'Did I ever tell you about Daphne Bigelow?.. Ah, that's not something I talk much about. I guess most men don't.'
Jean Shepherd in Phantom of the Open Hearth
I have grown up to be one of the men Jean Shepherd mentioned in his 1977 film based on the stories found in Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories.
In the movie, Shepherd tells the story of his character 'Ralphie', who is based loosely or tightly - on himself. He talks about wanting to take the best looking girl of his junior high school to the end of year prom.
He didn't get to did it. Instead, he ended up taking the less attractive Wanda Hickey. That's not to say he didn't get his moment with Daphne at the prom. When he saw her he greeted her.
Her response: 'Hello Harold.'
My Daphne Bigelow story is similar, yet different. She went to the same junior school as me. However, she was a year older. I fancied her like crazy. I didn't have a prom to take her to. All I wanted was to be her boyfriend.
I just needed to pick my moment and ask her.
Or so I thought.
Before breaking up for the summer of 1988, the first, second and third standards (we didn't call them 'Years' back then) were marched into the hall where we were to be introduced to our new teachers.
Standard one were sent packing first. They went all at the same time, so I assumed we would be delivered in similar fashion.
Typically, things didn't go according to how I thought they would. Names were called out and they were asked to stand and line up towards the door.
I was not on the list. As were a few other classmates. What I do remember vividly is looking at the line of children ready to leave the hall and noticing the three lads I played with lined up ready to exit.
What the hell was happening?
I turned to the people still left sitting on the floor along with me and sadly noted to whoever would listen that three quarters of my little gang were not going to be in my class for a year. A few said I could sit with them.
Shortly after the other class left the hall, the remaining cast of students from my year were then lined up ready to leave. However, something weird happened.
The teachers began naming kids from the year above.
Name upon name joined our line. Yes - even my Daphne Bigelow was announced as being in my new class.
I don't remember much else about that day. What I do recall, however, is returning to school a week later than the rest as I had staying in Germany for the summer. I walked into the classroom hoping to be seated within close range of Daphne Bigelow. No such luck. I found myself right at the end of the room with a boy a year older than me. Our teacher told us we had to sit there so we could keep an eye on the books that were on a revolving bookcase. If any were out of place, our job was to make sure they were straightened out.
As the year went on, I eventually managed to find myself on a table within the body of the class but was still not in Daphne's (it seems odd calling her by a fictitious name but this is all for Mr. Shepherd) circle.
I was going to get there. By hook or by crook.
So I became a crook.
One lunch time when I was leaving the scene of the summer segregation, I noticed her standing face to the wall outside the head teacher's room. I built up the courage and approached her.
'What are you here for?'
She informed me what she had done. A good writer like Jean Shepherd would have recalled what she had done. Or lied. I am neither. I simply cannot remember.
Instead of leaving her to face her punishment alone, an idea struck me.
'Me too,' I uttered as I took my place beside her facing the corridor wall.
Remember a few paragraphs up where I said I am not a liar? I lied.
We must have stood there for the rest of the dinner break talking as she was paying a debt to the school society while I was being tried for a crime I did not commit.
When the conversation stalled, I pulled out a handful of hard cola sweets and shared them with her. Then, the bell went and we were on our way.
Those forty or so minutes made me. We ended up friends and I even ended up on the table. The only thing I can recall from that table was a piece of paper being passed around with 'BUST' written on it and everyone giggling.
'What's funny about the word bust?' I asked.
'Bust is boobies,' was Daphne's reply.
A lesson was learned.
The year ended with Daphne going off to high school. I assumed I would end up seeing her a year later, but that did not happen as she went to a private school instead.
I did see her again, though.
When I was leaving high school a college prospectus was given to me. As I leafed through the book, I saw a picture of a girl that looked like a much older Daphne Bigelow.
I brushed it off thinking it couldn't have been her.
Years after I left the college, I was in a nightclub. My work colleague pointed out and directed me towards a sofa and laughed. I followed his direction and saw a girl jumping up and down on the sofa. It was quite peculiar. She reminded me of Veruca Salt having one of her hissy fits in the original Willy Wonka movie.
Intrigued, I watched a little more and then I glimpsed the person who was with her sitting on the couch.
It was Daphne Bigelow!
The Veruca Salt viewing stopped. I waltzed over to Daphne and asked her what in hindsight was an arrogant question.
'Hey, remember me?'
She looked and did realise who she was speaking to.
'Yeah, you went to my college.'
On the plus side, at least she didn't call me 'Harold' like the real Daphne Bigelow did to Ralphie. The negative was bigger. I didn't even notice her at college for the few years we could have been there.
Before I could say much more, Veruca Salt interrupted the conversation by grabbing me by the hand and taking a bite of my palm.
If it was my neck, I would have done like Jean Shepherd and got myself a Hickey.
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