The first day of Junior High School Darren left his house and found the end of the “stand quietly” line waiting for him. That is where he put the French horn case down. On the walk to school the bell of the case had banged his left leg. The pain in his shin reminded him that his band director, who liked to tap out tempo on his head, had decided that Darren would play French horn and not his trumpet. “We need French horn players,” said Mr. Palmer, the Jr. High band director. And, when Darren sat second chair behind first chair Diane in the horn section he became aware of his loss.
As Darren walked from class to class that first day he looked around and began to wonder: “What am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to wear or even say? What are troll dolls?” Juan, who was in most of the same classes as Darren, would fill him.
“Look, if you are a greaser you wear all black.” Juan fell back into his chair so that Darren could see. Sure enough. Juan wore black pants, a black shirt, a black leather jacket that never came off, black pointed shoes and the telltale sign of all greaserhood – black socks.
“Look.” Juan pointed to Bill across the room. “That is a climber. He wears white socks and does sports. Sometimes climbers wear paisley shirts. They are freakin’ flowery.”
Darren now knew the social code but wasn’t sure what he was. With Juan being in most of the same classes he decided that day that he should be a greaser. So, that night he told his mom he needed lots of black socks and plain “No flowers” shirts. He wanted Juan and one teacher to like him.
Darren’s seventh-grade Spanish teacher was a larger than life blonde who, Darren thought, must have noticed that Darren was in her class. After all, someone with shocking red-orange hair stood out. Newly purchased hair goop would put in check his cowlick.
Darren learned his Spanish verbs and infinitives. He learned Spanish adjectives as fast as he could. He needed no incentive. To speak the Romance language in class invoked a passion he had never felt before. “Señorita, eres hermosa!” Darren would daydream his devotion to her.
Geography class offered a different topology. Mrs. Foley contained significant geography on her person. Unmercifully, the kids would snicker, “Fatty Foley,” under their breaths. Then uncontrollable giggling would ensue until the yard stick smacked the bulletin board.
In the halls, between periods, notes were passed and looks connected. If you received a note from a third party that meant that someone wanted to go steady with you. That is what Juan told Darren. So, when Darren received his first note he was at once terrified and curious. He did not know what “going steady” meant. He wasn’t going to ask Juan and look stupid. The black socks kept Darren from doing any such thing.
It wasn’t till lunch period that day that Darren unraveled the note and read it. Therein, he found out that Mary K liked him and wanted to go steady. Mary K played first chair flute in the band. Darren became filled with dread as he thought about going to band rehearsal after lunch. He had no response or “going steady” in him. When the bell rang he went to rehearsal pretending that he hadn’t gotten the note. But the pretense didn’t last long.
Mary stared at Darren from her chair. The girls around her were giggling. Darren felt his face become lobster red. He could do nothing about it except hide behind the music stand and empty the spit out of his horn tubes.
After practice Mary waited for Darren at the bottom of the risers. As she waited Darren took every single tube off his French horn and blew through each one slowly. Then he began to polish the horn never looking up. When the next period bell rang he looked up over the stand and there was Mary.
“Will you walk me home after school? Mary asked.
“Sure, I guess, sure.” Darren then rushed off to shop class leaving Mary and her gaggle of friends.
Later, not sure of what was coming next, Darren gathered up his homework, shut his locker and picked up his horn. He waited at the main entrance not knowing when Mary was done with her classes. She appeared twenty minutes later.
“Hey, I’m ready.” Mary looked at Darren and the two left the building.
Darren had no idea where Mary lived. He had no idea if this walk meant that he was “going steady.” He didn’t say anything in case her liking him would change. The walk took them across town.
“If you have a ring I will wear it,” Mary said as they neared her house. Darren had no ring. He had black socks.
“Yeah, OK, right,” Darren replied and said, “See you tomorrow.”
By now Darren’s arm shoulders and arms were aching. Carrying the horn across town had worn them out. He took his time getting home. At home, he reassured himself, no one was to know about this. He couldn’t explain it anyway. And, there was his hunger to take care of.
The next day, Darren found his way to his first period English class and to his seat. Juan was already there in the seat behind him.
“Hey, are you going steady with a climber girl?”
“Mary is a cheerleader, man.”
“How would I know that?” With that Darren turned to the front of the class and hoped he never had to go steady again. But then again, he did like it, in a greaser kind of way.
Between second and third period class Darren received another note. This time it was a direct note from another Mary – Mary E. Mary E was also in the band. She played clarinet.
Band rehearsal loomed on the horizon, 12:30 that day. There was no escaping this “going steady” business. And now there was a decision to be made – Mary or Mary or feign strep throat coming on.
At 12:30 Darren walked into the band room and over to his chair. There was another note. It was right on his stand. “Now what?”, he quietly muttered. When he did, Diane looked over at him. The note was from Diane. She wanted to go steady.
The “going steady” madness continued for Darren throughout seventh and eighth grade. His arms never stopped aching. It was no relief to learn that girls in Junior High School were fickle and flighty, especially if you didn’t give them a ring. No matter. The black socks remained a social staple for Darren.
During the summer after eighth grade graduation, Darren tried out for the High School Concert Band. He played all the major and minor scales so flawlessly on his new B♭ Bach trumpet that Mr. Gies awarded him first chair. The trumpet had been a graduation gift from Darren’s father who must have known what “going steady” meant.
© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved