While my junior year was the happiest one I had in high school, it was also where I started to hone the fact that faith in life wasn’t just the beauty of walking on water, but also contained some less than subtle elements.
Those who are faithful would of course try to assume that faith only has pretty elements and that anything that distracts from that is a distortion. That may be accurate, but I contend that when you start the premise of an argument with “I’m right and those who disagree with me are going to hell and be dead forever,” then faith lends itself to an easy distortion.
I got to be more political that year. I had a real study in contrasts. The first of these was Kisha Norris. Kisha was part of our class and had been there since we were freshmen. She was smart but not atypically so. She was musically gifted and while better than average, still not a complete standout. Where she did and does excel is that Kisha is the most political person I’ve ever met. She appeared to never miss an opportunity to say the right thing to the right person. I don’t doubt the sincerity of any of her statements but she seemed to go out of her way to make sure that it was always said in a way that maximized her benefit, to do the right thing and make sure to get the highest potential credit from it. She was the Student Association President that year and did a fantastic job. She ran a tight ship and improved many of the student activities.
However, at the end of that year, it was time for Student Association elections again. For some reason, she decided not to run for re-election. Originally I thought she was holding out for Class President the next year (each one got to speak at graduation). I also did not run for re-election, I thought that a new pair of hands on the work of religious vice might be good. I decided to take about a half notch up and run for vice-president. A few days later Kisha announced she was also running for vice-president. I’ve never been more intimidated by an election. I spent the next few weeks “aggressively campaigning” which meant that I actually got teachers from every grade to let me enter their class and have a “town hall” if you will. In prototypical political fashion, I listened to what they thought could be improved about the school and was genuinely interested. The vice president of the school ran the student senate (representatives from each class and club on campus) and had some ability to make some changes. In less than delicate fashion, I said that Kisha had done a good job as SA president but had only somewhat improved what she had been handed; I, on the other hand, had taken the religious vice responsibilities toba whole new level. Kisha would confront me a few days before the election asking what I had essentially said about her because it had become worse in the telling. Still it was a contest and I had played to win, I wanted to sit on the front desk. I remember being incredibly uncomfortable saying to Kisha that I essentially said that I was better than her for the position, but I believed it.
The guy running for President that year was Michael Johnston. He was a village student and incredibly smart. He was the complete opposite of Kisha. He had no overt political approach but was a pretty straight shooter and said things the way they were. I don’t remember if anyone ran against him but I don’t think it was anyone who had a realistic chance of beating him. He was going to be less frilly than Kisha in many ways and perhaps more substantive. He was also my main competition for academic awards. Alycia, Ellen and a few others had mentioned that they were hoping/trying to be valedictorian but they had not taken the same amount of Advanced Placement and/or Honors classes so it was going to be between us too. I don’t know whether or not he was gunning for Valedictorian (I was) but he ended up being second and I first. Now, he’s a doctor with a medical degree from Loma Linda University and I’m a juvenile probation officer so clearly I won both in the academic wars and in the game of life.
Jeremy Friesen was running for religious vice president. Jeremy was also a day student. I couldn’t quite figure out why so many village students were running for office. They were hardly there and their motivation to be helpful to the students who were literally there 24/7 had to be limited. Jeremy made some crack once about how he had to deal with my aftermath with his girlfriend Mary and now he would have to do the same with the office.
All three of us won our perspective offices. The student association sponsor, Ron Huff, eventually commented to me that it had been by a huge margin. We were the closest thing our class had to alpha males and now we were supposed to serve side by side. We worked together when we had too, but never really clicked as a team the next year.
The whole process of politics felt really dirty to me both then and now. I felt it a necessary evil but even as I say that, it’s not like I worked hard at playing far above the fray. I recognized then that the argument isn’t who people think will do the better job although that certainly plays. The issue of politics isn’t about the answer to the question; it’s about the question itself.
In the midst of this feeling grubby and dirty about having gotten all political, I met the person who I still hold had the purest soul I’ve ever experienced. Her name was Jane Park. Well, her name was something Korean but she went by Jane. She was a beautiful, timid, quiet girl. She had come to the school’s ESL program. I had not interacted much with that program despite having been an ESL student in my elementary. I don’t know how I got started talking to her but I did. Between her shyness and her limited English, our conversations were fairly basic. We never flirted in the way I’d ever flirted with any other girls. We just sat and talked.
I had worked that year at the stained glass shop that VGA had. I had learned how to make the beautiful windows that go up in churches, both the thin type and the thick type. I had not been very good at it because I was and am not very artistic. Like music, I had tried to figure it out, for a lack of a better word, mathematically. Music and beauty then and now only touch me when I associate them with someone. I took a piece of glass and sand blasted the Korean flag for her.
I also used to get my village friends to get ice cream from Dairy Queen for both of us. I don’t remember which type of sundae I used to get but it was something that was covered in strawberries. I got it for her several times and we would eat it and smile. It wasn’t until the last time I would get her one, a day or two before the end of the year, when she told me she actually didn’t like strawberries.
She was a talented violinist and pianist and had played in various school functions. When she played the violin, she could make it sing or cry or whisper. It was like she took her same quiet grace and transmitted it through the strings. Something about the way she played was the first time I remember ever feeling music itself. Because our conversations were so 4th grade shyness level I decided I would try to speak to her in a language she spoke so well. I learned to play a special piece on the trombone for her. I played it for her the day she was scheduled to leave and the smile she gave me after she asked, “For me?” was better than all the kisses of all the girls before her combined.
She was going back to Korea over the summer and then she would not be returning to VGA the next year but rather to an academy somewhere in California. The night before she left I stayed up talking to her till two or three in the morning. I don’t think we said much but I just was heart broken and trying to not let the conversation end. We never did anything other than have shy awkward conversation; she was the only girl who made me feel afraid to speak because she was clearly so pure and so out of my league. It was just words but I had made her this girl I would never forget. She’s the only person I can recall whose presence hushed my piercing ego with overwhelming quiet.
I called her in Korea a couple of times that summer at an enormous expense to me and then completely lost track of her. I don’t know what happened to her or where life has taken her to. But at the end of the year, having won an election and mostly stayed away from girls, I realized that the level of wholesomeness, the clarity of character, that simple loveliness she possessed was more sublime than all my debate, all my preaching and all my politicking. I wish I’d never forgotten.