Today, I lectured on Modern European history from 11:30 a.m. until 1:20 p.m. After dropping some things off at my office, I went to the grocery store. When I returned home and unpacked my goods, I had a quick lunch while surfing the net and watching the latest episode of “South Park” I downloaded from iTunes.
The weather proved particularly fine today, so I was sure to open the window in the living room. A wonderful early spring breeze wafted in. This alone was enough to lift my spirits which had been low since the onset of winter (a yearly problem).
After finishing my lunch, I decided to listen to some music via my iPod while reading in my bedroom. I quickly changed into my usual outfit — a polo shirt and my blue sweat pants — and stretched out on my one-inch-too-short bed, and started my iPod playing my 1980s playlist. The first song, chosen randomly, happened to be “Every Breath You Take,” by the Police — one of my very favorites. I pushed open the window next to my bed using my left foot, and opened the blinds so the late afternoon sunlight flooded the room.
I reached over for my book — a brand-new biography of Ronald Reagan, “The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan” — but mid-reach I changed my mind. Instead, I fell onto my back and crossed my hands on my stomach. I listened intently as the sounds of Sting filled the room. My eyes fluttered a little, my breathing slowed, and images flooded my (often overactive) mind.
The music transported me back in time to the mid-1980s when I was attended Doherty Junior High School in Andover, Massachusetts. Those were relatively unhappy days for me. Although I great group of friends, they were small in number. I was rather heavy-set and shy. I loved science fiction, and movies, and computers. I never for a moment felt that I fit in anywhere, sometimes even with my friends (which is no reflection on them whatever). Small challenges often seemed insurmountable. I particularly remember one afternoon when the zipper on my backpack broke, and my books and other sundries spilled out into the middle of the busy hallway. I swore in frustration, gathered my items, and went out to meet my friend Jamie, and my mother who picked us up. In the car, I quickly discovered that I had lost the small metal box I had made in shop class. (Shop class was particularly horrifying for me. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get the hang of reading blueprints — and for some reason, my shop teacher always called on me first. Thus my persecution complex.) Shortly after, my mother handed me a thin envelope from Phillips Academy, the tony private school I had recently applied to. It was a rejection letter. I managed to hold in the tears until I got home, as I did not want to cry in front of Jamie. When I reached my bedroom, I collapsed, barely able to breath. I found out soon enough that two of closest friends had been accepted. I was happy for them, genuinely so, but crushed all the same.
Despite such frustrations in those years, I can remember many very happy Friday afternoons. I felt free, like a prisoner on a weekend furlough (thanks, Governor Dukakis!). I don’t remember the Fridays of the winter months, only those of the spring and the fall. After dropping my backpack in the “New Room” of our house (which had once been a sun porch, and recently converted to a all-weather TV room), I made myself a snack of some sort, and settled in to watch CNN Headline News (or, occasionally, “You Can’t Do That On Television” on Nickelodeon, or even “The People’s Court”). After some TV, I retired to my bedroom upstairs, flipped on the stereo, and either stretched out and read a novel — often Stephen King, or David Eddings — or played on my computer. The windows were open, the breeze wafted in, and I felt happy. The cares of day evaporated, and for the next few days I could avoid the difficulties of junior high.
Those novels, or those computer games, allowed me to escape a life I could barely stand. I often felt like crawling out of my own skin, or running away, or changing my name, or simply retiring from life by locking myself in my closet. But on those Friday afternoons, I could disappear in a way, lost in another world crafted by creative people, who inspired me to craft my own worlds through writing, a hobby I still enjoy. I can still taste the sweet air, or envision my stomach rising and falling with each breath, or hear the sounds of the ’80s coming through the stereo speakers — U2, Bon Jovi, Flock of Seagulls, the Police, Devo, Wang Chung, INXS, Simple Minds, Men at Work, Billy Idol, Dire Straights, J. Geils, Kajagoogoo, Stevie Nicks, Lionel Richie, Laura Branigan, The Fixx, George Michael, Cutting Crew, Bananarama, Berlin, After the Fire, The Bangles, Def Leopard, Kim Carnes, Duran Duran, Foreigner, Madonna, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Big Country, Culture Club, R.E.M., Pat Benatar, The B-52s, Blondie, The Go-Gos, and all the rest.
On those afternoons I felt safe at last, wrapped up in a quiet word of music and the printed word (or computer-generated graphics). Even the taunts of my younger brother bounced off of me. No longer a prisoner in the world of public education, I was free. On those afternoons I could be anything and anyone I wanted, and my mind often drifted off into fantasy.
On Saturdays, I usually met up with one friend or another. On Sunday, my brother and I were forced to head off to church for a miserable couple of hours. After that, I was sure to watch the tape of the previous night’s “Saturday Night Live,” and then, later, to tackle homework.
Ah, but Fridays were mine.
All of these memories flooded over me this Friday afternoon, as I dozed in the sunlight.
I wish I had a time-machine. I wouldn’t change much, but I would go back and tell myself: “It will all work out. You’ll have good friends, and relationships, and a job that you love. People will come to recognize your good qualities. You’ll enjoy the spotlight. You’ll find your voice. Your social anxiety will disappear.”
But oh well. I had those glorious Fridays, all to myself. To think, to read, to dream. And in the end, that’s more than some people ever get.