MEMOIR: THE HUNCHBACK OF LOCKRIDGE HIGH (Rewritten Ending)
We were in Mandurah one night several years ago, a warm clear night full of stars and the smell of the sea. We were eating at an outdoor restaurant with a view of the famous Mandurah Estuary, enjoying the food, and enjoying each other’s company, as always. It was as perfect a moment as it’s possible to have in this life.
Mandurah is a place I’ve felt close to all my life. It was a big part of my childhood and growing up during my dad’s “messing around with boats” period. It feels to me now like we were always down there, and I was always paddling around in the Estuary, getting terribly sunburned, or walking around town dressed only in my underwear because I was too clueless to know better, while Dad laboured away on some bastard’s expensive boat. When Michelle and I got married, we had our honeymoon in Mandurah, and the place still had at least some of the old seaside salty magic. We’ve gone back there every chance we’ve had ever since, and on this particular night we’d just arrived at the beginning of our stay.
“Excuse me,” a woman was suddenly standing up a few metres away, at another table, looking at me. She looked about my age, brownish hair, possibly hazel eyes.
It developed that she wanted to speak to me. “You’re Adrian Bedford, aren’t you?”
Ah, I thought. She must be someone who’s read one of my books. This sometimes happened, though usually readers know me as K.A. Bedford. “Yes. That’s me. Can I help you?” I smiled a blank sort of smile.
Then she smiled all warmly and said she was (as I’ll call her) Jenny Ross, from Lockridge High? We went to high school together.
This was as astonishing as encountering an actual space alien while eating one’s dinner.
I said hello, and hi, and we both stood there, at our respective tables, and it was getting a bit awkward. Because, as much as she explained, I only very vaguely remembered her. I did not know what to say. I never expected to run into anyone from “that life” ever again. Even to this day, I retain only one friend from high school, who lives in New York; we hang out on Facebook.
We asked after each other, and we both said we were doing okay, that we were doing all right, that life was pretty good, and that it was nice to see each other, and I still had no blessed idea who this nice lady was who had bobbed up out of the sea of time, and whom I never saw again.
But ever since, all these years later, drifting along on the surface of the sea of time, I think about Jenny Ross a lot, gnawing on the mystery of her. Who was she? Why did she remember me so much, and so fondly that she was happy to see me years later–when so many girls in my own recollection of that time regarded me as the worst sort of filth? Not all, by any means, but you don’t need every single individual to make an impression. There were, in those days, some girls who were at least neutral towards me, who would chat. There was even one girl, a pretty English girl with strawberry blonde hair, who was so nice she tried to help me learn to ice skate one time during a school excursion to a dilapidated old ice rink, but I kept slipping, self-conscious, clumsy, humiliated, on my cold, wet, arse. The sight of her soft, warm, pale hand was terrifying. How could I tell her how utterly grateful I was for her graciousness towards me, the Hunchback of Lockridge High? I couldn’t. I felt loathsome. I felt that my loathsomeness was contagious. She reached out to take my hand, to guide me round the rink, and all I could think, looking at her winning smile and pale hand, was that what was wrong with me would rub off on her perfection. This is psychosis. It affects the way you see the world, and the way you see yourself–without your being aware there’s any problem, that what you see is the truth, that you truly are monstrous.
For a couple of years I subscribed to LinkedIn, though I have no notion of why I would. One day I got a hello from another woman from high school—this time one I did remember. I’d liked her, but knew little about her. Then, a school dance came along. I asked her if she’d go with me—I only ever did this once, because of the harrowing stress involved. But she said yes! I probably died of shock and an ambulance!
And we did go together, in the same vehicle. She looked nice. I looked nice. I remember nothing about that aspect, because I only remember what happened next:
She dumped me as soon as we got in the door.
What the entire point was, I don’t know.
But, years later, there she was pinging me on Linked in.
I’ve lost a huge pile of weight, but I’m always going to see myself as the Hunchbach of Lockridge High, at least sometimes. Thin body; monstrous shadow.