Looking back on it now, now that the words that come later can drain away most of the sentiment, there’s a nostalgia that still lingers at the top of the Eiffel Tower, when those kids—three girls and two boys—defined who I was without the slightest hint of bias or negativity.
It was the first time in my life, the first “time of my life.” I was on a school trip in Paris, with the same kids who would taunt me and bully me back in New York. And although I had forgiven them, even loved them to an extent, there was so much going on at home, and in my head, and in my body, that I couldn’t tell the difference between what was good and what was bad, what was appropriate and what was not. Kids can be brutal.
They say that those in the “Losers’ Clubs” in school will usually show up at the reunions, years later, as glittering icons, while the popular kids turn to waste. I never went to any of the reunions.
I took a left turn by not going with my class. I got permission from the French teacher who was in charge of us to hang out with another group of kids from another junior high school; they were also in Paris from Nassau County, and although I was away from my own crowd of popular kids (that particular crowd of waste), my new group of friends and I took off by métro that night after dinner. We climbed most of the Eiffel Tower, as it was still open to tourists, even at the late hour.
As we gazed over the city lights, the brisk wind blowing hard, one of the kids, Wesley, who couldn’t have been over twelve—all wrapped up in his ski jacket, his short curly hair frozen, unaffected by the winds—smiled innocently to me, and as if it was his second nature, he said, coolly, “You seem pretty normal to me, Ben. Hey, you’re one of us.” And all the others bantered among themselves in agreement. I took a group photo of my new best friends, all of us arm-in-arm, holding on in the chill air, and holding on to the memory of being so free, without supervision. Looking back on everything now, the world, the universe, never looked as beautiful to me as it did during that cool breezy night on top of the world, where I was with my friends and nobody knew just how invincible we really were.
I haven’t a clue what happened on the walk back to the hotel, and by the next day, when Wesley’s and his buddies’ vacation meant they’d be back in the States by sundown, I had forgotten about it. I mean I’d forgotten about everything—my introduction—and I went back to the in-crowd as they did what they did for the rest of the trip, mostly drinking French beer from the mini-bar in the Hôtel Chateau Martine.
I find that the more I keep to myself all that I do remember from that particular night out with the group from Paris, and as I wonder constantly if by now, they’d ever grown up or if they just stay the same, like in the picture I still have of them together. . . . It’s under my bed, in an old shoebox—so that I can stay the same, somewhere, somehow . . . way deep down inside.
© Jonathan Harnisch 2014