Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Summer Memories….

Posted in Change is Bad,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the March 7th, 2010

I graduated from high school in the summer of 1979. It was a private prep academy that I attended on a full scholarship: we were on various forms of public assistance during my teens, and my mother could never have afforded tuition. Primarily because of my sense of humor, my classmates elected me as the class speaker for our graduation ceremony. They expected a funny talk, but I was feeling rebellious. After four years of frustration over the elitism, status hierarchies, and general smugness of the local ruling class, I decided to let the school have it in my speech.

In my own narcissistic mind, this made me quite the heroic figure. Apparently, not everyone agreed. For starters, the speech didn’t make me very popular with school administrators or teachers (they launched a new policy requiring prior review of graduation speech texts the following year), and it angered a number of my classmates as well. But there were at least a few people who believed I’d gotten it right.

I met one of those at a party a few nights later. I’d arrived that evening with a couple of buddies, and we all immediately noticed an incredibly beautiful woman there, someone none of us had ever seen before. She was so attractive that we all sat around trying to figure out who she was: there seemed no point in talking about anything else. Someone said she was a friend of one of our classmates.

I was astonished a few minutes later when this angelic figure walked up to me and told me she had heard my speech and admired the way I had spoken truth to power. She introduced herself as Darcy Pohland, and to my great joy (and to my friends’ envy) we spent the rest of that evening talking. She gave me her phone number and we arranged to meet up again the following evening.

I was smitten. We quickly tumbled into a summertime romance. From the start, Darcy and I were utterly mismatched: she grew up in a well-to-do suburb and I in a working-class city neighborhood, she drove her own shiny red sportscar, whereas my family shared an old clunker–and in fact for stretches of my teen years we had no car at all. I was into underground punk rock, while her favorite band was the Doobie Brothers. I mean, come on: the Doobie Brothers?

But she was also overflowing with vivacity, intellectual curiosity, and a hunger for life. She had a role in a community theater production of “South Pacific” that summer, and I used to pick her up after rehearsals for a late night snack. I also remember taking her to a Minnesota Kicks soccer game out at Metropolitan Stadium and feeling more than a little jealous when every jock partying in the parking lot seemed to know Darcy.

It lasted maybe five or six weeks. I wanted a more serious relationship and she wasn’t ready for that. I left town on a road trip with friends through the western U.S. and when I returned to Minnesota in late July Darcy and I were finished as an item.

I never saw her again in person after that. I heard a few years later from a friend of a friend that she’d had a terrible accident: she’d mistakenly dived into the shallow end of a swimming pool and broken her neck. She would remain a paraplegic for life. How sad, I thought.

But then, a dozen or so years after that, I was up in Minnesota watching the channel 4 news when who should appear but Darcy Pohland. Despite the challenge of life in a wheelchair, she’d made it as a television reporter. Over the decade that followed, I’d see her news reports from time to time when I was back home, and from the way her on-air colleagues and interview subjects treated her, it was obvious that she’d earned tremendous respect. Through sheer determination, she’d managed to build a happy ending out of what could have been a tragic story.

I learned Friday morning that Darcy had passed away unexpectedly in Minnesota. The comments sections from the on-line newspaper reports are overflowing with affectionate tributes and show the love she’d earned from people across Minnesota.

My memories of that summer of 1979, those first months after high school graduation, come tinged with a shimmering glow, and Darcy is a part of that. Summertime, and the living’s easy…. The warm nostalgic feeling that now surrounds those memories helps ease the fact that in them I am also confronting my own mortality. I have one more thing to thank Darcy for: she became one of the models for the main female character in “Sister Carrie,” a short story I published many years ago.

Rest in peace.

[Postscript: WCCO-TV has now posted a nice story about Darcy Pohland’s high school days. Video here.]

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