Pivot Points

This is one of those things that happens that stimulates the writer’s mind in me, being able to look back in my life and see situations with a more mature point of view. A few days ago, I contacted the front of a friend on Facebook to ask if she was someone I knew from high school. Her last name had changed, so I wasn’t sure. She responded that she was and then asked who I was. She and I weren’t friends in high school, not really, not at all. So I told her the friend’s name that we had in common. I reminded her that I was the guy who had dislocated his shoulder in high school. I told her that I was in drama class and thought she was too. None of this inspired her to remember who I was, it seemed: she didn’t respond to me for several minutes. Well, no big deal. I had one specific memory about her that I wanted to thank her for, so I proceeded to type it up:

So I will tell you about my one memory. As I said, I don’t think that you will remember me based on this because it really was more about me than you, but here goes:

As I said, I know you from drama. I don’t actually know if we were in drama together or if you even took drama class, but one year – I think it was my junior year, your sophomore year – I was house manager for that year’s stage production. I was in charge of making sure that the audience was seated and that everything in that area was taken care of. And once everything was under way, my job was to sit at the table in the back of the auditorium where people would be coming in with late tickets to allow them in quickly, quietly, and peacefully. Frankly, there was little to do back there except sit and watch the play.

And for whatever reason, you sat next to me. That was exciting enough, that you would want to sit with me. And I don’t remember how this happened, but you also let me hold your hand. And I had never held anybody’s hand before. And there really wasn’t anything else to it, it was just handholding, but I. was. holding. your. hand.

Probably nothing to you, and that’s cool – it really is. But I had struggled all through middle school and high school with social acceptance. Sometimes I felt like a real pariah in high school. It was really lonely. It was really sad. And I’m not saying this to inspire pity for myself – things worked out, and I’m doing great, but high school was really tough. I did what people do: I tuned out the parts myself that were not successful (as I said, social interaction, being accepted) and tuned into the parts of me that were (poetry, piano, humor, creativity, intelligence). But it’s one of those things – like people sometimes pose a question like, would you give up 10% of your intelligence to be 10% more attractive. That kind of thing. I had all my things going for me that I had going for me, but I would’ve traded them in gladly to feel more in tune with other people.

And you held my hand. I remember very specifically how sweaty my hand was and how many times I thought that I should stop holding your hand because my hand was so sweaty, but I was all about one more minute, one more second, one more moment of holding your hand. And you never pulled your hand away, you never made me feel like you were uncomfortable. You accepted me, and you made me feel welcome in your space, and I have valued that for the last thirty years.

I think in a way that it’s the small things that are the most important to remember. Someone may have made a Grand Gesture to me at some point and I may have forgotten that. But you, simply holding my hand, simply making me feel important, simply makes me feel human … it’s an incredible memory.

So thank you. That meant a lot to me. Sincerely.

So I went back to Facebook to send her this message. But in the meantime, she had responded and she did remember me. She also surprised me by saying that she tried not to think too much about high school because it had been hell for her. I was that she really had it all together in high school, but she affirmed that it was hard for her.

We talked for a few minutes and she said she remembered that I was “a real sweetheart.” She said she remembered my poetry and that we would talk sometimes and said that she thought it was “cute.” I asked her what else she remembered about me and she said I was “real quiet with a nice smile and a bit of an introvert.”

So we talked for a few minutes, about our careers and our families and where we live. It was getting late, so I asked her if she wanted my memory, the one I had typed up. She said she did, and so I sent it.

I waited for her response, and I’m glad I did:

I actually remember that day very clearly. Yes, your hand was sweaty, but I was nervous too. I was not any more socially adept than you were. It was a first for me also to sit and hold someone’s hand. I also valued the human contact. In 10th grade I had never had a date, never had a kiss, or any type of boy/girl interactions so Yes I remember it VERY clearly. I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. So I just held your hand and watched the play.

That was way more than I expected to hear about this memory. In my mind, she was really popular, way beyond me. I figured she was holding my hand out of pity, and I was willing to take it (and yes, I know how pathetic that sounds). But in fact, she must have held my hand because she liked me. If I had tried to kiss her, I could have. But in fact, nothing more happened, then or ever. We didn’t start passing notes or meeting up between classes, nothing. I just had no functional social skills whatsoever.

Who knows how this one incident when it changed my life. I don’t play “what if” games. I’m happy with my life where it is right now, I can’t imagine myself being happier. But I’m able to see that this was a real pivotal moment in my life because of what DIDN’T happen. If I had known then what I know now and if I had tried to kiss her and she had let me, no matter what the repercussions might have been between her and me, things would’ve changed dramatically. For example, this kiss would have given me confidence in myself a full year earlier than actually happened. This means that the girl I actually started dating first would’ve been someone different. This girl was two years younger than me, so I delayed going to college until she graduated so that we could go together (even though that isn’t what ended up happening). If I had not waited these two years, I would not have met my first wife (which means that I would not have my son) nor would I have connected with my current wife, whom I also met when I started going to college way back when.

This one kiss that I did not get would have changed absolutely everything.

It’s just amazing to think about, and makes me reflect on how many such pivot points we have in our lives. All of this is good fodder for my novel The What-If Girl.

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