Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Girl With Far Away Eyes

“Hey! One of your classmates died over the weekend.” remembered my dad. Our original conversation was about something else, a topic that evidently wasn’t as exciting as his sudden memory flash of my classmate’s death. We were speaking on the phone, part of the obligatory monthly calls that twenty-somethings make to their parents just to let them know they’re behaving responsibly.

Of course, news like this does bring one’s attention to a peak. Mine was evidenced by a quick response of “Oh yeah? Who was it?”

He told me that they found Christine Davidson’s body next to the railroad tracks. The tracks were used by a few industries spotted along the Mississippi river on the south side of town. They used the rails occasionally to send out products and to receive the raw materials they needed to make them.

In other words, it was not the type of area that you’d find many women walking around after midnight, so my mind processed her final resting place.

“What the hell was she doing around there?” I immediately asked. Apparently, there was much about my deceased classmate that I didn’t know about.

“I don’t know.” he offered. Then he provided some additional background detail about her that I would have never guessed.

“She died of hypothermia I think. Maybe alcohol poisoning.”

My mind, for whatever reason, immediately considered foul play.

“She drank herself to death?” I clarified, amazed at how differently that lifestyle was to the image of her that I had in my head. I didn’t really know her, but what little I remembered of her wasn’t one of a drinker.

“Oh yeah.” My father continued. “I remember she came up and talked to me one night at the Labor Hall and she was just hammered.” I should note here that the only time my Dad was down at the Labor Hall was when it was an election year. He’d go down to glad-hand the party faithful, discuss election strategies for their candidates and then watch the election results on the television above the bar. The fact that Christine was down there seemed to imply that she must have been employed at some local factory after high school.

It was then when I began to piece together the brief memories I had about her. I couldn’t think of any bad memories and I don’t remember her getting into trouble. I can’t speak to any ridicule she may have encountered, but then again, I’m sure I don’t know half of the tortuous things that girls are capable of in high school.

She wasn’t all that good looking. Blessed with intense blue eyes and cursed with a distractingly huge mop of curly black hair, Christine was one of those girls who just disappeared the farther you got into high school. By the time I was a senior, Christine stopped being a familiar face in the hallway. A quick review of the yearbook from that year finds that she didn’t exist in a mix of our senior portraits.

She was extremely shy and she seldom spoke. The very idea of walking up to my father and initiating a conversation amazed me. I could only recall one time where I heard her speak, and that was due to a class assignment.

Ms Posadas was my 10th grade English teacher, which was unique because Ms. Posadas was from the Philippines and English was her second language. This made her the target of incredible ridicule from some of the students, and at barely five feet tall, Ms. Posadas would occasionally find herself in tears as her classroom dissolved into disruptive chaos.

She once gave us an assignment once where we had to give a five-minute speech about a topic of our choice. I can’t remember what subject matter I ended up choosing, but I’ll never forget Christine’s.

When it was her turn to give her speech in front of the class, she Chris was noticeably nervous. Her voice was barely audible in the back of the classroom, but I listened intently. I knew nothing about this girl, and the possibility of a complete meltdown lingered in the air.

“Mick Jagger is the lead singer of the Rolling Stones.” she began.

Now my interest peaked. I loved the Rolling Stones too, and I wanted to see the extent of her fandom. The band had recently became relevant again thanks to Tattoo You and a widely successful U.S. tour.

What she spoke of wasn’t revelatory. Instead, it spiraled into an uncomfortable bit of hero worship. The speech soon wandered traveled away from the facts she wrote on 3 x 5 index cards. When she began to notice that she was rambling, she clinched her index cards tighter.

Five minutes can be an eternity, particularly if you’re scared shitless in front of an audience of your peers that could make even the teacher of the class bolt for the doors in tears. You could see how she removed herself from the embarrassment by making a mental picture of Jagger in her mind and her eyes drifted upwards as if trying to get a better view of him.

“I just think that he’s the best…he’s just really great…and so good looking…” she continued, oblivious that everyone was staring at her. “The way he moves…I dunno…they’re just the greatest…and I dunno…He’s just his so awesome…I love him so much!”

She caught a bit of suppressed laughter and it snapped her out of her daydream. She looked down and then noticed that she had at least another two minutes to kill on the clock. In her panic, she looked to Ms. Posadas who graciously let the extra minutes slide by calling up the next student.

And that’s the only time I heard her speak.

I’d see her in the halls occasionally. If eye contact was made, it was answered with a quick look away. She wasn’t shy enough to try out for cheerleading, where she ended up cheering for the wrestling squad, considered by some girls (pun intended) as the “b-squad” of the cheerleading hierarchy.

By our senior year, she had all but disappeared. She no longer walked the halls, shared a class, or cheered a takedown. My dad was again a great source of information, telling me that Christine was having problems. He knew the head librarian at our town’s only public library and she told him that Christine’s mother had brought in dozens of women’s magazines-Cosmo, Glamour, and other ladies’ fashion periodicals-that she had found in her daughter’s bedroom one day.

She had defaced the magazine by scratching out the faces of models with pen ink, emphasizing her hatred of their beauty with words like “Slut” and “Fucking whore!” scribbled over the images.

It was clear from these rumors that Christine had some major issues to contend with. It confirmed that high school must be a nightmare for girls with self-image issues and without the safety net of friends that could steer you away from the kind of people who make sure you stay away from the wrong side of the tracks.

There’s no morality tale here and no contrite Jagger/Richards quote that brings this story together. A quick spin of side one of Tattoo You and a quick mention of Christine to an old classmate of mine brought her memory up again. To be honest, that friend had no recollection of her and even my father vaguely remembered her when I urged for clarification about her over the holidays.

Maybe this memory of Christine is something more, particularly if you’re getting heavy during the holiday about families, friends, and those intersections of life that you went through to get to this point. Perhaps my recall serves and a reminder to you to give pause those fringe characters that you met, paused, and then moved on without much consideration.

Her name was Christine Davidson.

She liked Mick Jagger.

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