Last night I had a dream about Shelley. Shelley was a girl in my fourth grade class who called me Nevinin. And Bullwinkle. And probably a number of other nicknames I can’t remember. I was blossoming into the epitome of a dork in fourth grade: glasses with thick plastic frames, braces, and a shot in basketball that hurt to watch. I wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular.
But at this point in my life I wasn’t concerned enough to care. That would come in fifth grade when I had simultaneous crushes on the skinny athletic girls that were actually an asset in dodge ball—the kind of girls that would rarely talk to a kid like me. But Shelley talked to a kid like me, if only to ridicule me. I could never quite tell if she liked me or if she like picking on me. I think she liked both. It was the kind of elementary chiding that at times was madly annoying, and at other times cute and familial. Some days I liked hearing her high pitched squeal, “Nevinin.” Other days I wanted to crawl in a hole.
Shelley had long black hair and freckles. She had a small mouth and nose that seemed pinched together. She had dark eyes and moody demeanor. I remember she smiled and laughed a lot, and if she wasn’t smiling you’d better stay away.
I remember seeing her through the darkened cafeteria in sixth grade at one of the many sixth grade dances. I saw her leaning against the brick wall during the slow song and I wanted to dance with her. My gut twisted in a knot worse than my wedding day as I navigated the swirling junior high pit of emotions. I couldn’t summon the courage and the opportunity slipped away. I remember at another sixth grade dance I asked Katie if she’d dance with me, and I felt the icy chill of embarrassment as we turned tight circles at arm’s length, the top of my head coming up to her eyes. I remember her shamed smile and the glances she exchanged with her friends. On Monday I’d be accused of liking her and would do all I could to deny it. Perhaps it was better I never had the courage to ask Shelley.
In tenth grade I sat behind Shelley in Mr. Palizzi’s American Literature class. We read “The Crucible” and Catcher in the Rye and Shelley cried out with a nostalgic “Nevinin!” I groaned and dropped my head. But the nostalgia didn’t last long. I listened to Shelley proudly proclaim how many days she’d been clean. She talked about visits to her counselor and had a collection of key chains celebrating her sobriety. One was for a week. One was for two weeks. One was for a month. Another for three months. The newest one for six months. My eyes were wide and I tried not to show it. She talked about sex and alcohol and her love affair with frogs. I was the quiet sophomore who started a Christian rock show on our high school’s radio station.
The next time I ran into Shelley I was sitting behind her in my Sociology class senior year. Our teacher was fresh out of college and we recognized the young blood. She was four years older than us and that didn’t earn her an ounce of respect. I felt bad for her. That and she had a name out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Sociology was fifth hour, and one day when my youth group girl friend didn’t have school—she was a cheerleader at a different high school, if only my friends knew I dated a cheerleader I would have been so much cooler—she baked a plate of pre-mixed cookie dough cookies and brought them to school for me. An office aid dropped off the package and I opened it quietly while our teacher with the Seussian name continued the lesson and yelled at one of the McCalls. The McCall twins were in my kindergarten class, and now they were in one of my classes senior year. How fitting. I was impressed they made it that far.
Shelley turned around in her seat and asked me what I got. I smiled and showed the plate of cookies, wrapped in yellow and blue colored saran wrap. Shelley lit up and cooed about how sweet that was. Shelley was now in an all black phase and didn’t seem to be proudly displaying her key chains of sobriety. She said something about not knowing I had a girlfriend. “Nevinin has a girlfriend!” she exclaimed, suddenly stifling her voice as she realized how loud she was. “Have you fucked her?” was the next question.
I haven’t seen Shelley since graduation, except for last night when she suddenly appeared in my dream. Recollection is an amazing thing.