The Heart-Tuggers

6/7/84

“John — (the 2nd worst slug) -Well loser it has definitely been a random year!”

• • •

The first time I saw her? Yeah, I remember.

The Girl By The Locker stood in the science wing of her high school, gathering her things at the end of another school day. She was short, adorably cute, had the whole ’80s hair thing going. (But didn’t we all?)

I can remember those days, that place, as if it’s burned forever into the synapses of my mind, well, because it is. From time to time, when that part of my brain sparks to life, there it is again. I can close my eyes and can see the lockers, see the colors of the faded paint on the wall, the dusty tiled floors below our feet. I can almost smell the chemicals emanating from the rooms after a long, used-up school day had slowed to a close. And I can see The Girl By The Locker vividly.

I was there because I was, more often than not, hand-in-hand with another. As much as I belonged there, because of this one girl, I also didn’t – not really, not yet.

The Girl By The Locker was there because she did belong. It was her school. Her hallway. Her locker was located across from the stair case where I sat with another, a girl who had captured my heart like no other. We would often talk and laugh about life, love and the pursuit of happiness — at least in the sense that all three mattered to some teenage kids who really knew nothing about what was to come.

Little could I have imagined how one year would change things so much.

• • •

“We’ve known each other for about 1 1/2 years (Since you-n-Yvette and David and I), but we never really became good friends till this school year and even closer in the last few months.”

• • •

A lot can change in 365 days. A lot. It doesn’t matter if you’re 17 going on 18, or 48 and on the downhill slide to being a year away from turning 50.

Within one year’s time the girl, whose hand had been heart-wrenchingly snatched away from me for a new life and a new world in another state, was gone. I cried so hard and for so long after her plane had disappeared into the sky and Player’s “Baby Come Back” had serendipitously played on the radio as we drove away from the past.

At the time, I didn’t know fate would send me into the hallways where I once held her hands, where memories of her would flash from each and every hallway and wing of the school she had called home.

I wound up there, instead of another school, because of the friendships I made through the girl I had fallen in love with during the spring of 1983. I wound up at her high school for my senior year, a stranger to most but a select few.

The Girl by the Locker was one of those friends and every time I saw her — and that smile — it would change my day, lighten my mood, hell even ease the smallest amount of pain and loss I still felt inside, I suppose.

I’m glad she was there, as I was all the friends I had made, allowing the change to be as seamless and gentle as possible.

Before I knew it, though, fall had turned into winter and winter had melted away into spring. I would be graduating soon,  moving on to a new stage of my life as I walked toward the unforgiving land known as Adulthood.

Over the nine months, I spent at that school — a one-shot wonder, in-and-out in less than a year — The Girl By The Locker and I developed a solid, friendship based around laughter and putdowns. I was her “Slug” and she was my “Worm.”

• • •

“You and I both know how you feel about me but I don’t think you ever really knew how I felt. At the time, I didn’t even know myself and how I felt about the whole situation — I now know what I want and what I’m feeling. You’re a really caring person who I know I could get very attached to — but for now I’m trying to avoid that and maybe it is even too late.”

• • •

The Girl By The Locker — my “Worm” — and I had grown closer, especially during the spring of my senior year. Yet things never quite worked out between us, at least not in a full-blown romantic boyfriend/girlfriend high school sense.

She had been in a long-time serious relationship, which even during its “on-again, off-again” moments never quite aligned with my availability during a rather social final year of high school.

Friendship, with perhaps that two-way yearning for a little more, is what we would have to settle for in the long run and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

We may not have been able to give our full hearts to each other back then, but in the long run — and by this I mean the longest of runs, the run of life — I have grown to find out that we each captured a small piece of each others hearts through the friendship that blossomed into the Summer of 84.

When I hear The Thompson Twins sing “Hold Me Now” I think of The Girl By The Locker.

When I hear the familiar opening refrain of Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time” I think of The Girl By The Locker.

And, when I look down on the ground and see a slimy little slug crawling on the concrete walkway that leads to my apartment, I think of The Girl By The Locker, and I do so with a smile on my face and twinkle in the part of my heart that is hers.

All those things are still there because in the 30 years since our special friendship blossomed it had become obvious that The Girl By The Locker had become one of my heart-tuggers, those connections that are made in life and never forgotten. Not ever.

As the years passed, flying by at a rate nobody could have prepared any of us for, I would from time to time wonder whatever happened to her; fully unaware that she often wondered the same thing about me.

Through the magic of Facebook we had found each other again a few years back, and just this week we had a little instant message exchange in which comments were made that stirred up the memories of yesteryear and — as another old friend is wont to opine from time to time — allowed us to dance with the ghosts of our past.

And it made me smile, still, all these years later.

• • •

“Well enough of that! — You’ll probably read this 20 years down the line w/ your wife and three kids and laugh – you and your family will read what I wrote in your yearbook for good family entertainment. Good luck to you John — you deserve it (You Slug),

Love ya …”

• • •

It’s actually 30 years later now, not 20, but for some reason the stirred-up past drove to me to my yearbook this morning and I read what she wrote. I was alone, no family. Just me, reading her words.

Like a snow globe of history, which was suddenly shaken up with all the memories floating around,  I found myself wanting to laugh at most, wanting to cry about a few.

Yet the one that came back to me the hardest — the one that drove me to sit in front of this slate of whiteness and fill it with words — was the memory of the two of us, sitting in my car, alone in the darkness of night outside of her house.

We talked. We kissed. And yet for some reason I recall as she got out of the car and walked away, I realized that while the heart wants what the heart wants, sometimes it’s not meant to be.

And that’s OK because so many years later I did learn first-hand what I meant to her all those years ago, even though it fell short of what both of us, at times, perhaps truly wanted.

All these years later, through the memories we shared, we still tug on each other’s hearts from time to time.

I can live with that because it means the relationship truly was special and something to keep hold of forever and ever.

That’s good enough for me. I hope it’s good enough for her, too.

 

16 Pages

It’s been a hard decade for journalism. Everybody knows it. I’m living with it every day. I’m dying with it a little bit every day, as well.

Because half of us are our own worst enemy — 50 percent of us gather the news and bring it to you, the other 50 percent is supposed to sell the news — profits have plummeted, forcing serious cutbacks that have severely crippled the industry.

What was once a seven-person staff for the desk at the paper I currently call “work” is down to four. But the news doesn’t slow down. If anything, it’s busier than ever because there are more people than ever trying to do our job via blogs, via social media, via websites that are up this week and down the next.

I’m working harder than I ever have, I know that. Where I once sat at a desk and just wrote stories, today I do everything.

I write. I take pictures. I layout the paper on certain days. On other days, like today, I lay out two papers. I proof read. I do podcasts and videos in order to keep up with the times. I tweet. I have multiple facebook accounts to keep my readers apprised of what is happening.

I don’t get any more money for doing all this extra stuff, but it’s not about the money. I do all of this because I do love the job. I rarely, if ever, get a thank you, but when I do it is appreciated. Today, more than ever.

After all, I remember when it was an honor just to keep up with “The Times.”

Hours ago, I just received the latest bit of bad news, another body blow to the soul of my professional being.

Our Monday paper is being cut back to 16 pages.

This is only a loss of four pages from what had been a 20-page newspaper, which might not seem like a lot until you realize it’s 20 percent of your product.

Sixteen pages, for which we charge $1. For the record, that’s 6.25 cents per page.

I’m dumbfounded. I’m sad. I’m embarrassed.

Take my staff away from me and I’ll work harder than I ever have in order to get the news to the people that want it.

It’ll cost me time with loved ones. It will cost me my health and take years off of my life; both of which I’m feeling more and more every single day I grow older. I don’t know any other way.

But take away the pages — take away the product — and you’re taking from me my pride in doing this job.

How am I supposed to look a reader in the eye and tell them I’m doing the best job that I can.

I can’t.

Because I’m not. I’m not being allowed to.

That, perhaps more than anything else that has happened to journalism during these dark times, is the hardest thing for me to face.