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  • Jude Hopkins

Personal essay: "School's Over; Lesson Learned" published in The Los Angeles Times July 2013

I was driving south on the 405 Freeway to meet my former high school boyfriend at a hotel. I had met up with him a few months earlier at a class reunion. Gone was the Tom Selleck mustache that had been part of his macho look in high school, but he was still a catch.

“I’m coming to Los Angeles on business,” he said. “Would it be OK if I called you for dinner?”

I hastily scribbled my work number on a napkin. He was the one who whistled when I appeared as the sexy gun moll in the junior class play, and senior year he got a job at the fast-food joint where I worked, just to be near me. He bought gold hoops for my newly pierced ears and showed me off to his parents.

Walking toward the hotel, I felt apprehensive. He was married. And I was in a relationship too.

I spotted him in the lobby, his jacket slightly rumpled. His athleticism was still evident. His smile came easily, just as it always had.

“Here we are in the big city,” he said, giving me a hug that felt reassuringly familiar. “Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“Yes. It’s so good to see you again,” I said, genuinely meaning it.

“Come on,” he said. He took my hand as he led me to the elevator. “Let’s catch up before we go to dinner.”

The elevator doors opened onto a hallway, hushed by the thick carpeting.

“I’m nervous,” I told him as he fumbled with the key card.

“Don’t be,” he said. “It’s just me.”

He leaned against the open door, allowing me to pass into the cool, darkened room. I liked what I was feeling. Was it the intrigue or reawakened feelings?

Once we began seriously dating back in high school, I had always assumed we’d be married once we graduated from college. Sure, I had been troubled that he had not been in the top academic classes. But he was handsome, a jock, popular with the right set. He could have had any cheerleader, but he chose me.

Then I left for college and met someone else.

“Something to drink?” he asked, standing close to me. “I can call room service.”

After graduation, I went away to a college and met a young man working in the alumni office, where I was an intern. He caught my attention with his long, unruly blond hair, ripped jeans and deck shoes.

One morning he approached me by the copier.

“How’s that English class of yours?” he asked.

“OK, I guess.”

“How about going to dinner some night and discussing a little Byron?”

Here was someone who disarmed me at every level — from the way he’d wrap his arm around my waist to the way he’d gently rib me for my small-town naïveté. He was different from the hometown boys, more knowledgeable and sensitive. Tall, almost delicate in build, he could quote Keats, play guitar and sing self-penned songs in which “you” meant me.

But now, years later, I found myself in a hotel room not with him but with his predecessor.

The old high school boyfriend took my hand once again and led me to the edge of the hotel bed. “Let’s catch up.”

He settled on top of the brown bedspread, tapping the space next to him.

Is this the way people caught up?

“Where do we begin?” he asked.

Where should I begin?

“Why didn’t you have children?” I asked, turning on my side to look straight at him


“The time never felt right,” he said. “What about you? Why didn’t you marry?”

“I should have married you,” I blurted out.

But was that true? Would I have still been with him had we done so?

“Take the barrette out of your hair,” he said, moving closer, “like you wore it in high school.”

He kissed me tentatively, as if it were our first time. I felt uncomfortable, and not just because he was married and I was involved with someone else. We may have been far from our hometown, but I realized that nothing, after all these years, had changed. I wanted the ones I couldn’t have. The more elusive they were, the more desirable they seemed.

My first sweetheart had loved me consistently. He was the one who had really known me. Yet I realized that I had been right the first time around. He wasn’t the one.

“I’m sorry,” I said, sitting up. I put the clip back in my hair. “I guess we got carried away.”

“Yes,” he said, his voice breaking.

We rose from the bed, both of us knowing there would be no dinner. There would never be a dinner. We said our goodbyes and exchanged a few civilities before I drove into the L.A. night, back to what would turn out to be another relationship with a man who dazzled me before he, too, fell away.

Hopkins recently published a personal essay in skirt! Magazine and poetry in Timber Creek Review and California Quarterly.

L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns and submission guidelines are at If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at



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