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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
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In the 1970s, we didn’t carry backpacks, and so I stood waiting, hugging my schoolbooks, always topped with a novel or with MAD magazine hidden in a notebook. In eighth grade, the novel might have been Zoa Sherburne’s Too Bad about the Haines Girl because I was twentysomething on the wait list for Paul Zindel’s My Darling, My Hamburger, a turn that never came. In ninth grade, it might have been Herman Raucher’s Summer of ’42, a book that caused trouble when I propped it behind my algebra book and laughed out loud at a scene. Still later, it could have been a historical romance, such as Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower. I kept Eric Segal’s Love Story at home, a book I’d memorized. Literally. My friends could feed me lines.
If I wasn’t standing at the bus stop, the bus driver blared the horn. Even if he could see me, he wouldn’t wait unless I ran. The bus would streak off, a yellow blur, a throaty growl, its driver angry, no doubt. He took pleasure in making kids run, toast in hand, unbuttoned coats sailing behind them, feet shoved into untied shoes.
On those days, I’d head back up the hill and stomp inside. My mother was pregnant, again, and busy feeding a toddler. “Go tell your father,” she’d say, and I would, feeling only slightly guilty because my stepfather worked the third shift and had just gone to bed. He’d get dressed, his mood as dark as the printer’s ink that stained his fingers, grumbling about that blankety-blank bus driver, and drive me to school. Yes, he actually said, “Blankety-blank.” I didn’t tell him that I’d refused to run.
Most days I caught the bus, and I sat with a friend who was a grade ahead and my “in” to the back, where the older, rougher kids sat, the ones who caused driver after driver to quit, including, eventually, that blankety-blank one. The bus ride was both charm school and sex education. My friend schooled me in makeup my mother wouldn’t let me wear, and flirting, and snappy comebacks, and boys, and what boys and girls did together. She never made me feel stupid or naive.
Once at school, we parted ways. Sometimes I’d pass her in the hall or leaving the lav, a whiff of cigarette smoke trailing behind. We’d nod and say hello; we never talked or sat together at lunch. But later, on the ride home, there we were, in the back of the bus, sharing a seat, laughing, and talking. One time, she flaunted her report card, as if failing grades didn’t matter; I stowed mine, pressed wrinkle-free between the pages of a book.
Before report cards were issued again, she turned 16 and quit school, just as her older sisters had done. Over the next two years, we still talked long on the phone, and in the summer, I still walked the dirt road to her house, a house deliciously low-supervision and adult-free.
We spent those afternoons picking blueberries, walking barefoot to the country store, wading in the creek, swimming in a pond down the road, talking about boys, and reading True Confessions and Modern Romance magazines. (Yes, I thought the stories were true.)
My friend had freed herself from high school; so did I, my junior year, when I decided to skip my senior year and apply for early admission to college. I didn’t tell my friend, not when I toured the campuses, not when I interviewed, not when acceptance letters or tuition scholarship offers arrived.
When I did tell her, she wouldn’t look at me. “Figures,” she said. “You’re such a Soc,” pronouncing the word just as S. E. Hinton’s Ponyboy and Sodapop would.
The word stung. In Hinton’s The Outsiders, a “Soc” was a “Social,” a vicious rich kid who looked down on “greasers,” the kids from the poorer neighborhood. That wasn’t me. It had never been me. It would never be me. For Pete’s sake, I wasn’t even rich. Why would she say such a thing?
Without ever having an argument, with that one word, we became outsiders. Soon we wouldn’t fit in each other’s world at all. When I stepped out into the bright sunlight that first day on campus, only two things were on my mind: finding my way to class and finding out who and what I wanted to be.
THIS IS NOW. All these years later, I can’t separate The Outsiders from this particular friendship. In addition to keeping a journal throughout high school, I read widely and broadly. The adjacent books inspired, influenced, or sustained me in some way during my teen years. Each of these I read several times but, unlike Love Story, never memorized.
Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Honor Roll
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath (1963)
Black like Me, by John Howard Griffin (1961)
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers (1940)
Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke (1929)
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles (1959)
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