Today I was at work on campus, doing some routine sort of job that needed to get done for an upcoming open house, and during this monotonous routine work one of those awkward memories crept up, from when I was younger. It involved my friend Barb and an entourage of other teenage friends. It was a summer day, late in the evening. I was wearing my white Osh-Kosh B’gosh pants, sandals, and a summer shirt. It had olive green and off-white stripes, and was my favorite sunshirt. I was deeply tanned and wore a golden bangle bracelet. I was very thin and graceful too.
I was always shy to the point that I wouldn’t say much at all. I liked to observe, and at the same time I felt intimidated in conversation with more than just one other (if there is only one other, I could really talk well). So, our group, mostly girls, was walking along Johnson Avenue from somewhere. I don’t know where we were coming from, but we were walking toward my house, a brick bungalow in Western Springs, Illinois.
I wish I could clearly recall who was there. But I can’t. I just remember Barb and some other girls. And then there was Mark Houser.
Barb was a very outgoing girl, and I always looked up to her even though we were the same age. She was popular and seemed out of my league. I distinctly remember having a lot of fun slumber parties at her house, and the great orange juice slushies her mom would make. But, anyway, she was doing most of the talking.
The other girls were also contributing to this conversation.
But me, I was quiet. I remember liking the way the late sun made tall shadows down Johnson Avenue. The street, further down, was lined with Dutch Elms that arched over, touching in the middle, creating a beautiful canopy–but where we were walking, it was still blue sky.
Lost in my reverie, I was brought back to this conversation about…whatever it was…when Mark Houser made an assessment of all of us girls that I will never forget. I remember Mark during other times–he was sort of obnoxious but fun: blonde, blue-eyed, rowdy. I recall him on canoe trips and long bus rides to Wisconsin. In my wayback eyes, I liken him to Owen Wilson, but that could be a longshot.
Anyway, to one girl, he said “You’re here to be the smart one.” And to another, he lavished another compliment.
When he got to me, he said, “And you’re here to…” he hesitated as if not being able to pinpoint why I was there.
He finally came up with a reason. “You’re here just to look pretty.”
And then he turned to Barb and said, “But you’re here to make it all happen.” Or something along those lines. He said it most praising, with meaning. Her existence was key to why we were all there.
I don’t know why we were going to my house nor why Mark said that to me. I think maybe he had a crush on Barb at the time–as I recall he flitted from liking different girls.
Well, I don’t know what the importance is of this tale, only that I do vividly recall how that comment made me feel. It made me feel not very meaningful in the whole scheme of things through Mark Houser’s eyes–but at the same time, a guy had called me pretty, so that was something.
Since that time, the Dutch Elms have all been chopped down and I’ve grown up more. And gotten less pretty with age. What I wouldn’t give to be there for just an instance though–with my tan and bangles and soft summer youth.