See here for information on my friend's upcoming 'Misspent Youth' series and my involvement.
Being bored and reckless weren’t my only hobbies as a teenager. I was also a colossal nerd.
I read all day long. I read during class via hidden paperbacks propped up inside text books. I read while lying in the sun between classes stretched out on a concrete ledge or hidden in a bathroom stall after skipping Honors Gifted World History (7th period with a partially blind and mostly senile teacher in his last year of teaching who didn’t care one bit about keeping attendance OR accurate grades). I read on the bus to and from school, even though it made my stomach so upset I felt like puking. I had attachments to all of my books, to every book that I laid eyes on, regardless of it’s merit or meaning.
On days when my dad was working and I was running too late to catch the bus, I would drive our shared station wagon to school. I had the bad habit of parking in spots that were designated as faculty spots, but the good fortune of never getting in trouble for doing so. One warm and sunny morning two weeks before I graduated from high school I was finally caught parking in one of those aforementioned off limit parking spots. I got a message to go to the office during first period and was ordered to move my car to the lower lot where the students parked. I didn’t put up too much of a fight being that I could piss away some time moving my car and had decided that I would sit in the car and read for a bit after I moved it.
I didn’t notice until I had moved the car that the book I was reading was missing from the passenger seat where I had left it when I went into school. It was my favorite copy of Walden, pages folded and notes and thought written in opens spaces around the familiar text. I panicked and searched the car frantically. It was nowhere to be found. I ran into the school and checked my locker, my homeroom, my first period class. Not there, not anywhere. During this search I found that my copy of The Witching Hour was also missing. My heart was beating fast; I could feel the flush of my cheeks and my breath ragged and furious rising in my heaving chest, two of my favorite books gone. Where could they possibly be?
I went to the payphone and dialed my mother. She was upset that I wasn’t in class and wasn’t concerned in the least with my missing books. I was near tears by the time she checked my room and our living room, reporting back to me that she did not see them anywhere.
I marched into the office to report the books stolen. The secretary was as unconcerned as my mother and threatened to report me for missing class.
“I think that your books are probably at home somewhere. But the school is not accountable for what may go missing from your illegally parked unlocked vehicle.” She was actually smirking.
I was not. “I think that you should be more concerned that someone is looting parked cars in the parking lot.” This was a patient answer from me, being that I was not well known for remarks absent of intense sarcasm.
“Miss Bachman, I advise you to let this matter drop and return to you scheduled classes.”
“Miss So and So. I advise you to alert the faculty and principals to my report of stolen property.”
“Go back to class. Now”
“Ok, well I will go and get the principal and report your attitude and truancy.”
Have at it bitch, I’ll just take a seat. Smart of me to keep that gem to myself.
I sat for a long while, considering my position. I was certainly not going to get anywhere with the Principal JerkWad. This theory was shown correct when the principal finally arrived and ordered me back to class. He was nice enough to offer to excuse my absence but refused to report any stolen property.
“I wouldn’t come to school with at least two books to read while here. Now they are both missing. This doesn’t concern you?”
“I’m sure you misplaced them and they will turn up and then all of this fuss will be over nothing. Please return to class. If they show up here at the Lost and Found, they will be returned to you.”
I messed around at my locker for a while longer, went to my car and searched it again and returned to the payphone. I tried my Dad at work this time, waiting on hold for a while. The cafeteria started to fill up while I was waiting to talk to him. As he finally got on the phone and I began to bemoan my missing books, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. A small girl was passing through the far doors of the cafeteria, which was central to the school and had doors to the outside and halls to the rest of the buildings on each wall and corner of the large space. She was walking slowly, backpack thrown over one shoulder and tucked under the unhindered arm were…
my books! The Witching Hour was instantly recognizable by its larger than normal size and gothic black and purple front, Walden not recognizable by that distance, but inferred by the presence of The Witching Hour.
I had never noticed this small girl before, blonde ponytail high on her head, large red glasses perched unevenly on a small button nose. I was surprised by her apparel as much as the fact that she seemed to be a thief of unquantifiable villainy. She was wearing a white sweater with some completely ridiculous horses running across the front of her small chest. Purple corduroy pants ensconced her thin short legs, and white keds almost identical to my grandmothers were on her feet. What the heck was going on here? I was in the middle of a breakdown over the theft of two of my books and low and behold the villain walks into my line of sight, completely oblivious of me or the danger she was in from my overwhelming wrath.
“Daddy, I think I found my books. There’s this little girl and she’s just a total…freak. Like a 4-H person but even weirder, she carrying my books. She must have stolen Walden out of the car…”
“No offense to Thoreau, but who else other than you in your high school has read Walden? And no further offense to your excellent individuality, Erin…but wouldn’t it be safer to assume that those are her own books?”
“Oh no. She definitely stole those books from my car and my backpack. I have no idea how she did it, but I’m going to find out. Now.”
I will interject here that I was by no means a bully or a confrontational type of person. But the fact that someone was brazen enough to mess with my books, my favorite books at that, was enraging me.
I had two options at hand, confront this girl and demand my property and an explanation at how they were in his possession or I could march my ass back to the office and get some sort of victory over the secretary and principal by alerting them of the thief and her unabashed crime. Being the huge turd that I was at 17, I decided upon the second of the two options and essentially ran to the office down the long hall to the right of the cafeteria. The secretary was surprised at my breathless arrival.
“Miss Bachman, no one has brought your books to the office, I’m sure they’ll turn up. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”
A friend was in the office waiting for a tardy excuse and is the only other witness to the ridiculous words that soon issued from my mouth. She’s reminded me several times over the years how idiotic I sounded when I finally began this speech:
“Miss So and So. You will be shocked to know that I found the person who stole my books. She’s some kind of 80’s throwback and she obviously loves horses. YES HORSES are on her sweater and she’s carrying MY BOOKS around the cafeteria at this VERY MOMENT. You have to go and get her in some sort of trouble for stealing my property! I have notes written in that book that will need to be read by others. I figured shit out!”
‘I figured shit’ out will go down in infamy. Later that day, later that year and even later in our lives the Witness to my absurdity would repeat these words to amused crowds.
The office door opened and in walked the mystery girl. In her hands were my books, plainly and visibly. She shyly looked from me to the secretary and the witness. In shock by her sudden appearance and her close proximity, I was speechless for the first time that day.
Then she spoke.
“Hi. I found these books on a cafeteria table this morning. I was waiting till lunch to bring them in. Is there a lost and found here?”
Oh the brazenness!
“Thank You for bringing them in to us, Erin here has been looking for them all afternoon. She was sure someone had stolen them out of her car.”
“What? Oh no…” Her face was beat red and she looked horrified. “I found them on a table. This morning.”
It was only now that I remembered sitting in the cafeteria waiting for first bell to ring. It was only now that I remembered having both books with me. It was only now that I felt like the true villain.
I grabbed the books and retreated with a small “Thanks.”.
I only saw this apparition of a girl once more before leaving high school for good. It was during our graduation ceremony and I happened to look her way across a very crowded gym only to see her staring at me from behind those giant red spectacles. I knew she couldn’t have possibly known that I had called her a ‘freak’ or an ‘80’s throwback’, but from the look in her pale eyes it seemed that I had hurt her anyways. She lowered her eyes and bowed her head down, to deflect my return stare. I felt as small and sad as she seemed at that moment, remembering with embarrassment the roller coaster I put myself and others on that day over something so minute and insignificant. I should have given her a copy of Walden to read; maybe she would have appreciated it as much as I did. Maybe more.
This obviously isn't very 'scandalous' and reading books doesn't seem like a hallmark of misspent youth, but I decided to share an experience that enlightened my understanding of people in general and of the pain I can cause others, just with my callousness and negativity.