In the run-up last year to our 50th high school reunion, my best friend could not be found.
Her name was JoEllen, and she appeared in 1962 like me, out of the blue. Only instead of going to Sacred Heart Elementary School, she had attended a private school. But in all other ways we connected. We were outliers, outsiders. My step-father was Jewish, and her parents were Jewish. We didn’t wear the typical public school uniform of the day for girls; girdles, stockings, teased hair and make-up.
We didn’t really fit in with any clique, so we made up our own insulated poetic/drama/dweeb club. We sat with some of the kids going on to college in the cafeteria (the Big Chill), and they graciously accepted us. Two strange blondes appearing on the scene, with no other friends. When I started dating Bob, we became full-fledged members. We felt different, and we dressed differently, in kilts, knee socks and Weejuns. In a sea of beautiful 60s era Mad Men Young Women, who were being told to go on to secretarial school, or maybe nursing, including myself with my paltry “B” average, we acted like we didn’t care what others thought.
Of course all teenagers care deeply, but we had each other as a lifeline. We were inseparable, in fact they called us the Bobbsey Twins.
I thought of JoEllen last night after cleaning up the kitchen and running the dishwasher. Bob walked in for some ice cream, and I said, “The kitchen is closed!” This is what her German housekeeper would say to us whenever I slept over at her house. with a thick German accent of course. We would sneak downstairs later, to raid the refrigerator. Her bedroom was beautifully decorated, with twin beds set at an angle so we could talk all night. I had never before seen matching bedspreads and drapes…
Her father was a doctor, and my step-father was a lawyer and a judge. This too set us apart, nobody wanted the daughter of the town judge to go out partying, drinking beer or stirring up trouble.
I remember once we vacationed in Atlantic City with the Flapper and the Judge, and we put on an accent (what kind I can’t recall) and insisted we were really fraternal twins to every new acquaintance and giggled ourselves silly later. We wore bikinis and that was new and risque. It was pre-Borat hilarity! We had FUN together; she exhibited a kind of strength, and confidence I admired. She was the strong one, and I followed her lead, like Zadie Smith in “Swing Time.”
JoEllen grew up wealthy, privileged to a certain degree having traveled the world. I grew up dirt poor, traveling from my foster home in NJ to the Flapper’s house in PA, and finally settling in with my biological family. Still we were a team, an egalitarian brazen duo, we found a safe harbor in each other, we needed each other to navigate the halls of our public high school. No one could touch us, and now, no one could find her.
I’d heard she moved to NYC and became an orthodontist. That was at our ten year reunion, but she didn’t show up that time either. She’s not on Facebook. Bob is a super sleuth with internet search engines, and even he couldn’t find her. Great Grandma Ada knows everyone and everything about the Jewish community in our old town, and even she didn’t know what happened to her parents. It was a great mystery.
When we find ourselves attending Town Halls without our congressmen present it’s unnerving. Tomorrow night’s Correspondent’s Dinner sans Mr T sends another glaring social signal. Sometimes lines cannot be erased, and the divide in our country grows larger. If you can’t bother to show up, you can’t be bothered with us! Didn’t Woody Allen say, “Showing up is 80% of life?”
When I showed a shred of sympathy for the rude treatment Ivanka Trump received in Germany, I was told she is not worthy. Because of who she is, because of her father. It’s US vs THEM and that’s a recipe for war; it’s universal and compelling. And I’m tired of war. When I wrote for a newspaper, I covered both sides of the river. We have a class and a caste system in this country; and we have a profound problem with racism, which is why our democratic pendulum swung from O to T.
The Sacred Heart nuns taught me to respect everyone, it was the catholic way. And the Flapper told me everyone has a story. At least Ivanka showed up. I found this announcement of JoEllen’s wedding in 1971, there is no mention of her graduating our high school. And then she dropped off the end of the earth. http://www.nytimes.com/1971/08/15/archives/joellen-dicker-wed-to-lawyer.html?_r=0