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Sep 3rd 2019

The person I still remember from school.

The best essay on the topic: The person I still remember from school.

Author: Darcy Grabenstein
United States

Given the fact that I'm approaching my 50^th^ high school reunion, it's amazing that I remember anyone from my school days. However, it's easy to remember someone who made an indelible impression on your mind, your soul, your memory.

What's really amazing is how unlikely my story may seem to outsiders. You see, I was a middle-class, white Jewish girl growing up in a decidedly Southern town. I attended Booker T. Washington High School. My freshman year, the student demographic was about 60 percent black, 40 percent white. By my senior year, when the school administration voted to shift the balance by busing in more white students, the ratio flipped. Those of us at Booker T. were incredulous. We had just one question: If it ain't broke, why fix it?

You may see where I'm going with this. One person I'll always remember from school is Carlton. Yes, Carlton was a black kid from "the other side of the tracks," so to speak. How did our paths cross, and why do I still remember him? Funny you should ask....

Carlton was on the school wrestling team. He was a small, sinewy, scrappy kid. All muscle. All smiles. He had that sort of smirky-yet-innocent look that instantly ingratiated him to everyone he met. No, this is not a story of young romance. Well, I did have a crush on his teammate, but that's another story for another time.

In the deep South where high school football ruled, that teenage infatuation does explain why I initially was drawn to the sport of wrestling. I was not alone, though, in my passion. We wrestling "groupies" were a ragtag mix: ROTC types, potheads, brainiacs and such.

But let's get back to Carlton. Carlton had a pronounced limp. This was not a you-can-barely-notice-it limp. This was a you-can't-pretend-you-don't-see-it limp. Being the inquisitive (er, nosy) girl I was, I came right out and asked Carlton what happened to his leg, which was forever camouflaged by the bell-bottom jeans we all wore back then. He answered me quite matter-of-factly: "I was hit by a train." Talk about being on the wrong side of the tracks!

Given Carlton's personality, part of me thought he was joking. That was, until the first time I watched him wrestle. While he waited on the sidelines for his impending match, he slipped off his warm-up pants, revealing an artificial leg. Then, as easily as he removed his pants, he removed his artificial leg. Just like that.

The next thing I knew, Carlton was hopping to the center of the mat to meet his opponent. My eyes were riveted on him as he masterfully maneuvered his body. It was athletic artistry, and the mat was his canvas.

Off the mat, Carlton continued to impress me. At the same time, my suburban neighbors continued to depress me. This was the South. This was the 1970s. Most families in my neighborhood had maids who helped with housecleaning and other domestic chores. Think "The Help" meets "All in the Family."

We had a basketball court in our driveway, which was directly opposite the Bakers' house. Like us, the Bakers had a maid. Unlike us, the Bakers forbade her to stand on their lawn to wait for the bus that took her home. Yes, it was completely fine for her to work inside their house, but not OK for her to be seen outside their house.

So when Carlton and a few of his teammates asked if they could come over after school to shoot some hoops, I jumped at the chance, both literally and figuratively. Despite his height, Carlton was just as adept on the basketball court as he was on the wrestling mat.

I, however, was the one doing all the wrestling. I verbally wrestled with my parents, who seemed to care what the neighbors would think. I mentally wrestled with myself over the hypocrisy of my neighbors. I wrestled with the fact that I was a minority, too, although not as obvious to others. I wrestled over my undeniable white privilege. I continue to wrestle with these issues today.

Thinking back to that first time I saw Carlton wrestle, there's one thing I cannot remember: who won the match.

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