In a phone conversation with a newly-divorced friend he said something that stuck with me; “we can’t be twenty-five forever and I know that the next forty years of my life will be significantly worse than the previous forty”. I guess that even I, the grumpiest of all grumpy people, can’t look at life that way. Maybe life won’t be the stories that my friends and I tell over a bottle of whiskey. I’m aware of that, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be interesting.
I spent most of my high school years avoiding what I saw as the all-American high school experience. I didn’t go to prom, football games or dances. I don’t know if I know who the class president was. I refused to buy into the idea that high school was The Best Years of Our Livesä and instead did the whole punk rock get-through-it-and-don’t-let-it-define-you routine that somehow ended up defining me more than going to prom ever would, but that’s another story. The point is that I didn’t do these things.
Now my niece is a senior in high school, and I find myself watching her from a distance. I see what she opts in for and opts out of and it’s all terribly interesting to me. So when she made Homecoming Court my immediate thought was really?. But there she was, flattered to be unexpectedly nominated.
Because of my family’s condition I was asked to walk with my niece across the football field during the homecoming festivities. This is a thing that apparently happens. At first I was worried that this was some sort of Purity Ball, but then I was assured that the father-daughter-togetherness of this ceremony wasn’t some sort of dad-demanding-control-of-his-daughter thing and more of just a sweet gesture, so I agreed.
It was a normal autumn Friday night. I could hear the band playing at the football field as my niece and I sat in the little holding area for the Homecoming Court and their nervous dads. I made small talk with the fathers, mostly about what we did for a living and Tori spent her time complimenting the other girls and their dresses. She was effortless and sweet. I was an anxious mess.
I had flashbacks to walking through those high school halls. Knowing which bathrooms were filled with smoke and the common areas where my appearance would bother the rednecks. I remembered my old locker and the upper class girl who would only speak French to me because she liked messing with kids’ heads. I remembered how I’d sit in the library alone, reading month-old issues of Rolling Stone and listening to the nerds play Dungeons and Dragons. Lunchtime was spent there, hearing dice hit a table and castles being stormed while I watched the world change from Queensryche to Pearl Jam. I was only at this school for six months, but I hated it. I was lonely and alone. I had that very unique and individual pain that comes from being a freshman in high school who was convinced that he was the only person in the world, or at least in the library.
Despite this panic, I just watched my niece and just saw how she was a happy and well-adjusted kid. I know that there is probably worry, dread and even a little bit of panic somewhere in her brain, it is normal. But she seems to be handling it all so well. I just felt proud of her. I felt proud of her for being braver than I was, and seemingly more willing to have a “normal” high school experience. It was a good thing.
Minutes before halftime, we prepared to walk down to the football field. She stood up and put on her high heels. She was taller than I am. My shoulders were slumped in from years of staying invisible. But I straightened them so that I could stand next to her. I walked with my chest out, and for a bit I was proud of coming through those lonely years and being able to walk onto the football field with the prettiest girl in the Homecoming Court.
We stood outside of the field waiting for the clock to wind down for halftime. We heard the alarm go off and they told us to prepare to walk out onto the field. I watched the girls in front of me hold onto their dad’s arms. Tori reached down and grabbed my hand.
In my head it was New Year’s Eve 1999 all over again.
Back then I worked for a tuxedo rental shop. As a perk for getting $7.50 an hour to work there, I got a free tuxedo rental once a year. That year I made sure to have one for the Millennium celebrations. As I got dressed and prepared to go out my niece, then two and a half looked at me; she’d never seen me dressed up. She walked around the house with me as I got ready to go holding my hand. She told me that I looked “pretty”.
Tori’s hand wrapped around mine on the football field and I realized that she was in the eyes of the world, nearly an adult. But to me she’d always be that tiny kid holding my hand while cartoons were on the television.
Just in the split-second that the memory came back, I looked at her. She was smiling.
“Stop touching me,” I said.
She laughed and held onto my arm like the other girls were doing for their dad.
Maybe my friend is right. Maybe our early lives are fleeting and there isn’t much we can do to recapture those glory years. But that doesn’t have to mean that the next few years aren’t going to create stories to tell.
I’m not sure. But I guess that I’ll document it here if there is a story to tell.
 Seriously, she was. Her Facebook postings show that this was completely unexpected.
 Yeah, our home was broke. So what?
 I’m aware that I am probably biased, but this is my blog. If you want objectivity go buy the yearbook.
 We don’t touch in my family.