I kid you not. She used to pay boys lollies to have sex down behind the toilet block. This was in year 4. In year 7, she told the class she wanted to be a stripper. Tonight was the 20th anniversary party of the end of high school, and I wondered what had become of Mandy.
At first, when Christine had phoned me back in June, I was keen to go. There was a voyeuristic desire to see how the others had turned out. As the date arrived, I had flashbacks of the sheer terror of that pubescent melting pot. I hated High School. There were bullies, hormones, peer pressure and exams to endure. I felt lost and confused, and so did my friends. The few I had kept in contact with over the years were survivors like me.
I hoped Mitch 'Killer' Kelly wouldn't turn up. He scared me. One time in class when Mr. Fraser was absent for a few minutes, he had yelled, "I hate Tom Bosconi!" and punched his fist threw the window.
I wanted to see little Ben Harrison again. Stories of his capers were legendary amongst us. Like when he climbed in the window of our music class, before Mrs. Winkler arrived to unlock the door, and knocked over a flower pot. Throughout the lesson, whenever Mrs. Winkler's back was turned, Greg would turn the pot around to show off it broken bits, and Ben would sneak out of his chair to turn it back again. We were in stitches by the end of what turned out to be the best music class all year.
When it came time to decide to go and see the faces of friends and foe, it was thoughts of Mandy that drove my curiosity. I'd had a slight crush on her, but she always treated me like a brother. In music class we often sat together, legs touching occasionally, while sharing a sight reading book. She played classical guitar really well, and could sing nicely too. What had she done over the last 20 years?
Arriving at the Gymea Golf Club, I walked into the function room and looked upon a potpourri of unfamiliar faces. This was a shock. Naively, I had expected to recognise most people by sight, assuming that they would be fatter, thinner, hairier, wrinklier, but essentially identifiable. Fortunately the organisers were wiser than me, and had arranged name tags. I stopped at the front table to sign in and got my tag from a girl whose own read "Nena Tucker." She recognised me, and started talking about Sarah and Jim, but I couldn't remember her at all and moved on quickly into the throng, after a few polite exchanges.
To find Mandy was going to take quite a while. There were over a hundred people packed into the small room and I had to scan the tiny name tags to find out who they were. This meant getting quite close to each person, increasing the danger of falling into a conversation and being delayed from my goal. Twenty minutes later, I had talked briefly with ten old schoolies, but none had seen her. Luckily I ran into David who was a still a regular friend of mine.
"Have you seen Mandy anywhere?"
"Yeah, I was talking to her about 10 minutes ago. I think she went off with Alan for a chat," he pointed to the left side of the stage.
As I headed in that direction, an announcement from the PA interrupted a multitude of verbal interrogations.
"Can I have everyone's attention please? Everybody please can I have your attention for just a moment?" Most heads turned towards the stage and only whispered chattering remained.
"Can you all please find a table and take a seat for dinner. There will be ample time for catching up after dinner, as well as music from some members of the school rock band, and some dancing."
As we herded each other toward the tables, I spotted David taking a seat and headed his way, lest I be trapped with a table of strangers. Taking a place next to him, I checked out the others already seated. I'd seen John a couple of months ago at my local Newsagent, but the others were unfamiliar, and as new conversations started I tried desperately to remember who they were.
"Mandy, over here, come and sit with us." David's voice made me look up.
"Oh, hi David, John, Anna, Gavin, Jacqui, Rachel and..." she looked at my name tag, "of course, Michael." She took the vacant seat beside me, and I turned to face her.
"Hi, Mandy, how've ya been keeping?"
"I'm pretty good thanks Michael, and you?"
"Can't complain. I've got a beautiful daughter, and have had some success with my music lately. Any kids?"
"No. Though I have been married once."
"Been there, done that. I'm divorced too. So are you single now?"
"No, I'm happy enough living with someone right now. I don't think I'll ever get married again."
"No me neither. What about your prodigious musical talents?"
"I've been in lots of bands, some of which have had music videos on TV."
"So you didn't become a stripper then?" Her laughter gave her away. Suddenly I saw the Mandy of old sitting before me.
"I do vaguely remember saying that. I mainly work in women's refuges now and organise music events. Still play in some bands too. So who did you marry?"
"She was a girl three years below us at school, but you wouldn't know her because she only joined the school after we'd left. We were married for 3 years, and our daughter is seven now."
"My marriage lasted 2 years. He was a nice, decent man, and I loved him, but it just didn't work out."
"So who are you with now?"
"A fabulous person named Debbie."
"Oh Cool." I blurted out a bit too enthusiastically. An anxious pause was thankfully broken when a waiter handed us a menu to share. We huddled together to read it, and I relaxed as I felt Mandy's leg touching mine.
Copyright ©1999 Mark Hansen. All Rights Reserved.
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