Today, I took my gal-pal Johnny (named after her father since her parents wanted a boy), to lunch for her birthday. Our last get-together was this summer when she retold our story to a barnyard full of incredulous friends gathered to celebrate her master’s degree matriculation.
We first encountered each other when she dated my unofficial brother, Frankie, the boy next door. A nod and a handshake at his folk’s Saint Patrick’s Day Green Beer Party was the extent of our acquaintance. Although we attended the same high school, we favored different cliques.
Johnny was a “Stomp” (cowboy/cowgirl), whereas I was a “Goth.” We never socialized because our peers regarded each other with distrust and disdain.
Our tiny Goth crowd disregarded most highschool cliques. In fact, we halfway liked the stoners, metal heads, and theater geeks that ambled the halls. While we despised the Jocks, we didn’t want to be stuffed into lockers, so we instead targeted the Stomps. Favorite activities included synchronized humming of the Deliverance banjo theme and shouting George Strait insults from a sizable distance. Our outrageous costumes and antics were an inexhaustible source of hilarity for the Stomps, who jibes were loud instead of clever.
Frankie announced his engagement to Johnny at a block party the summer after graduation. I attended sans makeup and fishnets because it was HOT. I nodded and shook hands with her.
Frankie and Johnny married that December, scandalizing friends and family. Relatives and friends prognosticated failure, despair, and poverty since they married without attending college. I pitied the couple and hoped they would prove everyone wrong.
A year and a half later, I spotted Johnny in my Chemistry Class sitting in the back row with a few Stomp cronies. She joked with them about my paleness, wondering aloud if I was vitamin D deficient (it flattered me!). I sauntered by her cowboy posse to the distant front, where I joined two scruffy but brilliant biker chums. As the goth jokes echoed, I smirked since I blew the curve on our recent test.
Saturday, Frankie contacted me—Johnny was failing Algebra for the third time in a row, and none of the tutors at the University Learning Center helped her. Would I spend an hour tutoring her this Sunday? Sure. One hour turned into five as I realized Johnny had dyslexia.
Since I am also dyslexic, I shared my problem-solving strategies. Success! Ecstatic, she called later that week to report she received her first 80% on a math exam, ever.
For the next several Sundays, I tutored her, and her grades improved so dramatically that she convinced her instructor to let her retake her failed tests. Then one Thursday, as I descended the stretch of steps to the front row in Chemistry, sipping a Diet Coke, I heard a familiar voice. “She’s the last person who should be drinking a Diet Coke. Get this woman a REAL Coke!” (I was Kate Moss thin).
I turned around and beamed a smile as white as my face, “Johnny! Hey!” I waved and hesitated for a split second before walking over. Stunned, the gears in her brain ticked. A moment passed, and she connected the voice of her Friendly Neighborhood Tutor to the features of the Spooky Goth Chick. She had not realized we were the same person. At our lessons, I was fresh-scrubbed with glasses and pigtails. At school, I was painted black with stilettos and glam hair. I introduced myself to her stupefied buddies and shared a laugh with Johnny, who was mortified over teasing me. Although amused by the situation, I didn’t gloat. Part of looking different means enduring taunts with dignity and pride.