When I was in the third grade, I had a green, short thermos. Wide-mouthed and plastic in that 70s avocado green that was so en vogue. The thermos was just large enough to accommodate one of the small cans of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, and for some reason, I was very aware that this thermos was lined with glass. I remember carrying it gingerly and worrying about it often. That I would drop the thermos and the glass would break. I remember that being a big concern of mine, although I was glad to have the soup for lunch. One day, at lunch on the blacktop, a boy grabbed my thermos. To my amazement, he threw it as far as he could across the playground. I remember being frozen, stunned. Shocked. It seemed that he had thrown that thermos incredibly far, and then he ran away. When I retrieved my short, wide-mouthed avocado green thermos from across the playground, it was leaking soup from its threaded matching cap and when I picked it up, I could sense the broken glass moving around inside the liquid. In my little 8-year old mind, it felt like a huge violation and a random, unexplicable act that frightened me.
Last year, reluctantly, I signed up for Facebook. To this day, I'm still not quite sure why I did. My sister, almost five years younger than me and more of a socially inclined person, encouraged me by saying things like, "You'll have so much fun finding your old school friends."
Which always made me laugh because we both knew darned well that I barely remembered anyone from any year of school, K through 12. And probably college, for that matter. With whom and why would I reconnect? Even my mom would ask me periodically, after some mother of a former classmate said, "Tell Julie so-and-so said hello!" and I would draw a total blank. My mom would say, "Do you remember going to school at all?" And we would laugh but it was pretty strange. I can remember my teachers, what we learned, what the classrooms looked like, but I'm hard-pressed to remember any given child besides their name. What I also discovered was how much I didn't remember about myself, which was a little more disconcerting.
A few weeks ago, I looked at the people on Facebook who were in my high school. There were a couple of girlfriends there, girls I remember hanging out with after school, getting pizza and sodas with. They're married, they have kids now. They politely said hello when I sent messages to them. I complimented them on their families.
There was the usual assortment of pretty girls I never spoke to, cheerleaders that annoyed me, and the boys especially that made me draw my accustomed mental blank slate. A few of the dorky ones seemed vaguely familiar.
And then I saw that boy. The Thermos Boy. I sent him a funny note, something like:
Hey, you probably don't remember me but in third grade, you broke my soup thermos and I thought I should let you know. Happy Holidays!
I didn't expect a reply. I guess I didn't expect him to remember me. Expecting that most people wouldn't remember me just like I didn't really remember them. I was just happy to have something to recall. I don't know what I would have written to anyone else (Hey, we went to school together but I don't remember shit about you isn't worth writing.)
But I was wrong. This person did remember me, with much kindness. In fact, he remembered me quite well and throughout our most of our school years. He recounted teachers and kids that were lingering in the back of my mind, dusted off and dimly seen again for the first time in years. It was charming, a sweet novelty. He also apologized about the Thermos.
It was so intriguing seeing myself through someone else's eyes, someone who I barely knew but who seemed to know the-me-that-was quite well.
He lives in another state now, has a little boy himself. He mentioned that he would be visiting the Bay Area for Christmas, and I suggested that they come up for a visit, and I would take their photos together as a present. I was curious to see what we would talk about. I wanted more of my memories.
We had a lovely visit. His son is a warmly engaging and friendly boy, who walks up to everyone he sees and says Hi! and grabs your index finger in a tiny handshake. The child also walks around saying Hey, you! Look at this! and points to all kinds of things he finds of interest.
And all through that, like dictation, came little snippets of my life, not from me, but from this man who was somehow still a boy, too. We walked around the Conservatory of Flowers, a fin-de-siecle confection of a building, humid like the tropics and full of mist and broad green leaves. In this greenhouse, the pale winter light was colored as it passed through the old stained glass, shining brightly blues, reds, greens, violets on us as we looked at the fecundity of the jungle.
I felt like I had been given a gift. The gift of myself as a girl remembered, green and vibrant like a little precious terrarium and I could peer inside of it, and see the tiny girl's world that lived inside. The green, new and tender world of life before sex: before the body is changed, broken, before the heart has expectations too big to realize, before the mind grows up and thinks it knows everything.
And no more of the memory of the broken thermos, with those sharp shards floating inside.