I saw news of Prince’s death today. And it put me in mind of a brief episode that wouldn’t make it into a “memoir” if I was writing it as a book in the normal way rather then recounting episodes as I remember them.
I’ve been putting off writing about anything that happened during the last couple of years of high school because my family moved and that introduces a whole new group of people and a new environment.
My new school was very different from my previous school, which was different from the one before that. The town was bigger. It was also richer. People refer to the town as “diverse,” but in some ways it was the least diverse, unless you’re talking about skin tone, which is of course what most people mean when they say “diverse.” That, however, is a tirade for another day.
There were some distinct advantages to going to a larger school. We had all sorts of enrichment classes available with didn’t exist in my other school. Instead of gym, you could take ballet or modern dance. There was a variety of music classes, as well as drama, set design. There was a larger choice of languages. There wasn’t just “art class,” either. They were more specific, including, believe it or not, a weaving class. It wasn’t really a “basket weaving” class, since we wove other things as well. For some reason, there were no boys in the class and the class was really small. Most of the girls in the class were not in my other classes and none were in my larger social circle, so it had the feeling of being a little respite from the larger track of my life. A couple of days a week, I’d head to the art room which was located at the end of a hall where I had no other classes and never otherwise went. We all sat around a table in the back of the room. It was even physically isolated. With so few students, there was no real need for the teacher to keep order and she allowed us to bring in a boom box and play music. It was just a really nice pleasant environment.
The was one girl I remember quite well. I can still conjure up her face in my memory. She was a petite, pretty girl with dark skin and delicate features. She was soft-spoken and gave the overall impression of being gentle and dainty. Sometimes, there are people about whom, after that part of your life has passed, you think, “I should have reached out more.” I liked her and she was always friendly to me, but we never became friends for the uninteresting reason that our social circles did not overlap. She was not in any other classes with me that year, but the next year she would be in my history class. Otherwise, I rarely saw her.
Like me, she was relatively new to the school, but unlike me she came from much further away. Her father, was an executive with a large international corporation and her family had been living in Kenya. I believe they were all American, but it was so long ago I can’t be certain if I knew that for a fact or it was something I just assumed.
One day, she came in with a bootleg cassette. This wasn’t the usual homemade tape where someone had smuggled a cassette recorder into a live show and you could barely make out the music. I don’t know where she got it and she wasn’t telling, but she was obviously thrilled to have it. They were studio recordings of an unknown artist whose album that was about to be released. “Everybody,” she said as she commandeered the boombox, “listen up. You’ve got to hear this. This guy is going to be the next big thing.”
And that was the first time I heard Prince.