The Sophomore Boys
Men in my Life
1960- 1965 - aged 16 - 21
I was an Oblate of St. Benedict, a girls’ group which was a sort of being a lay religious (a real perk in High School as you had to be asked having shown you were sufficiently worthy). Each Lent we oblates were asked to submit a paper to our leader, Sister Eileen, stating what we intended to give up for Lent, and what positive action we intended to carry out.
I made up my list of giving up candy, and going to Mass everyday of the week and duly submitted it. When it was returned to me the following note was attached. “And the Sophomore Boys. You are making a fool of yourself.”
My face burned when I read it. But I was not going to be told what to do on this one. The sophomore boys were not really a thing one could give up. They were a state of mind - and a way of life. They represented my self-confidence. How could she ask me to give up that which was helping to make me what I was?
When I was a freshman and a sophomore in high school I had no boyfriends. I hardly spoke to any of the boys in my class. I had crushes on the most popular, most unavailable boys in the school, but all to no avail. I had decided that. I was a total failure where boy-girl relations were involved.
Then when I became a junior, I met Steve and Ron. They played French Horns in the swing band, and I was the pianist for it. Steve was short and fat and jolly. He was good fun but a bit weird. He stuttered when he talked, giggled a lot and was generally considered to be a little bit off. His good friend Ron was tall and skinny and rather immature and gauche. They went around everywhere together being silly and stupid and annoying nearly everyone.
Both boys liked me. They came up to me at school and talked to me. They asked me to dance at the school dances. And they had another friend who was quite a contrast to them. His name was Mel, a trumpeter in the band, and he was quiet and serious and hard working. And Mel liked me too. He talked to me, and smiled at me, and he became my friend.
There were others. There were Rickie and Tim - special friends of my girlfriend Patty, and when I went to her house they were often there. Rickie had flunked a year of school so he was only a year behind us in age. He was good looking and would do anything for anybody, really good natured Tim, who was his best friend, was short and thin and very smart. He knew what he wanted and how to go about getting it.
And there is yet another boy who wasn't of either group, yet known to them all. He was Jimmy Mitzel, younger brother of Billy who I mentioned in my first piece on this subject. Jim was quiet and pleasant and nice, and he liked me too. We all coexisted quite happily that year when they were freshmen and I was a junior.
And then, they became sophomores and I was a senior. They were older and taller and better looking. They acted more mature. They liked me even more. And I liked them too. We met with Rick and Tim at Patty's house quite often. I often walked home from dances or games with Mel. Sometimes Steve or Ron asked me to dance. Steve even asked me to a basketball game.
We had homecoming queen elections that year. The seniors picked the top ten girls, and then the whole school voted for the top five. I got into the top five to the astonishment of one and all, but I knew most of my votes will have come from the sophomore boys. They liked me. And I liked them. I didn't threaten them and they gave me confidence. (Homecoming night is written up in a short story I posted awhile ago called Fall Frenzy.)
Rickie was the first boy to ever kiss me - on my 17th birthday, at my request, but he told me later that he was very proud to have been chosen for this special job.
Mel left - moved to Chicago. I went to the train station to wave him goodbye.
Steve wanted to kiss me and I wouldn't let him, so he threw stones at my car. People said he was a window peeker and I found that I could believe it, and wasn’t quite as friendly with him after that.
Ron comforted me when I had my first car accident. Jim (not to be confused with Jumbo Jim of the first story) came and told me about his girlfriend and his problems.
They were just there, intertwined in my life, the sophomore boys.
Sister said I was unfair to the sophomore girls but I wasn't really. I wasn't a romance for them any more than they were for me. They were friends. They were the first real male friends I'd ever had. How could I give up the sophomore boys?
When the band was marching, I used to follow it, cut across the blocks to see it march by again and again. Watched to see Ronnie and Steve as they marched by. When I was in the homecoming float, they came to see me and wave at me. They cheered for me - the sophomore boys.
Then the next year, when I'd left high school and gone off to college, they wrote to me. Ronnie wrote, and Jim wrote, once on toilet paper because he couldn't find anything else at the time. And when I came back they were there and I went to see them, talked to them, found out what they had been doing without me, the now junior boys. And then they were seniors, and then they left high school too.
I was a junior in college in Fargo, and suddenly Ron was around again. He was going to Valley City College, about fifty miles away, but it was an easy drive to Fargo. But he wasn’t quite the same now
- he had problems. He wasn't doing well at college. And he drank too much. When he came to take me out he came late. He'd always been drinking and wanted to drink more. He wanted to take our friendship to a more serious level and got mad when I refused. He said he wanted to marry me, my freshman boy. He was so mixed up, so messed up. I wanted to help him, but I certainly didn’t want to marry him, or even have sex with him, which is what he really wanted. I didn't know how to start to help him, where to begin. He came a few times that year. And sometimes he called to say he'd come and then never did. But he was still my friend, and I was his.
Then he was a sophomore again but this time in College, but was now back in Bismarck going to Mary College. I was in Bismarck too, having finished college early earning my last credits by correspondence (one was in creative writing) so I could help care for my mother who'd had a stroke. Ron would come over and play cards - bridge or penucle or whist. He made Mom laugh. She even seemed to flirt with him. We gave him beer, sometimes I bought him bottles of liquor because I was over 21 and he wasn't and I was his friend, (perhaps not such a good friend). Sometimes we went out and necked, but it wasn't really romance. It was just a sort of mutual need expressing itself. We both needed something and someone more, and we didn't have it, so we were making do with what was available.
One time he called me to go out with him late at night, and I'd washed my hair and it was wet, and it was cold outside. Mom said, “You can’t go.”
I said, “I’m twenty-one, I can do what I want.” So I went. The next day Mom got very upset as depression was part of her stroke, and I had never talked back to her like that before. She went with great difficulty down to the basement and sat there and cried and cried. She decided that I was resenting being home taking care of her which wasn’t the case at all, although I got very bored with the lack of any real social life. But after awhile I said to her, "I’m sorry about what I said. I don't really care about Ron. I just want a boyfriend so badly and he's the closest thing I've got. And if and when he finally grows up, I want to be around."
She forgave me, and now I know that she did understand, because in one of her letters to her sister when she was my age, she said more or less the same thing. (All documented in Anna and Rosie.)
Then one day Ron called and asked me to go to his friend’s house, but then never came to pick me up. I worried about it, so I called to see if he'd arrived and they just laughed at me. And then later I saw him at the amusement park and he walked right by me, my sophomore friend.
Many years later when he'd graduated and got married, and become an alcoholic and then recovered from it, I'd see him sometimes - on the street, or by his house or at the Elks - but he didn't know me, my sophomore friend. I guess he gave me up for Lent.
While rereading this story, a few years ago, I thought it would be fun to look Ron up on the internet. There he was, now grown up and matured, the director of the North Dakota Drug Treatment Centre for the Heartview Foundation. He looked just the same - except his hair was white. I looked him uip again last week, and found he died two years ago.