I was 13 in actuality, I was at the maturity level of about 11 and one quarter. Joyce was streaming in at about 17 or 18. Looking at her made certain of my hormones bound around like crazy.

I cannot tell you how much I wanted to be Joyce’s friend. I tried so hard; however, she pegged me as a creep. Joyce knew her stuff all right. I think she knew that I closed myself in my bedroom, pretending to do eighth grade homework, and listened to Tereasa Brewer’s voice on my radio, belting out verses of Ricochet just as steel bullets actually ricocheted crazily around inside me.

Joyce was the most beautiful eighth grade girl who ever lived. That is without exception. It is an absolute that will never be proven incorrect.

I dreamed of sitting in a dark movie theater with her, holding hands and occasionally glimpsing at her spectacular profile.

Mister Rodman would ask why my homework wasn’t done. I couldn’t blame it on Joyce, but she was the reason indeed. I listened to countless songs about love and romance, dreaming of Joyce, and never quite got to my school books.

The problem that I and the other boys in my class had was that Joyce did not like eighth grade boys. She adored high school boys and, preferably, boys who were already driving cars. I knew that was reality and it forced a rich mixture of anger to intermingle with those jangling hormones. The Orioles were singing You Left me Cryin’ in the Chapel, and I, with tears in my eyes, was thinking about Joyce.

Nevertheless, I continued to get as close to her as possible, seeking some sort of friendship. I developed a particularly cool, high, cemented wave in my hair, just above my forehead. I thought Joyce might really like it.

“Look it, creep,” she finally came right out and said to me one day, “just leave me alone. I think you are the dumbest boy in the whole world and I don’t want you to hang around me.”

Only Perry Como and Eddie Fisher and, maybe, the Four Lads had descriptions of the pain I felt. I listened to their sad croonings for hours on end after that day. I knew that my life would always be a story of unrequited love and the great recording artists were always singing songs about me. I think they helped.

During our freshman year in high school, Joyce was dating seniors and even some boys who had already graduated and were moving on to jobs or college. There was no hope for either my fellow male classmates or me and we could only ogle her and fantasize about her on dark, dark nights as we drifted off to sleep.

Now, more than 50 years later, Joyce and I are pen pals. She writes in a very unsteady hand and tells me that time is running out – that it may already have run out. I type out long, long letters to her and celebrate our friendship after all these years. My innards are all settled now, and I think with my mind and my heart, and I shed a tear for her, the incredible 8th grade beauty.

It’s another reason that I can’t go to the upcoming reunion of my class. I want to remember Joyce the way she looked on that day when she called me a creep and told me to get lost. Gad that was a wonderful day. The fire in her eyes was so spectacular and the redness that flashed across her cheeks made her even more stunning than I could have dreamed. I have no desire to see my classmates grown old. They’ll be acting mature and sophisticated. All the bumbling and stumbling will be gone and that is just not who we were.

I want to remember Mike Farmer, my pal and debate partner, as the jerk he really was and not as the sophisticated New York lawyer he’s probably become.

Fred Kamm probably owns half the east coast now. When I knew him he was regarded, next to me, as the biggest oddball in our class.

Gretchen Denbraven, who was the kindest, noblest student in the class of 1958 at Roxbury High School, is probably about to solve the problem of poverty in Botswana. I want to remember her as the shy, quiet and unremarkable person that she was.

And Ronny Post is an executive, I am sure, with Barclay’s Bank and he drives a sleek, dark Mercedes Benz into Manhattan every day. I want to remember him as another of the little creeps who couldn’t get to first base with Joyce.

And, I don’t want to hear about who has died and who is about to.

Though many people would call them the product of a sicko mind, I’ve got great memories of that perfectly unextraordinary class. I’ll share them in my letters to Joyce.

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