Today we have author Jon Skovron, author of Struts and Frets, talking about his high school memory. Let’s check out “Ghost Girl.”
I was cast as the Big Bad Wolf in a summer Children’s Theater company version of Little Red Riding Hood. We were high school students, roving around in a big van, performing at City Park and Rec facilities for grade school kids. It was a strange production with a lot of additional plot and characters. The director had somehow linked the story to World War II, so I ended up as a Nazi with wolf ears in my cap and a tail pinned to my stormtrooper trousers. The rabbit, who I think was supposed to represent neutral Switzerland, was played by Stephanie.
Stephanie was not a great actor. She had a laconic tone that translated on stage to cold and aloof. But it was precisely the mysterious distance about her that I found so compelling. We started chatting during breaks in rehearsal and I found that while she was incredibly enigmatic, she was also very funny and very kind.
We were only 15, she lived across down, and the Internet had not quite caught on yet, so outside of rehearsal, we talked mainly over the phone. In those conversations she was even more elusive. She frequently claimed she didn’t remember previous conversations and sometimes I couldn’t follow the thread of her logic. It didn’t matter though, because she had a wry, clever wit, and a soft, playful tone in her voice that I could (and did) listen to for hours.
I was occasionally able to convince my mother to drive me out to her neighbor. Stephanie and I would meet up at a great little coffee shop there called Stauf’s. And while she was always amiable, she was never especially eager. She never invited me out, and she definitely never made the effort to get to my neighborhood. After a while, I got tired of her dispassion and mystery. In fact, I started to wonder if she was just messing with me. So when a curly-haired brunette with smoldering eyes and a car turned my head, I didn’t look back.
Over the next few years, I would occasionally run into Stephanie. She remained the same, pale, luminous beauty. But she always acted like she didn’t remember me. I thought maybe she was still just messing with me, and when I would run into her and I happened to be single and lonely at the time, I would try again to start something up with her. But it always ended the same.
It was the summer before my senior year that I found out from a mutual friend that Stephanie had bipolar disorder, a mental disorder characterized by episodes of mania and depression. She took lithium, which flattened out the mood swings. That explained her dispassion. And one prominent side effect of bipolar disorder was memory loss. That explained the rest.
That Fall, my parents and friends organized a surprise party for my eighteenth birthday. And even though I hadn’t seen her in a year, they invited Stephanie.
All though high school, I was heavily involved in Open Mics at various coffee shops. So my parents got the (horrifying) idea of having an open mic at my party. All about me. It was about as excruciating as you might imagine. I blushed and squirmed for nearly an hour as my friends mercilessly listed off the many mishaps and misadventures I had been involved in or orchestrated over the years. At one point, though, they handed the mic to Stephanie. She sat there, still a wan and ghostly beauty more fitting for a Tim Burton movie than my living room. And she said:
“I think I should remember you. You seem like a really great guy.”
I like to think that if I had known all along that she had bipolar disorder, things would have gone differently. But of course I’ll never know. And she never wanted to talk about it.
I kept in touch with Stephanie through most of my college years in letters, postcards, and email. The last I heard from her was in 1998. She was getting her Masters in French Medieval Literature at the University of Cambridge in England. It’s nice to know that eventually, some people find their place.