Scenes from a Life: My Favorite Delinquent

Way back in seventh grade, the social divisions were fairly well established even in a tiny private school. There were the cute boys who played basketball and then the rest of the guys, ill-assorted and usually awkward. For some reason, these traits went together, although looking back on yearbook photos, I realize in retrospect that although there were dorky athletes and cute nerds, those category cutting exceptions weren’t noticeable at the time.

In some private schools, there’s one additional category of student—the kid who is there because he’s been kicked out of the public school system. Oddly enough one of these kids became one of my best guy friends in seventh grade.

His name was generic enough that I’ve no hope of finding him again—Jeff Smith—though I would love to know what ever became of him. He arrived at our school in seventh grade as a bird of a completely different feather. He was worldly, he was a bad boy, he was kind of cute, with shoulder length wavy brown hair and a ready smile. He smoked cigarettes and pot, he shoplifted, and he broke into houses. For reasons I can’t even begin to guess, he decided to hang out with “the good girls” at lunch. Maybe because we were so nice, we just accepted him, with all his baggage. Maybe because our eyes sparkled at his tales of mischief and misdemeanor. Maybe because we were as much a curiosity to him as he was to us. He nicknamed me Albert, after Einstein, and I answered to that name as if it were my own, all year. I considered it a badge of affection and something completely mysterious and indefinable.

I think he managed to flunk seventh grade. He knew he was leaving in early June, and on our last day, he presented the three of us girls in his odd posse with necklaces, personal to each of us. Mine was an owl, the others a dove and a choker that said “oh shit” on it. He proudly announced that while he had stolen the money, he had actually paid for the jewelry in a store. Shades of moral gray. It seemed like a step in the right direction to us—that’s how charmed we were. I’ve still got this token of the charismatic delinquent who brushed my life for just a few hundred days, and it’s still an unaccountably precious memory.