WRITING SHORT: 17/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I attended a special city high school for smart girls in Manhattan. To get there, I took the E or F subway train from the Union Turnpike station in Queens. I was just twelve and a half but went by myself; parents didn’t helicopter back then. Those weekday trips were my earliest exposure to lives quite different than mine.

Only two other students took the E or F train home. Marjorie, who lived at the end of the line, was about my age. She was the youngest of five or six, some still living at home but working at jobs (as were her parents), so she had three hours to herself after school in an empty house. She said that every afternoon she baked a cake and ate it all before beginning her own job, which was making dinner for the rest of the family. I didn’t know how to bake. My mother was always there when I got home. I longed to eat a whole cake like Marjorie did. I never thought she might be lonely.

Jacqueline was a grade ahead of me. We connected only in my third year, which was her last. She was a serious student of French; her parents had even paid for extra tutoring from a French lady who lived nearby. As we clung to the central pole of the lurching train car, she told me of her summer love affair with the Mexican ward of her tutor. It was 1946. She was just sixteen. He was already twenty — tall, handsome and smart, but very poor — and had a full scholarship to Harvard. They made love under a tree in the park after dark, and sometimes in the tutor’s car. They made love! As I listened, my eyes consumed her curly dark hair, blue eyes, white skin lightly dusted with freckles. She had small breasts — which he had fondled? — modestly concealed beneath white blouses tucked into dark pleated skirts. Why couldn’t I be more like Jacqueline? Why couldn’t I meet someone tall, handsome, smart, foreign and poor? After she got out at the Jackson Heights stop, I would think of her and her lover all the way home. I still remember his name.

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7 thoughts on “WRITING SHORT: 17/50

  1. I too travelled to and from a ‘school for smart girls’ by train. I remember hankering after the boys from the nearby ‘school for smart boys’ on their way home on the same route. It all seemed so vital then.

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    • It was vital. It was what life was all about. The school for smart boys in my case was Brooklyn Tech, and going home, many of its students crowded onto the train cars at Queens Plaza, several stops before I got off. Rather than hankering, I was intimidated by them, and shrank into a corner hoping not to be noticed. I was always successful. Mexican dream lover, yes. Real boys my age, not yet. I still had some growing up to do. What a bold young thing you must have been, Julie!

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      • Not so bold, I fear. I idolised from a distance. Years later it was no surprise to learn from one of the boys around at the time that they had been doing much the same thing!

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  2. Nina, the things that stick in our minds from high school years! Can’t imagine the experiences you had living in the big city and taking subways at that age. Mine were so routine in a small city. Christine

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    • Taking the subway alone at twelve or thirteen in the daytime was quite routine (to use your word) back then, Christine, for those of us who grew up in New York. Also, I think it was a somewhat safer world, at least when other people were out and about. I do remember one rainy morning when the train to Manhattan was extremely crowded. Hanging on a pole and packed in on all sides by other bodies, I felt something hard pressing into the rear of my coat. I was probably thirteen or fourteen. Because I was still very innocent in some ways (although I had read all the books), at first I thought it might be someone’s umbrella head, held awkwardly against my behind. But there wasn’t another space into which I could move. We were all packed like sardines. A kind man of about forty, someone’s father perhaps, noticed my discomfiture and understood what was happening. He gently moved me into his place while he took mine. He had seen who was behind me, although I could not. But that’s about the only “experience” I can recount!

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