But Glenda. We were just freshmen — awkward, self-conscious, and immature in silly rather than destructive ways — and Glenda was a senior, which put her more or less on the same level as the teachers, as far as we were concerned. Everyone understood and more or less accepted the caste system that defined our high school social scene as if it were natural law, as inevitable as those magical bodily transformations that made some of us utterly irresistible, some of us acne-plagued, and some all knees and elbows.
The freshman were at the bottom of the social stratum, all of us held in universal contempt except for those precious few who were fortunate enough to be born into families of privilege. Most freshmen, especially the boys, lived in a terrified state of perpetual danger, since the caste system permitted, even encouraged, the ritualized torment of its members by anyone who was not a freshman. If we were caught out alone, we might be stuffed into closets or tied to flag poles or “paddled” with miniature boat oars that featured perfectly round holes that had been very carefully and precisely drilled in shop class. Some seniors painted their paddles, while others had their victims sign the paddle as if collecting signatures for a petition.
But Glenda. One day, just as school was dismissing for the day, Glenda was sitting in the lotus position on a green bench just inside the entrance to the school, surrounded as she usually was by a cluster of friends, though as I approached, the cluster broke apart — one girl headed this way, another girl headed that way — leaving me and Glenda face to face as I prepared to walk past her and out the door, having survived another day. She looked at me directly, kind of smirking in a way I could not really translate. I had no experience with this particular species of smirk, one that was not really hostile and not really haughty. She straightened just a bit, never breaking eye contact, regardless of how I tried to look away. I had the instinct that she was about to speak, though we had never had even the briefest conversation. I did not think that she even knew who I was. I clutched my armful of books tighter to my chest as if I were brandishing a shield and prepared to push on through whatever was coming, like briars in a berry patch.
“You’re name is Chris Cox, isn’t it?” she said.
I swallowed hard, trying to find enough saliva in my mouth not to choke. I slowed down, had to in order to acknowledge and answer her question. I had been THIS close to escaping, and now this.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to be cool, but not too cool. “That’s what they say.”
“You’re in my sister’s class.”
“Yeah, your sister is cool.”
In high school, all things and all people were — and probably still are — divided into two categories. They were either cool, or they sucked. Glenda’s sister was cool. The guy who crawled up behind David Sherburn in the cafeteria during lunch and set his pants on fire with a Bic lighter, he sucked.
But Glenda. She looked me right in the eye and smiled, just the slightest trace of a smirk still playing at the corners of her mouth. Students continued to stream past us, the less fortunate toward the busses lined up outside, the more fortunate toward their cars and trucks in the parking lot below. A few milled around in the lobby, probably waiting for band or baseball practice or who knew what?
I stood there with Glenda, for the moment at least, oblivious to it all.
“Chris Cox, I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to ever forget it,” she said.
“I want you to know that you are unbelievably cute, and I mean cute,” she said. “And I want you to know that you are going to grow up to be a very handsome man someday. God, how I wish I could be there when you do.”
She looked away, wistfully I thought, and then she looked at me again.
“Well, that’s it,” she said, shrugging and turning around to grab her books. “See you around.”
I hated my freshman year of high school. But Glenda, she was cool.