I found myself thinking about 11th grade French the other day. "Thinking about" might not be the best way to describe it, though. It was more like I was struck by an uncontrollable torrent of memories that suddenly and uninvitedly came flooding over me. The deluge was heavy with the detritus from that time in my life I spent so many years trying to erase. But by that point, I had taken to writing in pen, which could be crossed out but never deleted. No matter what, there was always something left underneath, muted as it might have been. It was forever etched in thin lines of ink that flowed from the expensive pens I would buy with my parents' money at the office supplies store. I often chose black ink because I thought it fit my temperament, but sometimes I used blue because Monsieur permitted it and I was eager to take advantage of any flourish or excess that was allotted to me.
We shared stick figure cartoons between the two of us back then. The stick figures carried knives or guns or sex toys and flew with angels' wings or crawled on the ground or erupted in flames. We would challenge each other to put order to these random acts of salvation and despair. The figures were given voice bubbles or thought bubbles- the trickier ones were already partially filled in with words or phrases or stray punctuation marks. Perhaps a stick woman shackled to a dungeon wall would be saying something that contains "World Trade Center" and ends in a question mark. Nearby, a stick vampire would be beginning his thought with "Banana pudding...".
I can't remember for sure, but maybe there was one particularly cocksure stick figure with spiky hair. If so, I wonder what mad twists of fate we threw in his path. Did we heap misfortunes and embarrassments on him before consigning him to the cannibals or the serial killers or the hyenas? Or perhaps he made it through unscathed, despite our attempts to rid ourselves of him. He would have been skilled in this regard.
We shared other things as well: make believe crushes, suburban misadventures, and industrial gothic battle cries (the kind that get banned from the so-called Free Speech Wall at the library). We would occasionally trade short stories back and forth, to be completed in alternating bursts as quasi-exquisite corpses. I remember one involving a thief traipsing through a moonlit glen before arriving at a well-preserved manor. Inside, things turned sinister and culminated in death by stiletto heel- this was definitely your touch, as it was the first time I had ever encountered the word, "stiletto".
There were poems, too. These were the kind that were often doomed to be ignored by the faculty-endorsed literary clique. Ours were too full of passion and energy and rage, and they lacked the slowness and rhythm and nature imagery that was required for publication in the literary journal.
Passing these X-rated missives could be hazardous, as Monsieur had keen eyes that were full of doubt and judgment. Exchanging bits of paper under our desks would have been obvious and therefore foolish, so we would instead loan each other binders, having tucked the latest edition of whatever story or cartoon safely behind their laminated covers. I remember one crisp winter morning when you passed me your thin black binder right at the beginning of class. I removed a sheet of lined paper that had been torn from the inside of a spiral notebook. It featured several short, neat rows of confident and precise words. It was obviously a poem you had copied- perhaps from memory- and you had included a short note near the top of the page: "This is the only one I ever wrote."
There was no need to ask what the subject was. Even before reading the hallowed words that followed, I knew there was only one thing that would merit having a single and most serious poem composed in its honor. Volumes more could have been written, but too much ink had already been spilt in my journal- probably in yours as well, if you kept one. And after all of the things that you had explained and I had left unsaid, there was precious little left to be discussed. As it was, we both knew that there was so much that we couldn't explain or understand, and so we ventured no further than that solitary poem.
Time is supposed to do a lot of things, but it certainly hasn't healed my wounds or shed any light on the situation. I find myself turning to distorted memories when I try to piece together what might have been really going on with the three of us, and I'd like to search for any clues that I might have left in my high school journal, but that burned last year in the fire. At first this loss infuriated me, but I've come to appreciate the freedom with which I am now able to romanticize the journal's contents. Instead of pages of bad poetry, sullen diatribes, and furtive attempts to explain away my desires, I can imagine an epic journey filled with melancholy beauty. Moments of darkness and banality can be replaced with the unspeakable fantasies I was too afraid to commit to words. If I try hard enough, I might even be able to give it a happy ending.
How deceitful I've become.