I dreamed last night about high school, as I do often, and it left me wondering. What happened to the people I went to school with? Not just high school, but grammar school and nursery school. All those people who passed through my life, the students, the teachers, the lunch ladies, the secretaries. People I saw every day for years and years, people who in some way impacted my life, whether it was by teaching me how to add, giving me a free pretzel when I lost my lunch money or tying the sash of my prissy dress to the back of the chair so when I stood up the chair came with me. Good, bad, indifferent. So many people have passed through my life, for minutes or hours or years, and they come and go and sometimes never come back. Only in occasional dreams that make the past float in your mind like waves.
I think about C., who was my best friend in high school. I got my period at her house during a party. She, in turn, conceived her daughter on my parent's bed while my parents were in Hawaii. The daughter of this 18 year old girl became my goddaughter, and I haven't seen her since she was nine, and haven't talked to her mother since weeks before my wedding in 1989, when C. for some reason stopped returning my calls. Somewhere out there is a 24 year old woman who is my goddaughter.
I think about R., who was the only boy who would talk to me in grade school. He talked like I was his friend, about the weather and cartoons and whatever ten year olds talk about. I lost touch with R. when we went to separate high schools, but I know what happened to him. He killed himself in 1981, after his girlfriend of five years dumped him. I wonder where she is now, the girlfriend, and if she carries that around with her like an unopened package.
I think about all the teachers I had. Mrs. Reich, who was the best 3rd grade teacher ever, who let us have snacks in the classroom before it was standard to do so, who had a tv in the class so we could watch educational programs, who was always gentle and kind and had chubby, small fingers with liver spots on them. She died when I was in high school. Mrs. Letterman, my first grade teacher who was the tallest woman I had ever seen and Mr. Goldberg, my 6th grade teacher, who was best friends with Bud Harrelson and brought him into the classroom once. I still have the autographed picture.
I remember the names of every person who tortured me and made fun of me. I remember their faces and the clothes they wore. I remember every teacher who was mean to me, every insult hurled my way. But I also remember the kids who tried to be nice, Barbara and Susan, who invited me to their homes for parties even when no one else wanted me there. Mrs. M, my 4th grade teacher, who made sure I was seated far away from my tormenters, who walked me home once and who told me I was the best student she ever had.
I think about all those faces in high school; the kids who never got past the drug stage, who took it with them after graduation and made it part of their everyday lives. I think about the teachers who ran us through our lessons as if racing from one period to the next, and the teachers who took their time with us and really taught us something. I think about the kids who had too much money to throw around and thought that would get them everywhere they needed to go, and the kids who threw only footballs or basketballs and thought that would get them through life.
I think about all the students I've ever spent time with in a classroom. Every kid, from nusery school through senior year and I wonder how many of them became what threy set out to be. How many of them are in the jobs they envisioned for themselves, how many of them turned out to be the person they wanted to be? I wonder if any of them think about the impact they had on other people, how their words or actions or acts of kindness left an indelible imprint on someone's life.
I wonder if any of them remember me, if I've ever done anything to leave an impression on someone, so that 20, 30 years later they still see my face in their mind. If they wonder, like I do, what became of that little girl in the pinafore dress.