Fast forward to July 1998.
By this point in time, I was two months from being a senior in high school.
I had finally worked up the courage to find a girlfriend. We dated, off and on, most of a year. We went to separate high schools. We met at a local coffee shop. Her nickname was arf.
She wrote poetry, average by any stretch of the means, and when she got to a word choice that she couldn't quite place, she wrote arf.
Her mother loved me. Mothers tend to warm up to me quickly. When I think back on it, I think she perceived that I was nice, wholesome, polite, and probably was grateful that that her daughter had found her first boyfriend.
After attending services for two months, I joined. But there were rules to the church. I learned the first one quite quickly.
1. Teenagers didn't attend Sunday Service. Instead, they dove for the downstairs couches and the high school RE room. We had some modicum of structure, but I was never really accepted as one of them. I broke in late. It was as though I were an army brat, transferring in from somewhere else. The High School RE class was a tight-knit bunch of ten questioning souls who simply didn't have room for anyone else. It wasn't personal. It was just the age.
They weren't explicitly rude about it. It's just that they'd known each other for years. They'd risen up through the ranks. They'd been in Coming of Age. They'd taken About Your Sexuality together. They'd made it through those extremely explicit slide shows and were well informed about multiple means of contraception. All good things. But I had not been present for them.
High school RE had some manner of structure, although all it really came down to was a chaotic check-in that took up most of an hour. The hardy volunteers tried to keep us on topic, but we were not on topic. We were concerned about ourselves, which is all very normal. All teenagers are self-absorbed. All teenagers are trying to find their identity. We were all alone together.
I must admit that I don't consider any of the ten members of my RE class more than distant, shadowy figures. They all left after graduating high school, never to return to the fold. No one minded the gap. No one wanted anything to do with church. Of the ten members of the church, I was one of two who actually joined. A girl joined merely to appease her mother, but then resumed a life of college, boys, parties, and Fugazi concerts.
The only person I really remember was the kid who committed suicide. I never knew him well. None of us did. We had a few doses of awkward conversation and shared a taste in music, but I must say that his suicide came as quite a shock.
Every social group has that feature. Every class in school has the kid who overdoses. Every class in school has the girl who gets pregnant. Every class in school has the person who changes his or her name midway through.
He was our token suicide. A sad story I don't particularly feel like relating. I remember being numb at the funeral. I remember smoking cigarettes after the service was over, and seeing the look of scorn on the faces of the older attendants who disliked the smell of charred tobacco.