Hung Out to Dry at Central High
“You dirty, double-crossing rat.” - James Cagney
Ascending the ladder of ignominious incidents of betrayal, from least egregious to the most consequential- Benedict Arnold, Brutus, Ephialtes, …Vince! Temper your ears, prepare your mind, fortify your soul for the recounting of the most dastardly, horrific, deplorable, cowardly, despicable, and wretched act to ever cast its ugly shadow across the bow of mankind’s journey through the universe. For that one calamitous moment in time, the antiquated, undersized gym at Central High was ground zero for the worst that mankind has to offer.
I was normal once, possessed of a healthy outlook on life, instilled with a positive attitude that had me seeing the glass of life always at least half full. Turns out I was a naive fool, falling hook, line, and sinker, for the drivel drilled into my malleable brain by the good School Sisters of Notre Dame-“There is good in all men”. Balderdash! My faith in my fellow man was dashed upon the hard, jagged, unforgiving rocks of reality. I would never trust again.
It was the old criss-cross-double-cross generously greased with the element of surprise. My glass did not just dip below mid-level; it was irreparably smashed into unrecognizable pieces on the gym floor. I thought I was down for the count.
I met Vince the very first day of 9th Grade. We both attended Catholic grade schools, but I suspect the nuns at St. John’s were a bit more Machiavellian in preparing their charges for life in the dog-eat-dog world than mine. Looking back on it all years later, the thought occurred to me that when he first heard the account of the crucifixion as a 1st Grader, he might have found Judas Iscariot a sympathetic figure, the sort of guy he could identify with, maybe hang out with and down a few beers together when he reached adulthood.
Vince and I were part of a small group of friends that maneuvered our way through the trying high school years together. We would meet every morning before classes started, hang out for a time after school, and pursue fun-filled activities on weekends. We were as tight-knit a group of teens as ever graced the hall of Central High.
What do high school boys think about, focus on, and obsess about? Sports? Some. Grades? Few. Girls? Most. It’s an awkward age for most young men; downright clumsy for some, including this writer. I started slow, lacking confidence, fearful of rejection, and mindful of Uncle Henry’s cautionary tidbit of revisionist history- “The face that sunk a thousand ships.” Man cannot sustain greater injury than a broken heart. He gave no such guidance regarding the runner-up for damage to the human spirit- betrayal.
Senior year, running out of time to fulfill the fairy tale dream of marrying my high school sweetheart. I had dated several girls, sweet, pretty, and bright, but there was never that magical connection. And then I noticed Marcie, Marvelous Marcie, sitting at the back of the room in my English class. I looked, she saw, and we both smiled. Sometimes smiles are just a polite acknowledgment of the moment. Sometimes they say a boatload. I was unpacking the messaging for the rest of the hour, the remainder of the day, and most of that night. She likes me, she likes me not, she likes me…as I drifted into sleep.
The next day, I was afraid to look. I feared that the notion that she might like me was a misinterpretation of the moment, a fanciful wish, that might be snatched away with an expression of indifference, or worse, a look of annoyance. I didn’t want to lose the dream that she was as interested in me as I was in her… the unsettled, insecure mind of a teenage boy.
Don’t laugh, but I had five days of furtive glances at the pretty girl at the back of the room, and five nights of evaluating her reactions: half-hearted smile; regular smile; the passerby in the street smile; very nice smile; and finally the all-out heart stopper smile.
Even then I lacked the courage. She made the first move as we left the classroom.
“Hi. I thought if you were going to keep looking at me, we should at least know each other’s names. I’m Marcie.”
I’ve always given myself credit for remembering my name at the moment.
And it was on! She was as nice a person as she was pretty. And she liked me! We quickly became “an item”, as serious a romance as the high school years can provide- school dances, going to the movies, study sessions at the city library, and making out in her parents’ basement rec room.
English became my favorite subject because she was there. I also struggled in that class because she was there. We talked on the phone every night, and her name was written on the inside of every one of my notebooks. She was on my mind, morning, noon, and night.
Those beautiful, puffy clouds in the distance can darken before they arrive, and the unprepared can be caught in a raging thunderstorm. I saw Marcie chatting with Vince in the hallway one day after school, and then again in the hallway between classes the next day. How nice, I thought. My girlfriend is becoming better friends with my friend-friend. Life is good.
Well, I ain’t no weatherman, and apparently not much of an expert on gauging human relationships either. Step one down the pernicious path of betrayal:
“Marcie, I see you talking to Vince quite a bit.”
“Yes, he’s really a nice guy.”
“He sure is.”
“And just so you know, not that it’s any of my business, I don’t have any problem with you spending time with him.”
“I didn’t think you would. It’s nice to get to know one of your friends.”
Who would have thought?! Marcie and I were still an item…the movies, the library, lengthy phone calls, and the, well you know, in her parents’ basement. The Loveboat was sailing smoothly toward the land of the happily ever after.
Just as I wanted Marcie to feel comfortable with her relationship with Vince, I thought I should do likewise with Vince.
“Vince, just so you know, I don’t have a problem with you spending time with Marcie, you know, some guys might have a problem with another boy spending time with his girlfriend.”
Ooo, that didn’t sound good.
“Your girlfriend? Rick, she told me you two broke up but were still friends. I didn’t say anything to you cuz I thought it would be…awkward.”
Aah! Are you freaking kidding me?! This was a stunner. I was confused.
“Wait a minute, Vince, you don’t mean…”
He did mean. The revelations were painful- a movie, a Saturday afternoon at the zoo, and….I can’t even say it…***** in her parents’ basement. Aah!!!!
Now, you may think this was the ultimate act of betrayal. It wasn’t. Didn’t even show up on the Richter Scale… a teensy, tiny tremor compared to the apocalypse to follow. He didn’t know. He was as confused and angry as I was. We were both getting two-timed!
It was Friday after school. There would be a dance in the gym that night, and we knew Marcie would be there. It would be the perfect time to confront her…together. There would be no wiggle room, no ability to continue the charade with each of us present. We would tell her what a terrible person she was, that we were both done with her, and that the friendship between two guys like me and Vince could not be shaken by a girl! Hopefully, she would feel humiliated. Maybe we’d even see a few tears.
We told our friends, who told their friends. The confrontation would likely draw a crowd as this boy vs. girl showdown was drawing more interest than the Bobby Riggs- Billy Jean King match. My anger was beginning to be eclipsed by the excited anticipation of sweet revenge. It would be a tag-team event, the old one-two, that would leave her shaken, embarrassed, and ashamed.
As soon as Vince and I arrived, we saw Marcie out on the dance floor. We waited like lions eyeing their prey. When she looked our way, we put on our best menacing, tough-guy faces, Bogart and Brando giving her the evil eye. She immediately knew that we knew. She was trapped, caught in her lies, with no way out.
She had no choice. When the music stopped, Marcie slowly walked across the gym floor to her moment of reckoning. Others gathered around to witness the drama unfold.
I pounced. I was good. I really let her have it. I blasted her for the lies, ripped her for toying with the hearts of men, and most importantly, told her what a low person she was for doing something that could jeopardize a special friendship. For my dramatic parting shot, I told her we were finished and that I never wanted to speak to her again. She looked somber, and subdued, and I felt pretty good about my performance. She had trouble getting the words out.
“And how do you feel, Vince?”
Oh, yeah, here comes the coup de grâce. She was staggered by my deftly landed shots, and now my man Vince would finish her off.
The written word cannot adequately describe the “well” I heard. It was weak, timid, unsteady, and somehow came out in three or four syllables. I was puzzled. Vince continued.
“…I guess I’d have to hear your side of the story.”
What?!!! Are you freaking kidding me?! You son-of-a-bitch!
“Maybe we should talk about it, Vince. Let’s go outside.”
It felt like an out-of-body experience. Maybe I had been kidnapped by aliens and deposited on a faraway planet where nothing makes sense. Was my head spinning, or was the entire gym whirling around me in dizzying circles? Stunned, betrayed, dismayed, I struck such a pathetic pose that the curious onlookers took pity.
Wishing you were someplace else doesn’t get you there. I was frozen in place, my brain incapable of sending meaningful directives to my feet. The music started up again, and the dancers took to the floor. I didn’t understand how life could go on uninterrupted, and I assumed the default position of just standing there like a goof. The gathered crowd, thankfully smaller than expected, could only shake their heads and quietly depart. I was alone in the Universe.
Still in shock, the sight of Vince and the once marvelous Marcie leaving the gym together didn’t seem to upset me. I was too preoccupied with my struggle to understand the last five minutes of my life. After a time, I realized I was standing where others wanted to dance, and I slowly shuffled my way off to the side of the gym, kicking a few balloons along the way.
Crestfallen, betrayed by a good friend, sold out for the affection of a pretty girl, all faith in humanity lost, likely forever. It was a double whammy assault, a cheating girlfriend and a backstabbing buddy, two mainstay relationships of the human condition working hand in hand to crush my heart and soul. It would be a long, hard climb back to life as I knew it.
I derived great satisfaction, actually boundless joy, when I learned Marcie dumped Vince just two weeks after the showdown in the gym. He then hated her as much as I did, and as they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So, it wasn’t long before Vince and I were on speaking terms again. He was sorry. He was weak at the moment, and seeing Marcie standing in front of him, she amply endowed, and he under the influence of raging hormones, he succumbed to the temptation of future amorous adventures in Marcie’s parents’ basement. I understood. Turns out more was going on down there in the basement than during my turns…which really ticked me off. Nothing was forgiven, but all was forgotten.
I learned many things that night, besides the fact that Vince could become a low-life lizard whose manly urges could override any concept of friendship and that Marcie was a pretty good liar. Lessons learned: Choose your friends wisely; things aren’t always as they seem; heed Milton’s warning as to what might “befall him to worth in women overtrusting”; and most importantly, it’s not always a good idea to speak first.