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April 15, 2024

Meanderings 17

By Basil D.

Check-out Girl.

Once upon a time, back when the cold war was raging and ugly gold medallions were considered the height of fashion, I attended high school. One of the girls in my class, Ann, was funny, pretty and absolutely brilliant — a straight A student all through school. I found out recently that sometimes the brilliant ones don't make it in life the way you'd think. Sometimes they fall through the cracks.

In the little backwater country school I attended, we started first grade with a group of about 20 students and twelve years later finished pretty much with the same group. From day one Ann was one of the prettiest, smartest girls in school. She had wavy honey-blond hair that curled deliciously down her back and an angular pixies face that was just cute as a button. Right from the beginning almost every boy in our class harbored a secret desire to be Ann's boyfriend. There was only one problem with this scenario: Ann was smart.

Now, Ann wasn't just smart, this girl was brilliant. She always made 100's on her tests, she turned in perfect homework papers, her desk was always neat and orderly, her pencil erasers un-chewed — in a word, she was the perfect academic student. However, to a rowdy bunch of country boys who knew how to catch a fish but couldn't spell it, Ann was a little frightening. After all, what 10 year old boy in his right mind wants an "atom bomb genius" as she was called, for a girlfriend?

The end result of Ann's disconcerting intellect was that she didn't get a lot of dates in school. Guys (like me) were simply intimidated by how smart she was. What would she do on a date? Solve algebraic equations? Convert the miles you drove to the movies into kilometers? Describe cinematic techniques while you tried to neck her up during the film? No, we just didn't feel up to it, so Ann was mostly dateless throughout school.

Ann wanted to be a veterinarian, which academically is more difficult than becoming a medical doctor, but there was no doubt that if that was what she wanted, that's what she would do. After we finished eleventh grade, she spent a summer at the local junior college taking (and acing) several college courses and this is where she encountered trouble: she met a guy.

This guy Ann dated and subsequently married was attending the same junior college and taking metal trades or welding or something. He had been in prison, was covered with grotesque jail-house tattoos and had a room temperature IQ, but he was "cute" to a lot of women and he obviously dug on Ann. The end result of this rather bizarre coupling was that after our graduation — in which Ann was valedictorian — she married this dude.

After graduation I lost touch with Ann, although I heard she eventually had a baby girl and was living in a trailer on her fathers land and working as a clerk in the local convenience store. College was dropped, and I heard from time to time that her chronically unemployed husband liked beating on her for fun when he was between jobs — which was most of the time.

Fast forward nearly twenty years. I was driving through my old home-town on the way to a conference and stopped at the Quik-mart to get gasoline, and there behind the counter was Ann. I was shocked at how she looked. Her formerly fine-featured face was lined and weary-looking, and she smiled sadly as I walked over behind the counter and hugged her. We talked awkwardly for a few minutes, and she introduced me to her daughter who came sailing in the store to buy gas. The daughter was a gorgeous, blue-eyed blond who looked like she should be getting photographed on a yacht somewhere, and she hung around with us for a few minutes before taking off.

I looked at my watch. "Well, it's good seeing you again. I'd better hit the road, but I'll see you at the class reunion this summer, right?"

"Yeah." She stuck a cigarette in the corner of her mouth, lit it and exhaled tiredly. "I'll see you there, Basil." She shook the match out, dropped it in an ashtray and walked behind the cluttered front counter.

"Bye, then." I gave her a little wave, turned, and left.

As I climbed into the company vehicle, I looked into the store and saw Ann standing behind the counter and watching me. He face was expressionless, and I wondered what she was thinking. Was she wondering where it all went wrong? Did she question the bizarre chain of events that would allow a lunk-head like me, one who couldn't see past the football team cheerleaders skirts, to acquire several college degrees and achieve modest financial success while she wasted her considerable intellect selling candy bars and prefab sandwiches?

Ann didn't come to our class reunion that year, and hasn't attended any of them up to this point. Maybe she's ashamed of how things turned out for her, maybe she just doesn't care enough to attend the events, I don't know. I've resolved that instead of remembering her as the weary-looking, faded middle-aged woman she has become, I'll remember the sweet, pretty, willowy girl who went through twelve years of school with me. I'll remember the girl who always had the correct answers, scored A's on every test, the girl who did all this without prissiness or condescension. In my mind, Ann will always be twelve years old, with curly blond hair trailing down her back and a shy, gentle smile for everybody. I think that little girl is still there, buried in her somewhere.

Article © Basil D.. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-05-01
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