I was getting my books out of my locker when an old friend approached. X was a starter on the football team and I was a dweeb. We had been good friends in grade school, and I think that he kept me around in high school because he looked that much better when he stood next to me. Anyway, he came up to me and we had a minor argument. X demanded that I apologize and grovel before his all American greatness, but I refused. He decided to put me in my place and choked me with one hand around my throat. I knocked it off with an elbow chop. He seemed surprised, and decided to reassert his dominance by choking me with two hands. I chopped with both elbows and squared to him with my fists up. He could have beaten me to a pulp, but I wasn’t willing to be humiliated by him. A crowd had gathered around us, and X glanced left and right and sensed that he wasn’t going to win any points by pushing the issue any further. He walked away.
Valentine’s Day came a few weeks later, and in home room I received a white rose with a note. That meant that I had a secret admirer. I had no idea who could possibly like me. I was genuinely puzzled. My social standing at that time was somewhat above a leper and somewhat below the nobodies who were mostly ignored. Most girls made a point of avoiding my company in the halls and classrooms fearing that any association with me would tarnish their reputations.
One girl occasionally spoke to me, however, and seemed to enjoy our brief conversations. I decided that she must have sent me the white rose. I looked up her surname in the phone book and called her one night after supper. Our one phone was on a counter that divided the kitchen from the dining room, and the living room was just a few feet away. My mother, father and little brother were gathered around the television set, and I had an audience whether I wanted one or not.
Kathy answered the phone and I proposed a date. She was struck dumb for a few seconds, and then told me that she couldn’t go out on that particular night. She had to wash her hair. I proposed other dates, and hair washing always ruled them out. I realized that I must have been mistaken about the rose, and that she’d never go out with me. But I was struck by an odd thought before I hung up and retreated to my bedroom: I envisioned Kathy as Rapunzel trapped in her tower by the constant need to clean her long, long tresses. I laughed, somewhat involuntarily, and she hung up on me.
X told me a few months later that he got his girlfriend to send the flower and sign the note that came with it, and that I had been the butt of their joke. He had included a few other people in on the gag, and they had a fine time watching me react when I got the flower. Somehow the news of my rejection had been spread around the same crowd, and X assured me that it had all been very funny. He smiled and waited for me to congratulate him on the cleverness of his trick.
He also told me that Kathy was mortified that I thought she might be willing to date me, and was worried that people who mattered would find out that I had called her. He added that she pined after a football player who wasn’t interested in her because she didn’t look like a cheerleader. He may have said that to console me.
He had been a good friend for ten years, and I was surprised that he had used me so poorly. I mentally wrote him off the list of people I trusted, and no longer considered him a friend.
Our little talk wasn’t the end of the trouble, however. Kathy and I never spoke again, but she had a friend who was willing to torment me for my effrontery. Ellen made a point of making snide remarks whenever we ran into each other, and I learned to duck down side corridors whenever I saw her coming. We were in a trig class together our senior year, and I continued to pay the price for bringing shame down on Kathy’s head. Ellen seemed perpetually outraged that I had dared to assume that Kathy and I were social equals.
Five years later I served as a groomsman in X’s wedding. He married that same high school girlfriend who had sent the white flower. I hadn’t made a point of letting him know what I really thought about him, but he wasn’t thick enough to make me his best man. He chose a guy who had once punched me in the mouth in eighth grade.
I rode around with X and his intended as we ran errands and drove downtown to get fitted for our tuxes, and she continuously whined and complained about the arrangements that were being made. I felt sorry for him and asked him when we had a moment alone why he wanted to marry this woman. He told me that he knew that she would never leave him.
I did my bit at the ceremony and went to the reception. It reminded me a lot of high school in that no one seemed willing to talk to me, and the bridesmaids didn’t give me a second glance. The bride, most likely, had told them stories and warned them away. I made it through a few toasts and the serving of the meal, but left before the cake was cut, the garter removed and the bouquet tossed. I didn’t say goodbye to the happy couple. I was sure that I wouldn’t be missed.