My first memory of Karen is in first grade.
Karen is in the second row, far right. She looks so happy, and that’s how I remember her then (I, in contrast, am in the third row – remember my fervent wish to be a petite girl who got to sit? – second from left, with that sad, sad short haircut).
I remember going into the bathroom in our classroom one day, and seeing Karen standing at the sink, looking intently at herself in the mirror as she sang Happy Birthday loudly and expressively. She sang pretty well, and I was impressed with her confidence.
Throughout elementary school, Karen and I were sometimes in class together. I remember how much she enjoyed singing.
In junior high, Karen and I stood at the bus stop together. Karen didn’t have the latest clothes, and many of the kids made fun of her “greasy hair” and would make a point of standing away from her, leaving her by herself. While I never called her names, sadly I can’t recall that I specifically befriended her either.
All too soon, we were all in high school. Karen and I were both in choir. In my case, this owed nothing to my singing skills and everything to my piano-playing. In fact, piano earned me a coveted spot in the “Advanced Choir” and “Swing Choir” from my freshman year. The Swing Choir (now it would be called Show Choir) was a haven of popular, cool kids. This always was an odd spot for me, since I was neither of those things.
How does Karen tie in here? Was she in Swing Choir? Well – no. In fact, Karen spent several years in the choir reserved for freshman girls. At one point, I thought about her, and asked our choir director why Karen wasn’t in Swing Choir. After all, she loved the sing, and she was good.
He looked at me, and said, “Do you really think THAT’S the kind of person we want representing our school?”
Well. That certainly caught me by surprise, and I have thought of his comment often in the 25 years since. Perhaps it was then that it dawned on me that people don’t always get what they deserve, and that hard work may only get a person so far. Maybe sometimes the people we see in positions of power aren’t there because of ability, but because of connections.
It taught me some lessons, none of them good, I’m afraid.
As for Karen, she finally dropped out of choir after failing to advance. I’ve often thought of her since, and wondered what she’s doing now. I’d like to think she’s somewhere singing, and that she still has all the confidence she had as a smiling, sunny first grader.
We do not remember days; we remember moments. ~Cesare Pavese