Fred was a boy in my high school.
We were peripheral friends.
You know the kind – our friends were friends, so everyone I knew knew him and everyone he knew knew me and sometimes we’d hang out together, but only as part of a group.
There was no real reason our friendship never evolved. We simply never had classes together or wound up talking alone at a party or asked the other for a ride home from school.
Yet one spring afternoon, following an exhausting English AP exam, I convinced him to come out to dinner with the group. He’d begged off, claiming he wanted to go home, but I annoyingly persisted, insisting he’d enjoy himself if he came.
Even back then I was annoying. I was an early bloomer.
The group laughed and ate and discussed the exam and the waitress forgot my Caesar salad and when I asked Skye if my butt looked large in the restaurant’s reflective glass she said yes.
It was a happy day, but not one that stood out and its edges quickly grew hazy.
We got our yearbooks and took our finals and at my graduation party we gathered in the basement where Fred showed us his purity card and though I asked them not to he got in a discussion with Elise about abortion and I angrily left in protest, going upstairs to talk with my mom and cousin.
Sharon followed me upstairs where she told a story that ended with her yelling the word vagina to my mom, becoming a long standing joke.
Fred went to school far enough away that I can’t even remember where, and I heard through the grapevine he became an engineer and moved to Washington state where he works for Boeing and is openly gay.
Some years he comes to Robby’s Christmas party and we’ll say hi, making the requisite small talk and I’ll see his high school girlfriend and wonder if their relationship is awkward.
But sitting in my hotel room tonight, looking out over Seattle’s skyline I remembered he lives here. And I thought about what he’d written in my senior yearbook, and how shocked I’d been at what it said. About how much it had meant to him that I’d included him that night. That it’d made him feel like one of the group.
And I realized anew the importance of kindness.
Even the kind practiced by annoying teenage girls.
His name isn’t really Fred
But I guess that isn’t really the point,