Today's prompt was to imagine meeting someone you hadn't seen for a long time, perhaps someone from whom you were estranged, and to ask them a question. The person who kept into my head was Ronald, a boy I knew in high school. I have written about him before, but this prompt gave me a chance to go deeper into my own reasons for telling the story.
In the fall of 1965, my small rural high school in western Connecticut was host to two African American "exchange" students who came up from Alabama. I realized much later that it must not have been much of an exchange, because no one from my school went down to Alabama. One of the boys had a great time -- prom king, all kinds of yearbook superlatives. The other — Ronald, quiet and bespectacled, had more trouble fitting in. He was in some of my classes, and we sometimes talked about school and books. In late September, there was a sock hop at the school, and Ronald and I danced three times -- fast dances, like the Pony, which was one of my favorites. But then he asked me to slow dance. I told him I didn’t know how. What I really didn't know how to do, at 16, was anything that my peers would have remotely frowned upon -- like slow dancing with a "colored boy".
In the more than fifty year since then, I have thought about Ronnie many times. I've searched for him on Google. When I find him, I'll ask him why he left Connecticut at the en did the school year. Why did you do back to Alabama, Ronnie? Did your family need you? Were you homesick? Or was my rejection just one of many, perhaps the first of many?
There were so many times in my life when someone has said to me, “That’s just the way it is”. Eventually, you start saying to other people -- and to yourself. Sometimes it’s said with a sense of comfort and justification, sometimes an uneasy apology. Sorry, Ronny. I really wanted to dance with you, but I was too chicken. And that is “just the way it was”. Some days I feel like I have traveled light years since then; some days I am not so sure. But I am working on it, every day. Writing is part of the journey.