Every year at this time for 50 years, I could distinctively see her face. I told myself back in April 1970 that I would never forget this incident and I never have. I promised myself that I would say something about it in 2020, 50 years after it occurred in 1970--so here goes. Oddly, it wasn't until 2 months ago that I was able to obtain her picture and it was exactly as I always remembered.
After we left Chicago in 1967, we wound up in Coronado, CA. We were supposed to have been in San Diego, but after my parents went on their romantic ferry ride--that's where we wound up. Today, Coronado is the Beverly Hills of San Diego with tiny houses starting in the millions. Back then it was a middle class navy town that anybody could afford to buy or rent. Not that much different from any middle class town in America except for the pristine beach, surfing and isolation. A car/people ferry was needed to get to San Diego and back until they built a bridge in 1969.
Her name was Anne and she was our foreign exchange student from either Denmark or Sweden. Her locker was just 2 away from me. Although we were no more than senior year locker acquaintances, she was our special guest. I always greeted her with the greatest of enthusiasm and warmth.
This day in April of 1970 would be different than ever before. After I closed my locker she had just reached hers and I went over to greet her. It was clear that she was crying passionately. "What's wrong Anne?" I said with great concern. She got right to the point. "Nobody will accept me because I am not beautiful." I was stunned and didn't know how to tell her the truth about American young people. It would have been the wrong time for a lesson in sociology. All I said was "everything will be OK" but I knew otherwise.
I had become aware since September that all of Coronado High's "beautiful" girls would avoid her at all times. After all, she was plain looking by comparison and only wore simple clothing. There would be no exception from Coronado High School's beauty queens and handsome princes for our special foreign guest.
At that moment, I wanted to explain to Anne that in America, young people judge you on your physical attractiveness and the clothes your parents provide you. After all, we were the land of movie stars, models and excessive beauty and clothes being shoved at us 24 hours a day in magazines, newspapers, on TV, in movies, and in non-stop beauty contests.
Growing up in Chicago, this kind of crap started in 5th grade. I understand that it now starts in 1st grade in America. If you were poor and could not afford the right clothes, you were suddenly relegated to a lower social group and even close former friends would turn on you if they had advanced to just the right position.
There has been some media that has addressed this over the years. Most prevalent was the movie "Mean Girls" and the heart wrenching 1973 Janis Ian song "At Seventeen."
But unfortunately, it has gone on in every American K-12 school in America since television in the 1950's. We are certainly a shallow group.
At that moment, I wanted to tell Anne that she was lucky she did not have to additionally experience the undercurrent of Anti-Semitism, Racism and Bigotry that flowed throughout Coronado High School.
I have always wondered what happened to Anne. She would be 67 or 68 now. Did she return to her family and friends and conceal what she experienced or did she share it with them when they asked "How Was America?"
Maybe she even said that there was a nice boy who always had a genuine smile and way for her at her locker.