The first World War ended on November 11, 1918, and many of the countries involved now observe a holiday on November 11. The holiday goes by different names around the world; in the United States, we call it Veterans Day. Many government offices are closed on Veterans Day, and students are off school. When November 11 falls on a weekend, as it did this year, schools close on the nearest Friday or Monday.
Except for the University of Jeromeville. We got no day off. Even last year, when November 11 was on an actual school day, we got no day off. I never knew why. I wondered if this was a legacy of universities traditionally being full of anti-war hippie types who did not want to celebrate our military. But we did get a day off in May for Memorial Day, the holiday commemorating those who died serving our country. And the building I was walking through right now was called the Memorial Union, or the “MU” for short, named to remember UJ students who died in military service.
It had been a typical Friday so far. My day started waiting in the hallway of Wellington Hall for math class, because another class occupied the classroom immediately before our class. Jack Chalmers from my class said hi to a girl named Lizzie as she left that class and we entered the room for ours, just as he did every day. Math was easy. I crossed the street to the MU at 10 and did homework for an hour. I met some tutees in 102 Wellington, the tutoring room, at 11. I just learned that word this quarter working for the Learning Skills Center: “tutee,” meaning one who is being tutored. Tutee is a great word. At 12, I walked down Colt Avenue to 199 Stone for chemistry, and then back to the MU to eat lunch. I got up, went to the bathroom, and walked back through the MU on the way to my physics class in Ross Hall when I saw her.
When I see a familiar face in a setting that this person is not normally connected to, my brain always takes a few seconds to register what I am seeing. At first all I saw was two young-looking girls walking toward me. They were both a little on the short side. One wore a dark red sweatshirt with a hood and a brand name logo unfamiliar to me, and the other wore a black jacket with white sleeves, and a large letter P on her left side. I recognized that this was a Plumdale High School letter jacket.
What is a Plumdale High School letter jacket doing in Jeromeville? Who is this person? Do I know her?
Holy crap, it’s her. What is she doing here? What do I say?
Just before she walked past me, I said, “Annie?”
The two girls stopped. Annie, the one in the Plumdale High jacket, looked at me, looking just as surprised as I was at first until recognition came over her face a second later. “Hey, Greg!” she said.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Visiting your brother?”
“My boyfriend goes here now too,” Annie replied.
There it is again. The B word. I wondered whether she was still with the same boyfriend as last year, or if this was some new guy. Either way, though, Annie’s boyfriend was not me.
“It was good seeing you,” I said. “Have a great weekend!”
“You too!” Annie replied. The girl she was with waved at me; I recognized this girl’s face, she was from Plumdale High too, but I could not remember her name.
My mind raced as I walked away from them, toward my physics class. Annie Gambrell was here, in Jeromeville. I had a chance to talk to her, and I felt like I blew it. Should I have said more? She seemed busy, and she was not here to visit me. She had a boyfriend; she was not coming here to meet guys. But I did not know when, or if, I would ever see her again. Maybe I should have talked more. Or maybe she doesn’t really care about me, and all that nice stuff she wrote in my yearbook senior year was just for the sake of being polite and she didn’t really mean it. Should I tell Annie’s brother next time I see him that I ran into her? Does he think it’s weird that I have an unrequited crush on his unavailable little sister, even though I haven’t actually told him anything other than that I know her?
After physics class, I had another tutoring group back in the study room at 102 Wellington. “Hi,” the tall blonde guy who was just finishing a tutoring group at the table next to me said as I walked in. I knew from looking at the schedule of tutoring groups in this room that his name was Scott Madison. He looked familiar for some reason, but maybe I was just used to seeing him here.
“Hi,” I replied to Scott. I then turned to two of the three students in my group who were already waiting and asked, “Are you ready to get started?”
My tutoring group went as they usually do. These students were in Short Calculus, Math 16A, for majors which do not require any math above calculus. Their work focuses on finding and applying derivatives of functions without studying the theory and proofs behind derivatives. I did not enjoy tutoring the Math 16 series as much as I did the 21 series, for mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, because it was difficult for me, as a math guy, to gloss over the theoretical stuff. But I got paid to do so, and I did my best, hoping not to confuse the students too much.
At four o’clock, when the tutoring group was finished, I walked diagonally across the Quad to the Learning Skills Center in Krueger Hall to turn in my time sheet for tutoring, as I did every other Friday, then back along East Quad Avenue to catch a bus home from the MU. A few hours later, after napping and eating, I returned to campus for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. I drove this time, because parking is easy to find and slightly less expensive in the evening.
Taylor Santiago, Charlie Watson, Sarah Winters, and Krista Curtis were standing around talking on the far side of the lecture hall where the group was held; I walked over to them and said hi. The four of them all lived in the same apartment complex, the boys in one apartment and the girls in another, and all of us were in the same dorm last year.
“Hey, man,” Taylor said. “How’s it goin’?”
“Pretty good,” I replied.
“How’s your day been?” Sarah asked.
“One of my friends from high school, she’s a senior this year, I saw her and her friend walking around campus today. It was unexpected.”
“What was she doing here?” Krista asked. “Touring the campus?”
“Her brother goes here. I know him. And she said her boyfriend goes here too.”
“So was she skipping school?” Taylor asked, adding sarcastically, “I don’t know anything at all about skipping classes…”
“She probably didn’t have school today,” I explained. “Tomorrow is Veterans Day. We always got that off in high school.”
“Oh yeah. It’s a holiday.”
“Why don’t we get Veterans Day off?” Charlie asked rhetorically. “It’s not fair.”
“It’s supposed to be a holiday?” I heard Jason Costello’s voice say behind me.
“Tomorrow is Veterans Day,” I explained, turning around. Ramon Quintero and his girlfriend Liz Williams were with him; they were all in our dorm last year as well. “I don’t know why Jeromeville doesn’t get it off, but I noticed that last year too.”
There had been no JCF the week before, because the group had been on a retreat with sister chapters of this organization at other colleges and universities in the region. I had not attended the retreat, but most of my friends here did. Taylor and Charlie were talking about something that happened to Pete Green, Taylor and Charlie’s third roommate, at the retreat. “Where is Pete tonight anyway?” I asked.
“He’s in San Diego,” Taylor replied.
“Visiting his family there?”
I heard someone from the worship band welcoming us to JCF and saying that it was time to get started. As the band played, and sang along to lyrics being displayed on an overhead projector, my eyes scanned the front of the room, watching the people on the worship team. I saw the drummer and realized something: it was Scott Madison, the other tutor who had said hi to me this afternoon. That was why he looked so familiar; this was my third time at JCF, and I had probably seen him play drums here before. At the end of the night, I said hi to him and formally introduced myself; he seemed like a nice guy. (A few years later, Scott would become the first non-relative to invite me to his wedding, and I still get Christmas cards from Scott and his family to this day.)
Although my Friday had ended on a good note, I woke up feeling down again on Saturday morning. It was a cool and gloomy day, with gray skies that threatened rain. Summer in Jeromeville is sunny and hot, and winter is relatively mild compared to much of the United States. It only snows high in the mountains, snow here on the valley floor is very rare, but rain is fairly common in the winter. And the transition period from summer to winter is very short, usually occurring around early November. Winter had arrived earlier this week, and it was supposed to rain intermittently all weekend. Rain made me sad and anxious.
I spent the morning doing homework and reading. By mid-afternoon, some patches of blue sky had appeared, and the threat of rain had passed, so I went for a bike ride. I started riding through the Greenbelts, then back down G Street toward downtown, but despite keeping myself busy, I kept thinking about my chance encounter with Annie yesterday. Why hadn’t I asked for her address or phone number, so I could try keeping in touch? I subconsciously knew that there was no point, though. I had given her my address at Plumdale High’s Homecoming a year ago and never heard from her, and knowing that she had a boyfriend made it feel futile to pursue anything, although I would have been happy just being friends.
Two years ago, I was a senior at Plumdale High, and I felt like I grew a lot that year. I finally had a social life, and I made new friends, including Annie. But then I graduated, I moved away, many of my senior class friends moved away in different directions, and I lost touch with many of my friends. There was no texting or social media in those days, and only a few of my friends used email, so it was difficult to keep in touch. And despite all that, I still felt like I was on the outer fringes of the social circle in high school, not really one of them.
I wished that the events of my senior year had happened during sophomore or junior year instead. That way, I might have had time to solidify some of those friendships before we scattered. Maybe I would have learned how to actually ask a girl out. Maybe Annie would have broken up with her boyfriend, and I would have been able to use those new skills.
What if I just ran away and pretended to be in high school again? What would that be like? What would it take? A fake birth certificate would probably be hard to find. Maybe I wouldn’t need one. Maybe I would just need fake transcripts to show to the new school. Being 19 and still in high school was unusual, but not exactly unheard of. My birthday came right at the start of the school year, so I started kindergarten when I was barely 5. Some parents would have chosen for me to start kindergarten the following year. My parents did that with my brother Mark; with his birthday in October, they chose to wait until he was almost 6 to put him in kindergarten. Mark would turn 18 in the fall of 1999, early in his senior year, and someone his age who had repeated a grade in elementary school would be a 19-year-old senior.
Could I do this? Would it be possible to fake my identity and get a second try at my senior year of high school? Probably not. Lying on important documents like transcripts seemed too dishonest and illegal for me to be comfortable with it. But, I thought, all of this seemed like a great premise for a work of fiction.
I had been writing again in my spare time recently. Last year, I wrote a short novel called The Commencement, based on all the growing up I did as a senior in high school. I had been revising and expanding it lately, and it was up to 62 pages. I was running out of ideas for how to expand The Commencement, so maybe it was time to work on something new.
As I continued riding my bike that afternoon, along the entire length of the Arboretum and back up Andrews Road toward home, I kept thinking about faking my identity and going back to high school. How would that be possible? Maybe this story would take place at a different point in life; going back to high school now seemed like too much of a stretch, and none of my thoughts led to anything realistic. Maybe my character would run away while he was a senior in high school, and go to a new school in a new town, pretending to be two years younger. I would focus my writing on everything he dislikes about life, and all of his unfinished business, to make the desire to run away real. But if he is not an adult, how can he just do this, and where would he go? That was easy; I could make him turn 18 early in his senior year. And I could give him divorced parents living far from each other, so he would have the option to go move in with the other parent.
When I got home from my bike ride, I showered and put a frozen dinner in the microwave. I put on some music from high school, starting with Pearl Jam’s Ten album, and began writing. I started my novel, which was still untitled at this point, by quoting a song lyric, as Stephen King often did with his novels, then proceeded to set the scene of a character who felt like he did not fit in with his friends.
“I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life”
“Where were you this morning?” Ryan asked Sara.
“I was…” Sara paused. “Sleeping in,” she said, with a mischievous grin on her face.
Sleeping in? Jon thought.
“You missed class?” Becky teased.
“He said we didn’t have to come today,” Sara said defensively. “He was just doing a review for the test tomorrow. I needed a break, and I feel prepared for the test.” Jon began to feel somewhat angry after hearing this.
“How did you get out of band?” Kate asked. “Does Mr. Jackson know you were gone?”
“He knows,” Sara said. “He knows I had to see the dentist.” Sara and the others laughed. All except Jon. Some people could just do whatever they wanted and not get caught. But if Jon tried it, he would get stopped at the gate because ___ High School was a closed campus. It wasn’t fair.
I left the name of the school blank. I had not decided yet where Jon and his friends lived. I usually wrote about places familiar to me, so they would have to live somewhere back home in Santa Lucia County, or Jeromeville, or maybe across the Drawbridge from Jeromeville in Capital City, or maybe Bidwell where my dad had family. But it would make more sense to have Jon run away to one of those places familiar to me, and to have the story open somewhere else, somewhere more interesting. I thought about different cities and states that had been on my mind recently and settled on San Diego, California, where my friend Pete had once lived and was currently visiting his family. I could ask Pete next time I saw him to suggest a good name for a high school in San Diego.
I continued writing about Jon’s day. Jon heard his friends talk about college applications, and about movies they liked that Jon had never seen, and movies they hated that Jon liked. I wrote about Jon’s feelings of inferiority regarding a lack of extracurricular activities for college applications, and a conversation he had with the school counselor about this, and more laments in Jon’s head about not belonging and not feeling good enough. I thought back to yesterday when I ran into Annie Gambrell and wrote this scene for the end of Jon’s school day.
“Jon! What are you doing?” He looked up at Kelly ___, one of the few underclassmen he knew. He met her last month while interviewing her for the yearbook, doing the page on the women’s’ JV cross-country team. Sometimes Jon thought that the fact that women’s’ JV cross-country got two whole pages in the yearbook was just part of an international conspiracy that ensured that certain people, who were labeled “popular,” got in the yearbook at least twenty times every year whereas other people only got in once. This was the same conspiracy that invented Homecoming Queens and the modern system of student government. Jon had nothing against women’s sports, or unpopular sports; he just didn’t like being unpopular.
“Hi.” Jon looked up and saw that she was with a friend. He thought the friend’s name was Nicole, but he did not know her.
“What are you doing? Waiting for someone?” Kelly asked.
“No. Just…” he paused. “Thinking.”
“Are you okay?” Kelly asked.
“I’m all right. I just kind of had a rough day.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine.”
“Thanks,” Jon replied. “See you later.” Jon really liked Kelly. She seemed really nice, and she was pretty too. She had a beautiful smile. Unfortunately, she already had a boyfriend. Jon got in his truck and drove home, thinking about what it would be like to have a relationship with Kelly.
I thought about making the last name for the Annie character something that sounded like Annie, or like Gambrell. The only thing I could think of was “Aniston,” the last name of one of the actors on the TV show Friends. There was no way I would name someone in my story after Friends, so I left it blank and moved on.
I spent most of the rest of that weekend writing, finishing chapter 1 and half of chapter 2, establishing the mood of Jon feeling out of place and wanting to start over, wanting more time to live the high school experience. I also mentioned that Jon’s father lived five hundred miles away in Capital City, with a second wife who had two children of her own.
I never did see or hear from Annie again after that day. I could have asked her brother to get in touch with her for me, I saw him at church the next day, but that just felt weird. Annie was off limits because she had a boyfriend. But I continued to work on this novel for the next several months. I had no plans to act out the premise of this novel, to run away and go back to high school, nor did I have a realistic way of doing so. I knew that that would never happen. But it was interesting to think about, and fun to put these thoughts on paper. If they could not happen in real life, I could create a fantasy world where these things happened, as long as I knew that it was just fantasy and did not let it consume my life.
Author’s note: Yes, these are actual excerpts from a novel I wrote in 1995-96. More about that later.
Also, in real life it’s my birthday! Well, yesterday was.