As classmates since third grade, Anna Marie knew I was special because our teachers gave me special treatment. I was always chosen to deliver the notes to the principal’s office. I handed out the textbooks and collected them at the lesson’s close. During the War years, on Fridays, I collected dimes from all the kids and I went to the post office to buy Defense stamps. When I returned we pasted the stamps into our official booklets: anything to spare me the boredom of the classroom.
Miss Williard, an English teacher, gave me a splendid assignment. For much of her classroom time I would go to an unused classroom where a twenty foot long banner of heavy art paper was tacked to the floor. Supplied with paints, sample letters and templates to trace the curves of the Gothic alphabet, I produced, during that term, a sign that said “Books are Gates to Lands of Pleasure.” With letters a foot high, with illuminated capitals, it sanctified the drab library.
I was special but nobody resented it. It was like something I was born with: brown hair, brown eyes, well-behaved, smart, special. In college I learned that I was neither special nor especially smart. I went to Boy’s High South and Anna Marie went to Girl’s High South. Our paths seldom crossed even though I played basketball and she was a cheer leader. They cheered at all the football games, only at the basketball championships. At Convention Hall, during the half-time shooting practice, a loose ball rolled toward the sidelines and stopped at her feet. I ran over to retrieve it and we spoke. She called me Charles. Anna Marie attracted adept admirers. She was out of reach of, out of touch with one who had entered the Gates to Lands of Pleasure, immured with Faulkner, Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay: hollow companions nullified by the sight of Anna Marie’s levitating breasts when she led a rah-rah-rah.
Anna Marie married Dick Smith. Dick went to Catholic school so I knew him only from our school yard basketball games. He was blond, pallid, blue eyed, Irish Catholic, a nice guy. Dull. Anna Marie was lithe, black hair, skin the color of dark honey. Why, why, why? Because he was blond, was more American? Yes, intertwined on the page they made a striking statement, but no illuminated caps. The marriage unravelled after a couple of years. No children. Anna Marie worked at Lippincott Publishers as a secretary when Margie Ridge worked there too, fresh out colleges, as a copy editor. Annie Marie liked and admired Margie from across the clerical/professional cultural divide.
In 1961 Anna Marie and I met again on the street in South Philly; she called me Charles. That name is an emblem of our childhood when all encounters were chaste, a pristine time beckoning beyond the littered landscape of our lives. Margie saved me. That she chose me was the miracle of my life. When I told Anna Marie that I had married Margie Ridge, we marveled at the coincidence, three lives touching tangentially. Anna Marie thought it was fitting that I should have married Margie Ridge because I was special.