In one instance, only days after Maryclaire's passing, I spend an hour, maybe more, searching for a worn blue tank top that I borrowed from her around 1986. It would be a coup to find something physical that could be touched and passed around to our high school friends Susan and Cindy. But I can't find it. Its petite size, I vaguely remember, had taunted me, reminding me that I had gained seventy pounds. An unwanted reminder of Binge Eating Disorder, the shirt, I am forced to conclude, had been relegated --carelessly, I now chastise myself--to the rag bin.
In seeking out the archival sources that will allow for this narrative to emerge, our friend Lynn has the equivalent of the Alexandria Library. For those reading this post who do not study the Arab world, this Egyptian institution held the most significant set of manuscripts of ancient times. However, it was destroyed by a fire at some point--fifty years or four centuries--before the birth of Christ. Its destruction, quoting wikipedia, "has become a symbol for the loss of cultural knowledge." And yet, rumors always abounded that most holdings had been moved to other libraries in Europe and the Middle East before the fire. But where? This was in part the premise of Nicholas Cage's movie "National Treasure." His character Benjamin Franklin Gates ultimately finds them.
Lynn had been Maryclaire's friend in high school, and Facebook--thank you Mark Zuckerberg--brought us together after Maryclaire passed. Lynn regrets that she had lost track of Maryclaire, and, of course, I identify with this sentiment. Our high school yearbook shows Lynn to be both practical--she expressed interest in a career in law--and a romantic. Thus, she cited lines from the poem "Dreams" in which Langston Hughes exhorts us to hold fast to them. Lynn is now an accountant and the mother of three children. She claims to be "busy, tired, and happy," which, I believe, is just about right for the mother of two teenagers as well as a pre-teen. On 16 December, the day that I come down with the flu and find out that I cannot go to Maryclaire's funeral, Lynn sends a comforting message and then reminds me "how you two did Broken Shells." She tells me she still has a copy.
I suspected Lynn had interesting material, but I was not prepared for a collection of lost texts that I would not in fact trade for the missing scrolls from the Alexandria Library. Immediately after her passing, I had tried to remember how Maryclaire and I met and became friends, but I couldn't pin down our first meeting. The title page of Broken Shells, however, strongly suggests the response to this question: we engaged in a year-long project together as seniors, one that would have cultivated a close relationship. On that first page, I see displayed our titles as Editors-in-Chief of the high school literary magazine. In the haze of that last year of high school, one in which I struggled with what I now know was Binge Eating Disorder and depression, I had forgotten that memory of our work together.
For T. R. S.
Cindy sends me photos from the Trumbull High School Yearbook that complement the pages from Broken Shells. In it, there is a photo of the staff of the journal. Lynn and I are present, but it seems that my editorial counterpart was absent that day. I turn then to photos in the yearbook, and the accompanying captions reveal that our friendship was indeed ongoing that final year of high school. Maryclaire has a short pixie haircut and a preppy pastel plaid blouse with pearls, so reminiscent of the 1980s. Underneath her photo, I read an omniscient, "SH cheers to life." I turn then to my own picture, and find that I, too, could not escape the fashions of the era, for my wavy hair is feathered, quite unsuccessfully, in a simulacrum of Farrah Fawcett's style. Written below my photo, I find addressed to "MCW, thanks for too much to mention." Even then, as I scrutinize those forgotten words thirty years later, a clause composed during our first year of friendship, Maryclaire had been a support of great consequence.
My poem in Broken Shells is titled "For T.R.S.," and I wonder if I refer to my next door neighbor on Woodfield Drive. I find that I created a more nostalgic depiction of childhood than I would have thought myself capable in my senior year, and that ability--even then, when I suffered such a severe emotional slump--to perceive some of the quotidian enchantment of childhood renders me both grateful and dumbfounded. The poem generates flashes of memories: the igloo that the kids next door made during the Blizzard of '78, skateboarding arm in arm--six of us--down the long hill in front of the house in the mid-1970s, watching the Muppet Show (1976-1981), with John Denver as a guest and playing sports, as the seasons decreed. We played whiffle ball in the spring and touch football in fall, both in the front yard of our mustard ranch.
Maryclaire's contribution fascinates me, and I find myself eager to give her a call and see what she makes of it thirty years later. This is a longing that leaves in its wake an uncomfortable feeling, one that I want to manage without turning to food. I send the image to Susan and Cindy, so they too can indulge in this treasure. "Amazing!" Susan exclaims, and then pays tribute to the heartbreakingly beautiful truth that "Claire's art is gorgeous and a premonition of her future life."