I’m good at using the internet to find people. My father was in the Air Force, so my old friends don’t all get together at one particular reunion. We’re scattered across the country. Social media has given us the perfect way to stay in touch, and from time to time I get motivated to find more friends from back in the day. Males are of course the easiest to find. Men with unusual, distinctive names pop up in one search, no matter where they’ve landed. Girlfriends are much rarer. They marry, divorce, make new lives in new states. Girlfriends, I must hope, will try to find me. (Fortunately, some do!)
This practice hasn’t been without its sad moments. One of my best friends from the seventh grade died before her ten-year reunion. A boy I knew in the same neighborhood was murdered. A high school boyfriend died under mysterious circumstances, and the last guy I dated before dating my husband has died of heart disease.
This week I had one of those bursts of curiosity that sends me to my keyboard. I had the urge to find a couple of guys from high school.
Our final move, when my dad retired, landed me in Spokane at the start of my sophomore year of high school. And for reasons that would take far too long to explain, I found myself, for the first time, without an active social life.
After my first lonesome year, I knew of one more way to gain acceptance on the social scene. Today, a lonely girl would attend a few club meetings to find one in search of new members. Heck, today, that girl would start a new club. Me, I looked for a boy in need of a girlfriend. I’m too old to be embarrassed about it. It was a standard gambit for a girl of my era. So stop judging me already.
I found him in the back of my German class. Steve was a gifted athlete one year older with a glum expression and a bad case of acne. Besides our strange interest in German, he was, like me, a bit of a social outcast. I discovered through diligent research—no need to call it stalking—that his father had a drinking problem. Mine did, too. I also discovered that he lived in the same not-quite-up-to-snuff neighborhood where I lived. He already gave me a slight lift of the chin if he saw me in the halls. All I had to do was wait for the right moment, which in my day meant waiting for the dance which required the girls to do the asking. I knew we would hit it off and get along beautifully. The plan involved more details, of course, many more details, but I won’t bore you with them here. Just take my word for it: I took all the right steps, and my plan could not fail.
You already know, of course, that when I mustered up the courage to invite him to the dance, he didn’t say yes. Instead, he looked confused and said just about the worst thing a boy could say. He said, “I was hoping someone else would ask me.” You don’t need me to tell you how I froze in the hall as he continued on his way. You don’t need me to explain that I spent the next two weeks fixated on my shoes as I walked the halls, afraid to let anyone read my bewildered expression.
You see, another girl had moved to town several months after I did. Two of them, actually; they were twins. They fit in better than I did, and one of them noticed, as you probably already guessed, that there was a talented athlete walking the halls without a girlfriend. Everything I had in common with Steve, all my good intentions, they weren’t of enough value to him. He needed a ticket to the inside, too. I could offer him affection. But she had true social currency. She already belonged.
Steve continued to play sports well, though not well enough to play in college. He attended a local community college and became a chef.
I saw him only once more after his graduation. He was at a party, probably during the summer, standing in the doorway looking just as glum as I remembered. But instead of raising his chin in greeting, he reached out his long arms to give me a hug. And he apologized. He told me he was sorry about what he’d said to me and for not accepting my invitation. He hadn’t enjoyed his date with the other girl at all. He knew he’d have had a much better time with me.
He wasn’t one of the first people I wanted to look up online. I typed his name into Google just yesterday.
Steve died in a house fire in 2001. The reporter shared his athletic achievements in football, basketball, and the high hurdles, explained his restaurant career. I was pleased he included all those things, but less pleased that he shared explicit details about how Steve was found.
Today I tried to find my Sr. Prom date, Mike. I first met Mike working at The Early Dawn Ice Creamery, one of those old fashioned soda-fountain places. Mike was handsome, funny, and smart. Most teenagers wanted to talk about other kids or sports figures or celebrities. Mike liked to talk about movies and food and current events. We dated briefly (he broke up with me out of the blue) but remained friends. He later transferred to my high school, and I invited him to be my prom date. At our 10-year reunion I learned he was working in a nearby city, and intended to get in touch to have coffee or something. But I never did.
Mike died in 1995. His obituary doesn’t state the cause of death—unusual for a young man of 35. It does mention a companion, and asks that remembrances be made to the Seattle AIDS Support Group. Mike was, of course, one of the guys who inspired me to write Steadfast. I never imagined he might have actually met the same fate as the character in that book.
I’m taking a break from finding old friends. It’s just too sad.