Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chapter 14

More choices await me - now a proud licealist - at the start of the school year. What should be my concentration? Again, I am presented with three choices: History and Literature, Math and Physics, or Biology and Chemistry? I won't even consider the second one; I am naturally drawn to the first, but I reason that the future belongs to the third, so it seems like the more "practical" option, and that's what I pick . (Unfortunately, that kind of deeply flawed sense of what's "practical" is to become the bane of my existence.)

What do I select as the Western language to study - English or German? English, of course! Sorry, English classes are already full. Students get to choose in alphabetical order, and since your last name starts with W, you are out of luck... Damn - I so wanted to learn English!

That little setback aside, there is so much to love about my school! The building is old, with crumbling plaster and peeling paint, but it has character.  It has a real assembly hall on the top floor, with wooden floor, a stage, and a heavy curtain - even a large balcony outside. Graffiti in foot-long, black letters proclaims outside, "Michal Drewnowski, break both hands and a leg!", and will be there when I graduate four years later, with nobody bothering to paint it over. (The school lore has it that a jilted girlfriend of said Michal painted this curse; since he already had one leg broken in a ski accident, she had the good sense to wish this only for his still intact limbs.)

Above all, I am smitten with my fellow students. Not so much my classmates, but the nine-graders in the Math-and-Physics class. A friend from the elementary school introduces me to that bunch, and they are the coolest, smartest, wittiest people I have ever met. Good looking, too. And well-off (some of them).  I know I do not belong in that crowd, but I hang around them like a groupie. There is this girl, Iza - flat-chested, with dark, braided hair, olive skin, and permanently chaffed lips - she looks like a squaw from a western movie, and so I fall madly in love.

Me among my fellow ninth graders

Trouble is, I fall deeply, madly in love with every girl I find attractive, if she so much as smiles at me once. Thankfully, I am too shy to go beyond daydreaming about them, and so there is no chance that we will develop a relationship that I would then need to maintain or break. It is all very safe and innocent, until one day, at the beginning of the second semester, a girl walks into our class. She is transferring from the math-phys concentration to our class. Since there is an empty chair at the desk where I sit, she is told to sit next to me.

Her name is Gosia (diminutive of MaƂgorzata). She is pretty, petite, with thick, dark-brown hair. Two small breasts raise the front of her blouse just enough to announce their presence. She appears apprehensive and vulnerable, in need of protection, and I can provide that protection. I will take her hand and guide her safely through the many dangers of high school life and life in general.

The first occasion to earn my mantle as the knight protector of this fair maiden is offered to me on a plate just a couple of weeks later. Gosia reports feeling sick and the teacher excuses her for the rest of the day, but requests that someone accompanies her home. What better choice than her desk mate! I don't think Gosia is particularly thrilled with that choice, as it will prove quite embarrassing, but she is too miserable to protest. She has enough presence of mind to ask me to keep at least a 5-yard distance between us as we walk the two miles to her home, because every 100 yards or so she is stopped by a powerful urge to puke.

I would like to comfort her, but my every attempt to come closer, maybe put an arm around her, is met with a stern, "Stay away!". Her experience of this walk must be close to what Jesus felt, dragging his cross among the jeering onlookers.

Gosia stays home the rest of the week, recuperating,  and asks me to bring her homework and news from school, which I'm very happy to do. On my second visit she is still in bed, but sitting up in her pajamas. We gossip about our classmates and teachers, and I notice a small shape under her left arm. Without thinking twice, I ask, "What's that, a hot water bottle?", and give it a firm squeeze, only to realize with horror that I'm squeezing her right breast. I try to cover my embarrassment with an awkward laugh, but my reddening face betrays my true feelings. Strangely, that moment of awkwardness brings us closer and we start hanging out more and more. I have my girlfriend now.

Gosia and I at a party

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