I’m not going to lie, I really did feel a sense of, well, a lot of emotions when I started hanging out with Chris and that gang. A mixture of relief, nervousness, amusement, and maybe even a bit of pride. These were all people one year ahead of me, and it kind of felt like I was skipping to the front of the line. [I was in fact rather close in age to some of them. Only a few weeks separate Chris’ birthday from mine, for instance.]
There were about a dozen of us, maybe more, shifting position at the cafeteria table we’d meet up at. A few of them I knew in a roundabout way — one was the lifeguard at the YMCA pool during my years at that job; someone else’s mom knew mine; one lived on the outskirts of my neighborhood and we’d hung out briefly, years back; a few others I knew from Student Council.
Since they were all a year ahead of me, I never really thought of hanging out with them up until that point. Was it a revelation? Well, not really, but it sure felt like some kind of emotional and intellectual release. It was probably the first time in years where I actually felt like part of a group instead of an outlier, and I really liked that.
We weren’t meeting up on a daily basis of course, but as our own class schedules and projects permitted. Many of us had the same lunch period so that seemed the best time to congregate. We’d say hi as we passed each other in the hallways or on our way home from school.
The change in atmosphere must have done me good, as I found myself finishing off the Infamous War Novel in May of 1987, as well as starting a new story that January. This new project was something that had been floating in my brain for at least a year, and I’d attempted various versions of it around late 1985. It was also my first attempt at writing in screenplay format. It was a John Hughes pastiche, heavily borrowing from Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, its soundtrack chock full of tracks from that era’s American Top 40. I called it One Step Closer to You (name borrowed from the minor hit from Gavin Christopher), it was your typical ‘boy meets girl, girl is out of his league, but he eventually wins her over’ story. It was full of my horrible puns and goofiness, and it’s a painful piece of derivative crap…but it was so refreshing to write, to be honest! It’s so infused with my own idiosyncrasies that it’s essentially one big fat Mary Sue story, but it’s fun and it contains some rather creative bits to it.*
It did feel kind of strange to be hovering between two different social circles, to be honest. Part of me wanted to drop everything and everyone and hang out with this new crowd. Our conversations were so much more intellectual, even if I found myself barely keeping up sometimes. When they talked about theories and philosophies they covered in their AP classes, I had little to no input, but I would sometimes ask for clarification. Not often, as I was still a bit too shy to admit my small town hick ignorance.
But when we talked about music? Gods, that’s when I would not shut up! Even then my ace in the hole was obscure music trivia, release dates, and being aware of the latest trends in college radio. I could infuse song lyrics into regular conversations at the drop of a hat (which would sometimes cause a hilarious ‘wait a minute…’ reaction). We had some great times and conversations during our short visits at lunch.
But what about my past? What about my other social circle? The kids in my own grade, most of whom I’d known since grade school? I was leaving them in the dust most of the time. I hadn’t meant for it to happen but it felt now as though I’d…well, outgrown them somehow. A tough thing to say, let alone admit. It felt that way at the time, though in retrospect of course I was merely giving myself a way to evolve in my own way, separate from the influences and people I’d known for so long. This meant adults as well, really…I respected my elders as I always had, but I had stopped being so deferential, often to the point of going against my own thoughts and emotions.
So I did my best to balance the two. Since this new gang had a different schedule than mine, some days I’d be with them and other days I’d be back with Kevin and whoever else happened to be nearby.
It was kind of a strange feeling, straddling the two circles. On the one hand I wanted to break out and try new things, but on the other, I felt a sense of guilt, like I owed it to my older friends not to leave them in the cold. Call it the Catholic Guilt if you will. [Noted: I was brought up Roman Catholic, so I know what I’m talking about!] But let’s be honest here — I couldn’t really have it both ways, and I knew that instinctively, even if I didn’t always act on it.
* – I would resurrect One Step Closer to You in early 1995 when I decided to try my hand at writing a screenplay for a local writing competition. I updated it and rewrote it in the span of one month, proving two things to myself: I can still write a script, and I can definitely write under deadline.