She sat next to me in my Crafts Class. She was pale skinned, with long wavy hair that sometimes looked unbrushed, slight of built and quiet like I was.
I had switched to the Craft Class because the Chorus Class disappointed me. Over the summer we had moved to this town and I was less than happy over leaving my friends. They would all be in their Freshman year at the High School and I was in a three year Middle school. I couldn't even call myself a Freshman, I was a 9th grader. The year was 1972.
She didn't talk readily but would give a demure smile if you spoke to her in greeting. Her eyes looked haunted and sad as though there was something she was not able to say, and not knowing anyone at the school I could not ask what was her story. At 14 I didn't have the best social skills of making new friends and frankly I didn't want new friends, I wanted my old friends.
Our class was in a large, high ceiling room with a kiln room in the rear. We sat at high desk tables on stools, two by two, making clay bowls. Our teacher with his laid back ways, allowed us to talk while we worked. Her table was the only one with a vacant stool.
Day after day we sat working on our bowls, not saying much. Sometimes she had dry, crusty looking lips and her eyes looked like she had been crying as they were red and watery. She never seemed to have any friends in the room who would come up and talk to her. In some ways we shared the same isolation.
I noticed that she wore a bracelet but it was not a decorative girls type of bracelet. It was of silver in color with writing on it. I asked her one day what it was. She told me it was for her boyfriend who had gone to Vietnam. He was missing and she wore this always and never took it off. I didn't know what to say and muttered a "oh". That was all we said as we worked.
She wore a POW-MIA bracelet. A young man off to war missing in action. Her sadness was understood by me of what I thought she might be feeling. Or so I thought. I too had lost a boyfriend when we moved. He as well had moved away and we had tried to correspond thinking we would still always be boyfriend and girlfriend. It felt tragic to me not being able to see him, hug him and kiss him. I did not know what tragic meant.
Tragic meant for her maybe never seeing the man she loved. For he was a man, not a teenager, sent to fight, drafted. How could she love one at her age who was so much older than she? What did her mom and dad think of this? How long had he been gone or was missing? I had questions in my head but I lacked the courage to ask her.
She had been absent for a few days and I wondered when she would be back. Our class project now was working on leather belts, pounding on the head of a tool with a small hammer to create designs of our choosing. By now I had made new friends at the school as well as in this class and was accepting to a point that this was where we lived in this new town. I still dreamed that somehow I could convince my parents to let me move back to our old town and live with my girlfriend's family.
She was gone a week. When she came back she looked more frail and pale that before. It saddened me to see her so. I asked her what happened, had she been real sick? She looked at me with old eyes and said "I had to stay home because my baby was sick". I was speechless. She had a baby? She was 14. In my world you don't have a baby at 14.
This was my wake up call that life can be tragic beyond a break-up of a boyfriend at school because he liked another girl over you. This was more tragic than having to move away from your friends. I didn't have the maturity to understand what she might be going through but I could be her friend here and now.
I didn't get to know her any more than in that class. Sometimes the shallowness of our teen years keeps us from wanting to reach out beyond the girlhood rules of friendship. The girls I began to hang out with cheered me up and accepted me. She didn't have time to be a teenager to do what teens do. To go to the movies or shopping. I didn't see her again when we all finally moved on to 10th grade and at last to High School.
I am haunted by her memory all those years ago.