As high school reunions arrive and one gets older, one wonders how other lives turned out. Yet, decades later, I remembered the name of only one fellow student, Gene, and not favorably.
An old saying is that one forgets those who have done us favors but never forgets those who humiliated us and I found this to be true. Throughout my life, Gene's name burned within my psyche.
During my lonely high school days he had seemed a Gatsby-like figure. Handsome and popular, always nattily dressed and with his intended goal of Yale, he would have been a shoe-in for Homecoming King had my school such a celebration. I envied his friendships from within my social circle of one.
Gene spoke to me only once. As he approached, I felt proud, anticipating that he would value me as a friend and share his approval with others and I would gain friends and especially a girlfriend. But he only wanted to borrow money, which I lent him and he never repaid. Nor did he approach me again.
Several years later I read in the high school newsletter that Gene had died young of cancer. From his obituary in The New York times, I learned that our professional lives were similar. We both earned doctoral degrees and wrote books but these were common achievements for graduates of my selective high school from which eight graduates won the Nobel Prize and seven won the Pulitzer Prize, more than any other secondary education institution in the United States. Yet I gained an achievement which, almost certainly, no other graduate had.
Years after graduating, while driven to a Manhattan TV interview and stopped at a red light, the limousine driver turned to me and said, "Madonna was the last person to sit where you're sitting." With this, I instantly told myself, "Gene, you bastard, I beat you!"
So, thanks to luck and Madonna, I did vanquish Gene in the long Game of Life.