I recently reconnected with some wonderful friends from High School with the impetus being a proposed 45th reunion in 2010. I have signed up for the 100 meter walker race and have already sent in my Proof of Breathing certificate.
I said my friends were and are wonderful and here is some of the reasons why. I was not the BMOC or good looking or even renown for being a scholar. If you liked me, you really had to like me because there were no bells and whistles. I always felt I did not belong-a feeling that began my first day of school as a freshmen. I sat in the back of a math class totally lost by the discussion and on top of that everyone else was twice as tall as I was. I was relieved to discover I was in an advanced algebra class for seniors.
The low point of my four years of befuddlement was losing my big toe nail. I know there is going to be some understandable skepticism but this is a true story.
Gym was a challenge for me. Our school had long ago purchased medieval instruments of torture and relabeled everything exercise equipment. I remember the store room opening and this giant
leather horse about four foot tall with handles was rolled out. The premise was that the class would, one at a time, run at this beast full out leap through the air grab the handles twist in the air and land on your feet. I'm thinking that if a student could actually do this they would never need another gym class until their 45th High School reunion and if you could not accomplish this acrobatic contortion you would be crippled for life. I wanted to request a priest not for end of life words of comfort but to guilt him into taking my turn. I took a deep breath and approached the horse and two classmates pushing the evil thing rolled it over my foot. I screamed and hopped around and was sent to the nurse-my big toe was flattened and bleeding. I was bandaged and sent home-my athletic career and my hopes of joining the Great Wallendas were shattered.
So limped around home and school grateful that I did not have to go to gym class for a while. One evening I was changing the bandage when I noticed that my big toe tail was wobbly. I tightened the new bandage and told myself to be a man. A couple days later I took the old bandage off and was horrified and petrified that the nail came off! I was too scared to even tell my mother or brother. On my little island with its own logic I was determined that at age 15 with a long life ahead of me I was not going to limp through life sans one big toe nail! So I taped the nail back to my toe and determined to make the best of bad situation. Of course a few weeks later a new nail started to grow and I was enormously relieved.
In retrospect I probably had plenty of company on Nerd Island-all those wet behind the ears kids trying desperately to hold on to their toe nails and dignity, but how unprepared for the dangerous post high school years of charging leather horses and other lurking dangers we were. While writing this I began thinking about Terry O'Neil. I see him with his boy scout uniform with the buttons straining to contain his flabby stomach, I see his horn rimmed glasses and child like smile-and I see the painfully short announcement in the local paper of his death in Vietnam.