Mr. Bender, The Rayen School’s biology teacher who supervised study hall, told us he had but one rule, which he would enforce 100 percent, and that was absolute silence at all times.
“Which means no talking. No humming. No giggling. No laughing. No farting. No getting up to use the pencil sharpener. No passing notes, either. SILENCE. Get it?”
“Can we sleep?” Billy asked. “Is that OK?”
“What part of the word SILENCE don’t you understand?”
So each day I looked forward to an hour-long descent into the comfort of unconsciousness. Sleep was my haven, I mean besides reading the magnificent novels, short story collections, ancient histories and biographies at the Bellmont Public Library.
But I was fully awake one morning when a girl entered the study hall and handed a note to Mr. Bender. She wasn’t movie-star gorgeous, but she wasn’t exactly plain either. A pretty girl in a brown and yellow plaid pleated skirt, white sweater, white socks, and loafers. Her skin was pale with a hint of a rose blush, like a Renoir portrait. Her large aquamarine eyes suggested intelligence, awareness. Sunlight slanted into the room. Her dark blonde hair shimmered like the gold of Tutankahmen’s mask.
I did not expect the tidal wave that instantly engulfed me that moment. Lana Shagrin was a mystical vision, a holy apparition. The massive steel wall I’d erected between me and the world melted in the radiant heat of pure love. My untrusting heart opened fully. I surrendered to my love for this exquisite creature, wholly, totally, completely, joyously. In an instant I was, like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, forever transformed.
I spent the rest of the day in a trance. Every time I summoned the image of her shimmering hair, her lovely pale rose-tinted skin, I felt an oceanic surge of tenderness. I imagined taking her in my arms, covering her beautiful face with tender kisses. I knew I would write her poems. Songs. An epic novel. That night in bed I embraced my pillow, and imagined it was her. I closed my eyes and softly and chastely kissed her cheeks and lips over and over again. I whispered her name. Lana. Lana. Oh, Lana!
Lana was a senior. A member of the Drama, English and French clubs, Choir, and the Honor Society. Also assistant editor and reporter on the staff of The Rayen Record. She’d been accepted by Columbia University where she planned to major in journalism. Her half-smiling picture in the yearbook didn’t do her justice. She was much more beautiful in person.
She lived on the North Side in a big house behind a black iron gate. On my way to school I always took a long, long detour to walk past that gate, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. In front of the garage was a blue Mercedes and also a Chrysler New Yorker. One time I saw a curtain part on the second floor of the house, and I thought I saw her, but I wasn’t sure. In an instant that curtain closed.
I begged Margie, a mousey girl who worked an hour each morning in the administration office, to let me copy Lana’s class schedule. Margie smiled. She knew I was totally crazy, but harmless. As indeed I was.
The closest I ever got to Lana was one afternoon when I somehow overcame my fear and actually approached her. In her arms were a few dozen copies of The Rayen Record, now on sale. I held out a dime. I’d intended to say something, to try to start up a conversation, but I was paralyzed. I just stupidly held out that dime, saying absolutely nothing, and she took it, grunted softly, and handed me a copy of the paper. That precious little feminine grunt! I treasured it.
I went back to the library and opened the yearbook. Secretly I tore out the page. At home I used a ruler and straight-edged razor blade to cut out her picture. My sacred icon, which I put in my wallet and carried with me for the next two, three years. At boot camp, and at the Intelligence school in Wichita Falls, and then later at the Strategic Air Command unit at Amarillo Air Force base, I’d stare at her halftone image. A shiny paper rectangle of a zillion tiny dots of printer’s ink. My love, my one true love, forever.