Erica–It Could Have Happened

Baker High School 2

Erica

The other day, I got a message on one of my Face book posts. It said

“Hi John, I am not very good at posting. …things happen & I don’t how.You do amazing work. And I really enjoy following your posts.
HAPPY NEW YEAR”
And the years fell away.

She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her as she slowly stepped down and away from the military school bus. He fell in love as he watched her pony tail move from one shoulder to the other when she turned her head to look at something off to the left.

She carried herself erect and he loved the way her kilt plaid wrap around skirt swayed from side to side as she walked toward the school entrance. He took time to wonder if the four inch gold safety pin that held the skirt together was actually functional. His eyes moved from her penny loafers to the collar on her bright white blouse.

She cradled a couple of textbooks in her right hand, nestling them next to her breast and the eleventh grade boy wanted nothing more at that point than to be a textbook. A particular textbook.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I was that boy. I was sixteen and preparing to be a senior in high school. I stood six foot three inches tall and all of the other kids teased me all the time about my skinny legs. They called me “highpockets” and asked things like, “How’s the weather up there?”

The year was 1962 and I was a student at Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia. Baker was a large, twenty year old, two story brick edifice situated near Fort Benning. It had wooden floors, high ceilings, and lots of tall windows. Fort Benning sent busloads of high school students there and these kids joined the thousand or so local students, filling the school to the bursting point. There were a lot of pretty girls, too, and I appreciated every one of them. They came in all shapes and sizes and hair colors and most of them were delightful.

But that one day in May, I saw a girl who stole my heart and filled it with fantasies. Before I could find out who she was, though, the final week of school went by and then school was out for the summer. I drove a tractor that summer, cutting grass at the airport. I had a lot of time to think about my muse.

The following year, my senior year, was a good one. In English class, I met an interesting guy named Jim who had been in the army and was now finishing high school. He seemed so mature! He told me lots of stories. One day, at the end of the first week of school, Jim said, “Man, you wouldn’t believe the teacher’s aide girl in the drama class.” I took that as a challenge, got a library pass, and walked past the drama classroom at the proper time.

There she sat, the girl of my dreams. She was grading papers or something while the teacher went on about some guy marrying his mother. I guess that’s ok if it turns you on, but I couldn’t get my thoughts away from the beautiful girl. I asked, and Jim told me her name was Erica. A Nordic name for a Nordic beauty.

I immediately decided that I wanted to devote my life to the study of drama. I convinced the guidance counselor that taking the drama class instead of the current wood shop would fulfill my life-time dreams. I told her that without a drama class, my life would be sad and wasted. She bought it. I got to switch from wood shop to drama class. I found out all too soon that I should have checked out that teacher. She was meaner than a snake.

But the teacher didn’t matter at first. I sat and admired Erica. She would sit in total concentration as she made out the absentee report. She took my breath away when she was asked to write something on the blackboard and when she reached up to erase what had been written the day before, swaying with a rhythm…well, you get the picture.

I knew, though, that all I could do was watch her because I was sure there was absolutely no way someone that beautiful would go out with me. She was like a painting, to be admired and enjoyed from a distance. So I did the best I could in the class and just enjoyed being in the same room with Erica for 55 minutes a day.

But the teacher was extremely mean and bullying. She took an immediate dislike to me and made my life miserable. I couldn’t do anything right and it quickly got to the point that I had to weigh the joys of seeing Erica with the misery of Miss Johnson. One day Miss Johnson won out.

“John, you are worthless. I can’t imagine how you got this far in school.”

All the other students laughed at me.
I replied something sensitive like, “go get you a corncob you ugly old hog.”
She didn’t like that and told me to get out.
So I did.

I knew of a good place to go that was private and under a stairwell where I could read my book instead of going to the fifth period class. I kept thinking that I would get turned in for skipping class and get in trouble. I also knew that I was going to make an F in the class and incur the wrath of my Dad.

But, nothing happened. Day after day I skipped the class and read my book in the stairwell. When report cards came out, I was surprised to see that instead of an F I had gotten a B in Drama. I thought, “oh, well, maybe I’m just lucky.” I kept on reading my book under the stairwell for an hour a day.

Fall moved into winter and winter into spring. One day in March, Erica came and found me in my stairwell. My God, she was lovely. She stood in front of me and said, “John, you have to start coming to class again. Your friend Jim has gotten Miss Johnson pregnant and she lost her job and he got kicked out of school and we’re getting a new drama teacher.” So, I did as I was told and went to class and admired Erica while I enjoyed the new instructor.

Then we graduated and I went off to college.

The picture of Erica stayed in my head for years and, though I never saw her again, I never forgot her.
Years later I ended up in Rome, Georgia.
Now we will think about a big bridge. A lot of water went under that bridge. Forward to 1998.

It turned out that Mr Richardson who was the industrial arts department head at Baker, had also graduated from Berry College in the early fifties and I lived only a few miles from Berry College. Mister Richardson came to an event at the college, looked me up, and took me out to dinner.

“Why haven’t you been to a high school reunion?” he asked.

“I didn’t know there was such a thing.” I replied.

And it turned out that no one had been able to find me.

And, So, after more water under that bridge, after I had become single, sober, and almost sixty years old, I was invited to the fortieth reunion of the class of 1963. I got in my blue pick up truck and drove down to attend.

All sorts of people were happy to see me. There was a big banquet and a disc jockey who played things like “Smoke gets in your eyes,” and “I’m Mr. Blue.”

The lady in charge of affairs came up to me, took me by the hand and led me to a table where she showed me my place card. She sat me down. I was looking around, speaking to people I had known, watching others sit at my big round table and all of a sudden I felt a marvelous fragrance.
I turned to my right where a lady had sat down beside me and my jaw dropped as I noticed that it was…

Her—It was her

It was Erica

And she was lovely.

We talked as we ate

We danced to all the slow tunes
And she didn’t ask “how’s the weather up there” because she was six feet tall.

And while we were dancing, she stood back and said,
“John I always had such a big crush on you.”

I was amazed. I was smitten, I couldn’t keep track of the thoughts rushing through my head.
“I loved you from afar.” I said.

“Why didn’t you ever ask me out?” she asked with sadness in her eyes.

“I never thought I would have a chance and I couldn’t have handled being turned down.” We danced a bit more.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I never knew.”

She looked me in the eyes—“I tried,” she said, “When you got kicked out of the class I lied about your attendance and saw to it that you didn’t get an F. I came to get you when the new teacher showed up. And I knew right where to find you all the time. Did you not see that?”
I hung my head…”I never knew.”

And so, we talked in the hotel’s hospitality room most of the night. We talked about our lives and about me being a landscaper in Rome, Georgia and her being an executive secretary somewhere on the west coast.

That night, I asked, “Would you like to have breakfast in the morning before we have to go back to our homes?”

“I would love to,” she replied

I hesitated and asked, “Shall I call you or nudge you?”

She looked at the wall for a long time.
“I guess you’d better call me.”

And then she kissed me on the cheek and left.

We had breakfast the next morning and she kissed me on the cheek and left again.

John Schulz March 16, 2017

Everything is going to be all right

Baker High School 2

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