mrs. reynolds quoted that lyric during class, sometime in the middle of my senior year. part of it ended up as a headline in the yearbook. she was the yearbook advisor; i was the editor. mrs. reynolds was easy to miss if you weren't paying attention. unassuming. small. with a small voice to match. and an unflattering, bell-shaped haircut and a wardrobe that belied both her young age and figure. in all her plainness, mrs. reynolds was comforting. a vanilla ice cream cone of a woman—sweet and simple. she cared. about people in general, and about me specifically. she knew something about me, something i didn't even know at the time. "you are understated"...she said that to me once. for years it perplexed me. i'm a heart-on-the-sleeve kinda girl...my left arm is permanently stained. not exactly understated. in recent years, though, i kinda get what she meant. the understatement, it's on the inside.
it was during my senior year when the anxiety started. the first episode happened in mrs. steele's science classroom. i didn't tell anyone; it was another 5 or 6 years and many more episodes before i did. mrs. steele's classroom held a strange place in my life that year, as both refuge and release. i started eating lunch there instead of the cafeteria bc i wanted to be alone, with the lights out, quiet. despite being a cheerleader and in honor society and popular and everything i thought my parents wanted me to be, i didn't feel right. like i was on the inside, looking out. when the bell rang and mrs. steele's room filled with shuffling feet and chatter and the loud slap of textbooks against desktops, the other part of me took over again. i remember how i'd make her laugh, how she'd smile and shake her head when i was being ornery. making someone you like laugh is one of those few & wonderful things that make you feel alive, just purely, happily alive. mrs. steele let me sneak coffee from the teacher's lounge. cream + sugar in a styrofoam cup. my boyfriend was a coffee-drinker too. we met in her class. he'd transferred from the private catholic school downtown. i had heard about him. he was trouble. i had my eye on him for a while, but i played it so he would be the one to come to me. damn i am good at beginnings. if only i could bottle that restraint, cause once my heart takes over it leads me straight to inevitable disaster. what does my heart have against me, anyway? damn again. he said he thought i was smart and asked me to study with him. our first study session was in his bedroom in his mom's tiny house on the crest of a very short, steep street. my parents would've been pissed had they known. he had a waterbed. we stretched out on our bellies and read about rhizomes. our study sessions weren't about studying for long. i've never been the waiting kind. over the years i've vacillated on whether or not i believe it matters.
mrs. steele still lives in my hometown. i've run into her over the years. maybe she looks older, though i never remember her that way in my mind. i think about her eyes, big and round like one of those nocturnal creatures that lives in a forest tree; her crooked smile, painted pink; and the thickest, coarsest hair i can only describe as taupe. who has taupe hair? only her, i swear. we're friends on facebook. maybe she'll read this and remember fondly the same things i have.
i don't know what happened to mrs. reynolds. she must have moved away. she's the reason i started writing today. sorta. i was thinking about other people when that doors line came to mind. meeting friends and lovers is easy; maintaining those bonds is hard—prohibitively so, more often than not. at least for me. i know exactly what jim morrison meant—faces can look ugly when you're alone. but only if you let them. i learned that from mrs. reynolds, and from a few other precious souls who are still in my life. sometimes you have to look beyond your own reaction, your own ego, your own conflict, your own rotten day (or week or year) in order to understand what somebody else is experiencing. if you want to.