My voice changing, leading to my having to retire from the Honolulu Children’s Opera Chorus, and therefore losing touch with that magical girl from Star of the Sea was a sad thing for me. In terms of deep sorrow, however, there was more going on. When I think about it now, my childhood actually came to an abrupt end.
Some days, I tell you, I didn’t know if I could get out of bed. I hardly slept that year; things were not good at home. I also cried a lot that year. I was a praying person back then, and I prayed nightly that my folks would decide that living apart from each other would be best for me and my sister. This did not happen. That year, 8th-Grade, laid the foundation for one of the nightmarish constants that would eat me up until my father went to live in a nursing home three years before he died.
There was no peace at home anymore. Home was no longer a refuge. I thrived on things like singing with HCOC in order to get out of the house. When opera season arrived, I loved that I was out singing every night, away from home.
I blew two ways on school. It was another way to get out of the house, for sure, but I was so disconnected with the real world at that point I could not really study anymore. Fatigue, both physical and mental, definitely played a part in my lack of enthusiasm for and ability in scholastic pursuits. The good friends I’d had my whole life up to then, their fellowship, couldn’t buffer me against the reality of my home life. I felt like a stranger among them sometimes. If they only knew, I’d think to myself.
The neighborhood gang I’d grown up with all were at different schools; I barely ever saw them anymore. I was alone, lonely, living too much in my head, not enough in my heart, or with my heart. I wondered if I’d ever have any emotions again, ever. I was still able to walk, not much able to talk, and I felt like one of the living dead.
If I could go back in time and wipe out the whole year, I would be so grateful to do so. I can’t, of course, so I’ve tried to live with those memories. They won’t leave, stay with me, often prowling around my mind at night when I try to sleep.
Still, I do have at least one good story that found its beginnings in 8th-Grade. Not so surprisingly, it’s related to my English class that year.
My sister, after she graduated from our University High/Lab School, went off to college at Barnard in New York City. How I envied her ability to escape. I visited her there a few times. I loved that city on first sight. Well, my first visit had been on that whirlwind family trip in 1962, but as I mentioned, I remember very little about that experience.
So visiting my sister was like a first visit, and I fell in love with New York. Not that I’d want to live there. For sure I could never have afforded to do that. But it truly is, for me, a very nice place to visit. I love live theater, musicals, dramas, all of it. Bonus! if I could go to the Metropolitan Opera regularly that would be heaven.
One of my visits took place between my sophomore and junior year at the University of Hawai‘i. One night my sister, living up in the Bronx at that time, suggested we go down to Greenwich Village. I’d heard of the area, of course, and I was curious.
My sister said, “There are lots of cool bars and nightclubs down there. You know, the kind of places where people like Bob Dylan would have played.”
“Wow,” I said, “do you think there’s any chance Dylan could be playing somewhere down there tonight?”
“You never know,” my sister said.
So off we went. We subwayed it down there – the most complicated subway system I’ve ever experienced – and after changing trains a hundred times we arrived in The Village.
Definitely, there were plenty of people who looked like they hated being in the ‘70s. It seemed as if their heads were stuck in the ‘60s. There were street vendors all over the place selling tie-dyed shirts, handmade jewelry, hash pipes, scented candles, and psychedelic poster art. I guess they managed to make a living. I guess they’d managed to make a living that way stretching back into the days of peace and love.
There were, however, signs of things to come. In many haunts there were people in suits drinking and eating, and they were also roaming the streets in large numbers as well. It was as if you could see how the space would evolve with the onslaught of gentrification.
After we’d rubbed elbows for a few hours with the hippie escapees from the ‘60s and the Wall Street movers and shakers, we settled on a quiet enough, not over-crowded place. The first thing I asked the guy at the door was if there were music that night.
“Ah,” said my sister, “let’s just go home.” She was wiped out from dealing with the street scene, and I was a bit fatigued myself, but we’d come all this way, and I was not leaving without having a beer.
We sat down and our server approached. It was a bit dark in there, so I wasn’t sure if I were seeing things clearly, but I swear I knew this woman. I looked at her name tag: Barb. I thought I heard a tiny bell ringing way back in my head. Barb. Hmmm.
I asked my sister if the woman looked familiar. No, she did not. I said, “Karen, I swear I know this woman from somewhere.”
Barb brought our drinks. I looked hard at her face as she bent over to place the two beers on the table. That close-up look was what I needed. Yes, I was pretty darn sure I knew this woman.
Barb asked if we’d like anything else. We declined, but before she could turn and go, I said, “Barb. Is that short for Barbara?”
She gave me an odd look. Odd as in, Duh, doesn’t everyone know that Barb is short for Barbara.
“Yes, it is,” she answered politely.
“Is that Barbara as in Barbara Kingston?” I asked.
Barb stepped back and stared at me. “Who are you?” she asked, sounding freaked out at being recognized, named even, by this stranger.
“Mrs. Kingston, it’s me, Lanny Lee. You were my 8th-Grade English teacher at the University Intermediate School in Honolulu.”
Barbara Kingston let out a huge gasp. “Oh my goodness,” she said, “well isn’t this an incredibly small world.”
She sat and told us what had led her to New York. After teaching at my school, Mrs. Kingston and her husband had quit their jobs and begun backpacking around the world. Whenever they needed to build up their bank, they would stop and take whatever jobs they could find. Their goal now was to save enough to finance the next leg of their travels: South America.
That is probably my best “small world” story. If there were something more I could say about 8th-Grade, I’d tell you. But it was not a good year. It was the worst of times kind of year, no best of times, really, and as I said, I wish I could forget it.
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Aloha #WriterMonday. Today’s #WritingPrompt is
a small world
Use it to inspire a piece of writing, and then post that piece somewhere I can read it. I would love to see what you come up with : )