Thursday, April 10, 2008

hey kid, wanna skate ... ?

we absorbed nora when she was in eighth grade. a dust ruffle of straight brown bangs that seemed to begin at the crown of her head and large circular bug-eye glasses that were always running off her nose. she was an adorable mess who would eventually morph into a "knock out." even when she was in eighth grade, you could see that. she was one squirt of detangler from spontaneously inducing chest hair on the boys of lourdes high school.

nora could have care less. holey cardigans slipping off her small frame, one knee high around her ankles. back then, she would have shrugged. probably yawned.

nora's older sister, maggie, had absorbed princess linda and i when we were eighth graders who had ditched out from playing on st. pius's volleyball team with the rest of our classmates -- and those bus rides to plainview and kasson -- and instead opted to run with the high school cross country team. letter jackets before the rest of our classmates, that was a selling point. maggie made it easier for us: she may have had the largest breasts in the school's history, but with them came a maternal instinct, a natural force cupping us from prematurely experiencing any sort of wrath from senior boys.

we loved maggie; we knew we'd love nora and we did.

cross country teams are like that, though. i think of that when i see troops of high school runners in configuration and i miss it. the way you spend upward of two hours a day together, even in the offseason, doing something hard, uphill, and timed. hawking luggies into traffic and sometimes farting for each step of an entire block. and then you crowd together, exhausted, belching, thirsty and damp, in a musty old hallway by the gym. icing aching shins, swabbing blister pus and waiting for that black toenail to drop. sports bras crusting in lockers. it's family.

nora's family lived in a great big old house within walking distance of the high school. wood floors, a dining room, an island in the kitchen. books everywhere, a piano and a dog named molly. we stopped there before a team waterskiing trip to lake city.

first i coached from outside the bathroom door. then princess linda took over. i lazed on nora's bed -- we would be here for awhile -- and rifled through her cds: suzanne vega, charltons u.k., neil young ... i put them in a borrow pile, then shouted "aim for the small of your back" while i moved on to her book shelf. [i never returned those cds, but nora did figure out how to use a tampon.]


on nice summer days when i wanted to go rollerblading, i'd call nora and hiss into the phone: "hey kid. wanna skate?" that became part of my senior quote.


denise had a bald mannequin head in her closet. we took it. set it on top of my head, and zipped up my hooded track jacket to hide my own face. denise, nora, princess linda and i went to barlow's grocer store, cruised broadway, like that, me turning the mannequin head to seeming peer at people. we had a very wholesome version of hilarious.


during the summer after graduation, nora and i rented out paddle boats to saudi arabian men at silver lake.


nora went to tulane, a rare feat for the lourdes grad, a sect who typically end up in a state that touches minnesota -- exotic would be chicago -- and seek a school with 'saint' in the title. nora spent a semester in italy. she became a vegetarian. she fell in love with a man who kept every nail clipping from his life in a tupperware container. they drove cross country together, sleeping in truck stops and taking bean meals from taco john's, charging gas on her credit card.


nora eventually moved back to minnesota. she surrounded herself with drama majors and writers and artists. activity. she lived in a big old house in dinkytown, on a floor shared with three others. books and costumes everywhere. they spent their nights at a chinese restaurant, drinking mai tais in the red glow. i went there with her once.


then she moved to boston. she taught ESL, worked in a library, a coffee shop, took writing classes. i remember her telling me:

"sometimes, when i only have five dollars, i'll get some cigarettes and a bottle of wine, read a fashion magazine, put on a cowboy hat and listen to lucinda williams."

that sounded so perfect to me. so i bought a lucinda williams cd.


i used to talk about nora a lot. to the point where friends who didn't know her thought she was an aperition. or someone i invented. really, she was just interesting.


nora used to send me really long emails about this and that. pages and pages of funny prose, adventures, and always signed with the name of some long forgotten lourdes faculty or alum. with love, jenny hu, nora wrote. all my best, marika maitatis. keep smiling, patricia fix.


one time, nora's friend won a game show and the two of them went to new zealand or egypt or somewhere. nora rode an elephant.


nora told me her parents said i was a vixen. i had to look it up in the dictionary.


i'm trying to remember if nora was especially funny. or smart. she must have been both, but what were her specific superlatives? good taste, open minded. the consumate free spirit. i know she sang solos, set fashion precedents and read a lot. she was extremely laid back. beautiful, of course. i remember her telling me once that she wanted to be a playwright, and i was surprised: i didn't even know she liked to write.

i think her superlative was in seeking out new things. adventure. boredom killer. that eighth grader who didn't realize she was going to someday have songs written about her, hearts broken over her, prom dates fight for her -- shrugging, pulling up a knee high sock, squinting through her glasses and saying "sure, why not?"

i haven't gotten one of those epic emails in almost three years. our last correspondance was a wedding invitation. she was marrying a turkish man from one of her english classes. the wedding was happening in new york, and too soon for me to save money for.

i have no idea what has become of nora. i think she lives in brooklyn. she could be doing anything. or maybe nothing. or everything. a google search brings up a fairly successful folk singer by the same name. and i'm not convinced its not her.


CDP said...

I have a Nora, too. Great story.

L Sass said...

I hope she is a famous folk singer!