dear jenny n.

dear jenny n.,

you were full of life, always laughing, a happy-go-lucky kind of kid. you used to love to sing. what happened to that? i remember how you would sing phil collins' "a groovy kind of love" for the whole class, and you weren't embarrassed or anything. no one made fun of you for that, and your voice wasn't half-bad. after the first grade, though, i never heard you sing again. what happened there? did someone tell you to stop, that you weren't any good? what a shame. most people, myself included, can't sing well, but i think the real tragedy is when we're too ashamed to even try.

every time i try to imagine what you looked like, you were smiling. i wonder what was going on in that head of yours. you always looked like you were telling yourself the greatest joke in the world, or else you were just so damn happy to be alive. i remember in kindergarten, when our chairs weren't attached to our desks, i rocked back in my seat and rested the back of my chair against the front of your desk. one afternoon, you thought it would be funny to pull your desk away and see me fall. i fell, but i didn't get hurt. i looked up and saw you laughing. paul turned to you, and said, "what are you thinking, jenny? that's not funny." our teacher, ms. crawley, agreed, and she said, "i can't wait until next year. your seats will be glued." she said "glued" kind of funny. i found the whole thing funny, even though i was probably too embarrassed to laugh. you and your slapstick humor.

sadly, i don't remember much else about you. it's amazing how we can remember those first few years of school, and then the last, but hardly anything in between. it's all just one big, unimportant blur, isn't it, jenny? you were short, and a red and white polka-dotted ribbon held your ponytail. around sixth grade, some of the boys accused you of stuffing your bra. i didnt think that you did, but i really didn't care either way. if i had been a girl, i don't know what i would've done.

then, in the eighth grade, something terrible happened. on our autumn retreat in applegate, ricky stepped in human feces. it happened in the upstairs shower, and rumor quickly spread that you were responsible. this earned you the title of "shower shitter" behind your back. isn't that awful? all it takes is for one kid to say he might've seen you coming out of the bathroom before ricky went in, and all of a sudden you're crowned "the shower shitter."

i don't know why i should recall this, or what sense i'm trying to make of any of it. a few years ago, i searched you on myspace, just to see how you were doing. i think your profile said you went to chico state, and i saw all these pictures of you boozing it up with your friends. you looked like you were still pretty damn happy about being alive. in the pictures, you were smiling, but it was different. you no longer struck me as the kind of girl who would go around singing "a groovy kind of love" to strangers.

sometimes i find it hard to imagine we survived that place. former cellmates probably keep in touch, as do ex-pow's. okay, so catholic school wasn't as miserable as prison or war, but still. it amazes me how far away we've gotten from this ideas of support and community, the same values our teachers tried instilling in us all those years.

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