For some people, high school is a defining moment in their lives. The selves that they discover during those 4 short years become the selves that they return to time and again when they have to construct a mental image of themselves. I get it. I do. High school is the time that we are first significantly ranked as social objects. It's a time when we figure out what love and sex are. It's a time when we establish identities that we fool ourselves into believing are real. For me, though, high school was, in a strange way, illusory. Looking back on those days feels like recalling a story that happened to someone else.
I was fairly clueless when it came to issues to do with love and attraction. Unlike my other friends, I wasn't really attracted to anyone at all unless I knew them first, and even then, there really didn't seem to be a clear pattern to my attractions. The history of sexual abuse and the lack of friends didn't help much either. I was a map where all the boundaries had been erased, and I constantly found myself getting lost. I had a tendency to fall into messes.
During my sophomore year of high school, we got a brand new Russian teacher. He was young, barely older than us, with curly hair, bright eyes, pretty pink lips, and roses in his cheeks. It was Catholic school, and sexual repression and illicit desire scented the air, something subtle, something animal, something on the fringes of perception. That was the year that my best friend, R, came out of the closet and developed an obsession for all things Russian, including our teacher.
Languages were easy for me to learn when I was younger because, for some reason, by brain interprets the same word in different languages as synonyms. Even now, the word that comes out of my mouth is not always guaranteed to be in the language that everyone around me is speaking or, if I do speak English, my accent might morph into something new. I loved learning Russian. It was the first time that I learned a language from the ground up, alphabet attached. D, our teacher, loved our passion. For him. For trying something new. For Russian. We used to walk down to the river all holding hands or linking arms like a strange 6-limbed beast. I was happy to hug or hold or love, but, in spite of my past, I knew nothing about sex. Eventually, D and R became strange to me, eyes full of a heat I couldn't understand, gazes lingering in ways that excluded me, hands touching in an uncomfortable way. When they finally told me, explained their newly coupled selves, I thought nothing askance about it. It didn't last long. D was shy and quiet and desperately in love. R, on the other hand, was bold, fast, outrageous, and eager for a quick fling only. R left us both behind.
D and I started spending a lot of time together. He made me mushroom soup, borchst, and pumpernickel bread. We spent hours lounging on the bed or drinking tea at the table in his tiny apartment talking about our favorite Russian authors and listening to Tears for Fears. The seasons had changed, and I was always too cold to walk too far beside the river or in the forest, but he let me wedge my hands up into the sleeves of his baggy sweater when I needed to get warm. We were happy. We were friends. Or something.
One day, though, everything changed. D never hurt me, but he did scare me. He and I had fallen into a routine where every day after school, I would go to his apartment and we would eat and talk. The sparkle had returned to his eyes, and we no longer spent hours lamenting about how hard it was to stay alive. We were laying on his bed going over some Russian verbs, faces arching close as flowers, when he kissed me. Kissed me and then rolled on top of me. I was shocked. But he got off of me when I said so and then took me home.
D and I stopped talking for a while, and then his life fell apart. Somehow, someone found out about D and R, and that was the end. He was sacked, and he went away. R and I chatted on occasion, but it was never the same. He left for Russia right after graduation, and I only saw him once more. I didn't recognize the beer guzzling bro who had come back.
They're gone now, both of them, disappeared into lives that are no longer connected to mine. And I have never had borscht or pumpernickel bread taste so good again.