SideLines: Face-to-face with a ghost from the past

I wasn’t sure if I was going to go. Or even if I should.

She was a girl I knew in high school too many years ago, back when the world was fresh and bright and every day was like spring.

She wasn’t a girlfriend or anything, just a member of our group, congregating at study hall and lunch and weekend basketball games. She was friendly and funny and pretty in a quiet, unassuming way without needing to call constant attention to herself.

I hadn’t thought about her in years until I read in the Daily Chronicle of her mother’s upcoming funeral. It was in some church I had never heard of on the west side of DeKalb. I think it used to be an old shopping mall.

I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me after all these years. It’s not like we were especially close or kept in touch. I was just some boy she shared a graduation kiss with one night behind the old Stockley plant, where we worked one very long, hot summer. We were young and goofy, just kids really, not knowing what paths we were going to take, or where life would drag us.

I went anyway.

Meeting someone from the past is always a little daunting, like going down a long, strange hallway when you don’t know what’s on the other side. It can be delightful sometimes, leaving you with a glow that lasts for days, and awkward at others, even unsettling. There’s so much to catch up on, but you can never think of what to say. How do you sum up 30 years in 60 seconds?

Seeing her across that darkened room, it occurred to me how some people find their paths in life so much better, even easier, than others. She had changed; gotten older and wiser and more mature, all in good ways. As she greeted family and old friends, none of whom I recognized, I noticed she carried herself with a dignity and grace I didn’t remember. Perhaps that comes from being the wife of a college professor. Or maybe from being a mother and grandmother. Or maybe from something else.

I know every reason I should have approached her, but for one I can’t explain, I couldn’t. The jolly teenage girl I knew ever so briefly two lifetimes ago had somehow metamorphosed into this distinguished-looking lady completely foreign to me.

Maybe, in retrospect, I never really knew her that well in the first place. How well do we really know anyone? The only things I really remember, and don’t ask me why, are that Led Zeppelin once ruled her world, Starsky and Hutch were better than Baretta because there were twice as many of them, and she figured trigonometry was a waste of time.

Are little snippets like that what make you feel you know someone? Is just remembering them enough?

More than someone I once knew, she represents a pleasant moment in my life. To a teenager, what’s more glorious than being a senior in high school, when you rule your own little niche of the world? Underclassmen look up to you, all the girls in school flirt with you, and even the teachers seem to respect your opinion, something they wouldn’t have dreamt of doing even the year before. After that, the real world kicks in and you become like everyone else.

Even though we didn’t speak, I’m still glad I saw her. She comes from a time and place that’s nice to visit once in awhile, but never to stay for very long. It’s a place that doesn’t belong to me anymore, nor should it. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones once said, “We age not by holding on to youth, but by letting ourselves grow and embracing whatever youthful parts remain.”

As far as I’m concerned, let someone else rule the world. I have taxes to deal with.

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