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I knew him when

yearbookSo I’m at the gym, faux cross country skiing to nowhere and watching MSNBC to keep it from being even more tedious than it is. The talk show host introduces one of her panelists, who turns out to be a guy I went to high school with.

Super-impressive, clearly a thoughtful and knowledgeable person who has no doubt earned his nosebleed ascent through the ranks of business reporting, including stints at the two most important newspapers in the country (yes, newspapers are still important.)

But as I listen to his commentary on the economic recovery, such as it is, all I’m thinking is, That guy told his buddies that we did things together that we didn’t when I was a freshman and he was a sophomore.

Not “the” thing but the next obvious thing, one of several that you don’t want to be famous around your school for doing with a lot of guys.

Now, this is hardly a crime and not even emotionally damaging beyond maybe a day or two of embarrassment and adolescent outrage back in 1982. He was a nice guy back then (who probably wanted to appear a bit more studly than he was) and I’m sure still is. Until I saw him on TV I hadn’t thought of it since I read one of his articles years ago. Then, as now, I wished him nothing but continued success.

(My boyfriend, who went to our same high school but who I didn’t know back then, asked if I wanted him to kick this guy’s ass. I told him sure, but only after he gets me a job at the New York Times.)

My point is, these things are what we remember about people, even after they’ve gone on to do change the world in positive ways large and small. Scares the crap out of me to think what youthful transgressions people remember about me when they see something I’ve written or see me on TV. “Look at that! I went to grammar school with her! She was too scared to ask where the bathroom was on the first day of first grade and wet the seat.” (True story.)

A few other things come to mind, which I will refrain from listing here. I’m sure there are dozens of less-than-proud moments in my history that old friends or bunk mates remember that I’ve since blocked out. I’ve told a few of my own to my daughters (who are ten and going through that everything’s embarrassing phase) to show them that once survives these traumas, by and large (the obvious exceptions being when they escalate to full scale bullying, but I’m not talking about that.)

Thoughts? I invite you all to post your version of such stories, whether you were on the giving or the receiving end of the regrettable mistake. You’ll get closure, and you’ll make me feel better for having an elephant-like memory for only the mortifying stuff.




6 Responses to “I knew him when”

  1. chernevik says:

    Good call on the boyfriend not kicking this guy’s ass, very mature.

    I’ll kick his ass for you.

  2. Charlie says:

    When my family moved to NYC in 1974 my dad decided to place me in private school. Having been accustomed to public schools in Philly, I found the transition difficult. As “the new kid” among the children of the rich and famous, I was awkward and unpopular. One of my chief tormenters was [A SON OF A HUGELY RICH AND FAMOUS ACTOR AND DIRECTOR]. [DUDE] was at the top of the social ladder, while there weren’t even rungs low enough to accommodate my rank. One day [DUDE] and accomplice [SIDEKICK] decided to fill my coat pockets with skinned, smashed oranges. An awkward parlay with our teacher followed, in which [DUDE AND SIDEKICK] gave tepid apologies that did not change our dynamic. They remained the hawks and I the toad. After a 4-year stint in New York, my family moved back to Philly in 1978, and I never saw [DUDE] again.

    Not long after, [DUDE] was diagnosed with severe [INCURABLE CONDITION], requiring not one but TWO liver transplants. He survived and went on to found the [DUDE’S NAME CHARITY DEDICATED TO TRANSPLANTS.]

    I am certain that the man he is today bears little resemblance to the boy of 35+ years ago, and am equally certain he carries no recollection of me whatever.

    I hadn’t thought much of those days myself until seeing this article. I am a father now, to a 7YO daughter, and I try to impress upon her the value of treating others with respect and kindness. But I am sure she will at times stumble and hurt others, as others will hurt her. It is the nature of things.

    May we each in our time learn to shed the selfishness of youth and to replace it with the compassion of maturity.

  3. marie says:

    That’s a humbling thought, what people would think when they remember you as a high schooler. All I know is my yearbook is filled with “Stay sweet”, so obviously, no one really knew me at all.

  4. Charlie, I love love love your comment, but redacted it so no one gets sued. Just in case…can’t afford it! ;)

  5. Catherine says:

    In the sixth grade I wrote a terribly mean note to a former friend. I didn’t have any good reason to do so; I have no idea why I did. I felt terrible about it for years. Then a few years ago I bumped into the person I wrote it to. We had a nice chat: She and I were both married. After our encounter, I finally found closure. We’re now friends on Facebook.

    I don’t know if she thinks of that note. I do know, though, that talking with her and realizing she didn’t carry a deep hatred for me allowed me to forgive myself for mistreating her.

  6. Joel Jacobs says:

    It’s like the inverse of an interview. In an interview, you make snap judgments about someone you don’t know, many of them incorrect, amplifying a few words into an entire person and future. When you have some reason to think about someone you knew as a teen, but not since, you extrapolate from that knowledge decades forward, and the assumptions may or may not be valid. I share your chagrin, Steph: those who knew us remember our flaws and imaturities, but they cannot know the ways in which we’ve grown. Some of our shortcomings, we have accepted and carried forward; others, we have worked to overcome. What to forget about, and what to condemn people forever for, is a hard call. And it’s as much about us as it is about them.