I ended up writing more than I thought I would. Less than I wish I could have.
You’ve been reading some old letters.
You smile and think how much you’ve changed.
All the money in the world couldn’t buy back those days.
– This The Day by The The
Dear Bernie –
We only saw each other a few times after graduating from high school. I had no plan for my future. “Become a comic book artist” is a direction not a plan. I did odd jobs throughout the summer and finally ended up as a dishwasher at the Apple Orchard Family Restaurant. I worked there for the next two years, moving from dishwasher to prep cook to line cook. I finally decided that getting out of California was a plan and I moved to New Jersey at the end of the summer of 1984. That’s a whole other story.
In your signature in my yearbook you told me to call you. I’ve never been much of one for phone conversations (my best ones are always with people who are happy to talk and let me listen) so I invited you to a couple of parties. My mom left my brother and I alone for a few weeks in that summer of ’82 while she revisited Alaska. Naturally we had some parties. You came to both of them – the first for most of night, the second only for a quick visit.
I saw you a few week after that outside of Zerbinos again. When I didn’t know what to do with myself at night I’d often wander around Sebastopol smoking cigarettes. I rarely had a direction in mind. It took me a moment to recognize you that night. You’d shaved off half your hair. It was strange and delightful. You’d always seemed so … normal. In Sebastopol, in the summer of 1982, there weren’t punk rockers in Sebastopol, at least no punk rockers I knew. We exchanged a few works (I hope I complimented your style) and then I wandered off.
Later that summer, during one of my late night wanders, I passed your house and saw that you were having a party. So I went on it. Your hair was mostly all buzzed off by then and I think you had acquired a punk boyfriend. I think I met your mother that night, staying up smoking and drinking with the kids. I’d probably met her before, after plays but I’ve forgotten those times. Only a few of my friends’ parents made impressions on me. I stayed a couple of hours and wandered off again sometime before dawn.
I passed your house on other nights that year but on those nights I just passed. I didn’t know what to say. (I often didn’t know what to say to people. That’s why I have so many friends who like to talk.) Sometimes I’d make a sculpture of rocks or pebbles on your driveway. Or in your mail box. (That was probably a little irritating.) I never signed them. How do you sign rocks?
The last time I saw you in person was at your sister’s graduation from Analy in 1986. I went to every Analy graduation from 1981 to 1987 when I finally stopped having friends in school. You and I talked briefly, two people in a crowd. You looked stylish and very thin. You told me you were working for Bill Graham Presents in San Francisco. It didn’t occur to me get your phone number or an address. I didn’t know I’d want to see you again. You looked like you’d found a path in life. I was still making it up as I went along.
So it’s been 22 years since we spoke and almost two years now since you passed away. Why am I writing? Who were you for me? Why is there such a large hole in my heart?
I love stories. I love to hear them. I love to read them. I eat them for breakfast lunch, dinner and midnight snacks I’m good at telling stories when I’m flat out making things up. I’ve even gotten paid for writing a few stories. But I differentiate stories from life. A good story makes sense. It leads you somewhere. Life just happens and trying to make it seem logical usually means ignoring part of what happened. When I talk about my life, the lives of people I know or how the world works, I’m a lousy storyteller. I get too caught up in the facts, too attached to the true of true story to make the story live.
It often helps to look at life as a story for the hurts to make sense. Stories give meaning to life. A biography that’s just a series of events might be interesting but it’s usually unsatisfying. There’s a good story, many good stories in your life. I wish I knew the stories that came after high school. I’ve only got an end to your story. Most of the rest of it is a blank.
In the week after I got the news I tried to figure out where that hole had come from. It was as I began to try to imagine telling someone about you, imagine telling the story of who you were that I started to be able to see the void. See if someone were to write the story (make that movie, miniseries, tv show) of your life, David Ingersoll wouldn’t be in it. We manage to function in life by filtering the information our senses collect, ignoring everything that’s not essential to our task at hand. A well told story filters life down, cutting out everything that has no meaning. In the story of Bernice Jinkerson’s life I wasn’t important. I wasn’t your first kiss. I wasn’t the guy you had a crush on or the best friend you told your secrets to. I didn’t give you important advice at the time you needed it the most. If I were to have appeared at in your story at all it would be as one of those composite characters, a combination of people you knew who get streamlined together so the reader doesn’t get confused by too many incidental characters. The truth is I wasn’t a pivotal figure in your life. I was just some guy you went to school with.
When I first realized that I felt a little odd. I also realized that that wasn’t where the emptiness came from. The blunt truth is if someone were to write the story of my life you’d get the same treatment. The impact you had on my life was quiet and gentle. There was no drama to it. The drama in my life happened with other people. We don’t have a big story someone would write about.
Too many people I know have had periods in their lives when they felt alone. They lose track of friends and then come to believe that they aren’t missed. They look back on a lousy time and see only the brambles they had to crawl through. I hated high school. I also got very lucky. I made friends who got me through those brambles. Thirty years later a lot of those friends are just a phone call away. If someone were to write the story of my life most of those friends would get streamlined away. But my life isn’t a story and I wouldn’t be the person I am without ALL my friends. You made my life a better place. All the little things you did. I’ve never forgotten you. I’ll never forget you.
I thought you should know that.
I’m posting this because I know that there are other people looking for you, people who cared about you and wondered what became of you. I’m posting this because a simple notice wouldn’t have been enough.
Just a couple more memories. Dreams actually.
I rarely remember my dreams. Most nights pass as if I didn’t dream. I like to think that I don’t dream. My head is usually so noisy when I’m awake that it seems like a dreamless sleep would be a rest. The few dreams I remember are usually the ones where I run into old friends, friends I no longer know how to get in contact with, at the Party That Never Ends. You know the place.
Back at the end of 2002 I dreamed of you. I no longer remember the details. The dream was vivid enough that I felt like I ought to tell someone so I wrote about it to a mutual friend from high school. When she wrote back that she hadn’t heard from you in years I was inspired to post that notice on my web log.
The second time dream was a couple of years ago, in late 2006. If I were writing a story I’d say the dream was in September but honestly I don’t remember the date.
I was at The Party That never Ends. The Party is usually in a big rambling house surrounded by a big rambling yard. I’d been wandering through the house talking to friends, enjoying far off music. I came into the library. The sun was shining through big bay windows. You were curled up on a big white couch reading by sunlight. You looked healthy. Happy. Your hair was long and you wore a summer dress. We gave each other hugs and talked about inconsequential things. I told you I was glad to see you. And then we wandered on.
15 December, 1963 – 23 September, 2006
I think of her voice first and foremost, then the large eyes… sort of childlike in their wonder, and old-soul in their skepticism.
I think of the graceful laugh, and the ease with which it acted as punctuation to even the most mundane Sebastopol insight.
I think of the cool attitude.. as if somehow that would provide an express ticket out of Analy High. It never did. We all know that.
I think of how she was able to be so many things when some of us were trying desperately to pull off being anything at all.
– Gregg Victor
I sometimes think to myself now “Why did I not see how troubled that person must have been when I knew them back then.” And of course the answer is that I was just a nutty kid at the time who only barely understood the reflection in the mirror, much less anything else that was going on
Dear Bernie –
We attended Analy High School from September, 1978 to June 1982. How much can I remember of the experience? Specifically, how much can I remember of you at Analy?
I understand that some people look back at their high years with nostalgia, with fondness. I’m not one of those people. I made a lot of good friends and I had a lot of great times but I’ve no desire to repeat the experience. High school was a part time prison. I spent a good part of my freshman year stoned. I’d go down to the field at brunch, smoke some cheap weed and be high the rest of the morning.
Now I can see all sorts of ways that I could have taken advantage of opportunities at Analy, ways that I could have enjoyed myself and actually prepared myself for the Real World. But that’s with a quarter century of experience under my belt. As a teenager school was regular dull torture, climbing in a box every day with a bunch of other angry (depressed, mean, abrasive) monkeys, performing pointless tricks to receive intangible rewards (or avoid senseless punishments). Was it really horrible? Of course it was. As a kid life is raw and full of sharp edges. There’s no perspective, there’s only DRAMA.
And, surprise surprise, one of the few bright spots was Drama class. I’m a fairly good artist and enjoyed my art classes but they weren’t terribly challenging. Drama was one of the main things that kept me interested in school. Drama was the only class I wouldn’t get stoned for. When we were freshman Drama was our first period class. As sophomores it fell after brunch. So in 10th grade I stopped smoking pot at school. Acting was never any fun when I was high.
You and I were in Drama class all four years of high school and survived four different teachers – Ron Schecklin in 9th grade, Sherry Engstrom and Caroline Ranch-Apple in 10th grade and Amy Glazer-Connolly in 11th and 12th. My memories of Drama are sharper than most of other memories of school. They’re still far fuzzier than I’d like.
As freshman, in Beginning Drama, we were part of the cast of The Crowned Prince of Wanderlust, a play for kids that we performed for Park Side and Pinecrest, Sebastopol’s elementary schools. I seem to remember that it was the story of a princess who wouldn’t laugh. Her father the king had offer a reward to anyone who could make her do so. Sam Crump (who went on to a minor career in politics as an adult) played the Prince. I couldn’t tell you what part either of us played.
As sophomores, in Advanced Drama, we broke in and broke down Sherry Engstrom, a teacher in her first year at public school. Poor woman didn’t last the year. She managed to rub most of the guys in the class the wrong way and we made her life hell. She did a production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown for our fall musical. The show had such a small cast. Small cast shows don’t make high school drama students happy.
Things really fell apart when we tried to mount The Importance of Being Ernest as our spring play. The details of why so many of us were angry at Miss Engstrom have long since faded. I can call up lots of old angers and grudges as if they were yesterday. Not for this. In the end we shut down the show and she left Analy.
Caroline Ranch-Apple replaced her in the spring. Most of the upperclasspeople bailed on Drama that semester and we were left to make up the class as we went along. Advance Drama generally did “Little Theatre” productions (presented on the class stage rather than in the large auditorium) in Fall and Spring. That spring we cobbled together a show out of the short play Love is a Fallacy, parts of Feiffer’s People and some original material. We barely had an audience but we did have fun putting it together.
In the summer of 1980 I went on a cycle tour of Europe with a teacher and a bunch of other kids from Analy. I only mention it because I’ve been going through my scrapbook from the trip and I found your name on my address list of people I was planning to send postcards too. It’s a short list, no more than ten names. Did I write you? What did I say?
We got a new boss in Drama in our junior year – Amy Glazer-Connolly, a young woman with a family background in theatre and film and a lot of ambition. Amy could be your best friend and a screaming nutcase. She pushed, prodded, praised and pounded on us to get the best results she could from a bunch of small town kids.
Maybe she did more good than I give her credit for. I stopped acting after I graduated but quite a few of her students have gone on to work in theatre and film (and continue to do so). None of us have set the world on fire, yet. And I didn’t give up theatre because of working with Amy. Drama got me through high school but I knew I didn’t have the passion for it to pursue it as a hobby or a career. Too much competition and not enough talent or fire in me.
Our first big production in the fall of 1980 was Best of Broadway. It was a collection of production numbers from hit Broadway shows. Having a voice that wouldn’t hold a tune if it jumped down my throat and feet that couldn’t find rhythm on a map I was assigned to being a stagehand. You’re listed in our yearbook as the show’s stage manager. I’m sure you were good at it.
You and I got to show off our acting chops playing a variety of supporting characters to Gregg’s protagonist in Little Theatre production of the one-act Adaptations.
We got to be on the main stage for the spring ’81 show Play On!, a comedy about a group of incompetents putting on a murder mystery. You got the part of Aggie, Stage Manager to my Gerry, the high strung director. Maybe your experience earlier in the year helped? Me, I just pretended I was Amy and behaved irrationally. Amy and I got into a few fights during production. I don’t remember if you had problems with. If so they weren’t the public rows that I seemed unable to avoid. A lot of the best gags for the show were stolen from other productions but hell, whatever works to make people laugh.
We did end up in classes together other than Drama. We had PE together as sophomores. I remember playing golf with you and SJ. We didn’t have enough actually golf balls to go around so we played a lot of our games with ping-pong balls. On choppy lawns that doubled as soccer fields. There was Mr. Shecklin’s Advanced English when we were juniors. We were in French together. A few other classes as well though I can longer remember which ones. In my last two years I tried to take as few A track classes as possible. I really didn’t want to think much. I seem to remember that you were more studious.
In the regular class you and I often sat next to each other. If the teacher alphabetized the seating we didn’t have much choice. I’d make quiet snarky remarks. Sometimes I’d comb and braid your hair. I don’t think I ever asked. Which meant I was comfortable with you. As a teenager I was never good at asking for things. If I didn’t know if something was okay I didn’t do it. I rarely checked to find out.
Fall of 81 and our senior year brought us onstage for Showstoppers, another greatest hits musical. You and I are listed as “Specials” for the show. There were four of us “Specials”. The poor folks who couldn’t sing or dance. I’d been taking dance class as my PE elective but I can’t say it helped much. Somehow I got the male lead for the number “Big Spender”. I kept my mouth shut while SJ and the other girls made me look good. I wish I could remember what part you played. All that comes to mind is the “Specials” curtain call. Since we’d been deemed hopeless they didn’t both to choreograph anything for us. We just walked across the stage and waved.
Our spring Little Theatre show in 1982 was Bleacher Bums, a comedy about Cubs fans. On our first night we screwed up a bunch of cues and flubbed lines. We recovered but damn that was painful.
Over Easter vacation you, SJ, Gregg Victor, Brown and I acted in Graduation Day, a short horror movie filmed (videotaped) by the Analy Audio Video club. School was out and we had the run of the campus. We played the unlucky targets of a psychotic teacher (played by Analy’s photography teacher, Joe Compagno). Rather ridiculously I was cast as the captain of the football team. You were the star, playing my fiancée, the head cheerleader and the story’s final girl. SJ and Gregg were our best friends. At one point, after declaring our undying love for each other, we were supposed to kiss. I kissed your forehead instead of your lips. Another girl, it probably wouldn’t have been a problem. But at that point I’d known you so long you might have been one of my sisters. Nobody suggested that we shoot the scene again with a real kiss. I felt bad for not kissing you because, goddammit, you weren’t one of my sisters. Ah well.
I watched a tape of the project recently. I certainly hope we were better actors on stage because we were pretty lousy on film. You’d never know the four of us had been working together for years. And you and I displayed all the fiery attraction of traffic signs.
After going to Europe in the summer of 1980 I decided to take French classes. I never got very good at it. Still when I got lucky enough to get a scholarship to French Camp, a weekend of camping, culture and speaking French I happy to go. I was glad that you attended as well. I remember sneaking English conversations with you when we were out of hearing of the instructors. My cabin mates (students from a Santa Rosa school) brought a bottle of something with them and they invited me along when they wander the woods in the middle of the night. You declined our invitation to wander but you did accept a drink.
Sometime during our senior year, I think it was in spring, you were hospitalized because of an allergic reaction to, of all things, antiperspirant. I remember you spending about a week there. I drew and our drama class all signed a get well card. I delivered the card by myself. Everyone else claimed to be too scared of the hospital. I believe I told you that I got the job because I was considered the most expendable of the class.
The last show we were in together was in spring of 1982 on the main stage – Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor; a series of vignettes inspired by Chekov’s short stories. I was in three vignettes playing respectively a nervous clerk, a seducer of other men’s wives and a father taking his son to a prostitute. You got two roles yourself – a simple minded servant and a wife being seduced. Kind of obvious which vignette we shared isn’t it? In The Seduction I played a man who knows how to use dullwitted husbands to unwittingly seduced their wives into my arms. You were the wife who got the better of me. No kissing was required. I don’t think Amy would have let us get away with a peck on the forehead.
There were cast parties after every show but it’s one The Good Doctor’s that I have much memory of it. Previously our cast parties had been wholesome things. No alcohol. No drugs. Primarily just the cast and few friends. That was always fine with me. I did plenty of drinking and drugs at other parties. Drama was one of the places in my life when getting wasted wasn’t part of the fun. The Good Doctor cast party? Lots of drinking and getting stoned. It was the end of an era. Our era. We wouldn’t be doing any more shows at Analy. Why not get wasted? I remember matching gulps of Southern Comfort with you. You were impressive. I’ve learned recently that you probably had more practice drinking than I did. At that time I had no idea.
One of the last big school functions was the Junior/Senior Prom. My date had to be home by midnight but I didn’t want to night to end so early. I ended up outside Zerbino’s (Sebastopol’s one and only live music night club) and there you were. You hadn’t gone. It didn’t seem like you cared. I ran into some friends and ended up drinking tecquila out of a broken bottle in one of the town’s many old apple orchards.
On June 11th, 1982 we put on our robes, collected our diplomas, threw up our caps and left Analy behind.
I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams, pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind.
– Kansas (sung by Kathy Spillane at our 8th grade graduation)
Girl your eyes have a mist from the smoke of a distant fire
– Sanford Townsend Band 1977
Dear Bernie –
The hardest part has been accepting how much I’ve forgotten. I remember having such a good memory. I’ve recovered some glimpses of you, hunted up old photos, talked to old friends, but there’s so I no longer recall.
We met in Sebastopol, California at Pinecrest School in Mr. Martin’s 6th grade class. (Did we ever see each other anywhere outside of Sebastopol? I don’t think we did.) Pinecrest was a half an hour walk from my house. I chose it over a closer school as a fresh start. I’d had too many problems with kids at my old school and hoped that a different set of kids who make school a less painful experience.
I don’t have a first memory of you, no meet cute. We wouldn’t have talked much. The first half of the year I got this insane idea that boys were supposed to go through a stage of hating girls. Since I hadn’t gone through that stage yet I figured it was time to start. If Mr. Martin seated his class alphabetically then you and I spent a lot of time near each other. I doubt if you had to suffer through any of my girl hating. Poor Kathy Spillane ended up doing that. I was horrible to her. I’m pretty sure she’s forgiven me long ago. I still haven’t forgiven myself.
That fall you and I both won prizes in a Bicentennial essay contest. My essay was about Washington crossing the Delaware. I didn’t believe a word of it and I won second place. It was a valuable lesson in doing well at school. In December 1975, as part of our prize, we toured the American Freedom Train during its stopover in Sacramento. How did we get there? I don’t remember.
Mr. Martin was nothing if not ambitious. The class spent a good part of the year fundraising for a trip to Utah and back. We did car washes and bake sales to raise money and got McDonald’s to donate two buses for us to travel in. We toured for a week, hitting Hearst’s Castle, Las Vegas, Bryce and Zyon National Monuments and the Grand Canyon. Sometime before we left on the trip I decided that girls were okay. I distinctly remember thinking that since I would probably marry one someday I might as well start liking girls now. And somewhere along the way I remember drawing pictures for the girls I liked. Do you remember the portrait of a horse I drew for you? It’s the only drawing I specifically remember doing. I remember it because I had a little crush on you.
I would say that the crush faded but here I am writing to you over thirty years later.
For 7th and 8th grade we attended Brookhaven. Brookhaven consisted of 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes. It was Brookhaven I’d avoided attending the previous year. Now I was back with some of the kids that I’d played so poorly with back in 5th grad. I’m sure we had classes together although now I can’t tell you which ones. I remember you being best friends with Diane James. I remember because I had a crush on Diane. You were voted a student of the month both years although you were only photographed for it in 8th grade. We were both on the honor roll.
It was at Brookhaven that I started hating school less. Less. I still hated it but I’d begun to develop a cheerfully nihilistic attitude. I’d been called a weirdo for most of my childhood. Sometime in 7th grade I decided that if I was going to be called weird I might as well be weird. With enthusiasm.
It helped also to have a varied set of classes with electives that I was interested in. The school day was divided into seven periods (plus homeroom and lunch). I was never stuck with one set of kids for too long. And there was Drama, a place where being weird was encouraged. I’ve assumed that you were in Drama but maybe not. I barely remember the shows I was in (Trial by Jury, Christmas Carol, HMS Pinafore – all condensed versions of the originals) much less who else had parts. I didn’t find you in our Yearbook Drama Club photo.
How did you survive Brookhaven?
We graduated. I discovered pot in the summer of ’78. That got me ready for being a freshman at Analy High. Analy is where most of my memories of you begin.
Passing through, passing through
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue
Glad that I ran into you
Tell the people that you saw me passing through –
Folksong by R. Blakeslee (though it’s always Pete Seeger’s voice I hear in my head)
It’s finally over and I survived –
1982 Yearbook quote from Bernice Jinkerson
15 December, 1963 – 23 September, 2006
Dear Bernie –
I’d hoped to some day talk to you again, to catch up. To find out what your life was like in the years since I’d seen you last. To tell you how much I appreciated knowing you. Instead I’ll write the things I might have said here. I’ll probably say more here than I would have if we did actually meet. I’ve gotten far better at (knowing and then) saying what I’m thinking than I was back at school but I still take a while to warm up in a conversation.
I love the internet. It’s great for looking up old friends. I regularly run searches on the names of old acquaintances, classmates and co-workers. I’m curious to see what they’re doing with themselves. Sometimes I’ll contact the people I find. Most of the time I’m just satisfied to find out that someone is still alive and kicking.
I didn’t have much luck finding you though. So I posted a notice in my blog on January 23rd, 2003 –
And because one never knows who might be reading – I’m looking for Bernice Jinkerson (or perhaps Jinkersen). We both attended the same high school in Sebastopol. Last I heard she was working for Bill Graham Productions but that was over 15 years ago. I’m not sure that there still is a Bill Graham Productions any more. SJ and I have been wondering whatever became of her. Anyone who might have a clue what’s become of her, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I get a tedious amount of spam so be sure to mention Bernice in the subject line.
The years went by and I kind of forgot that I’d put up the notice. Every so often I’d do a search for you but nothing showed.
The news came on January 14th, 2008, as news often does these days, in an email. The subject line read –
Hi, Just wanted to let you know Bernie passed away in September 2006 from liver disease. As you most likely know she had a drug problem when in her teens which was brought on by parental abuse (dad). She beat the drug deal and had a good life until she died. When in the drug scene she got hepatitis the bad one which was the cause of her liver failure. We lived in Costa Rica for four years which she loved. She was a great person and I miss her a
I was at work. The morning had barely started. I suddenly didn’t have enough air. Everything got very quiet and I wanted to be anywhere other than where I was. But work is work and I’m a tedious machine. I took a deep breath, wiped off the tears and spent the next seven hours taking care of customers.
I’d posted that notice because I wanted to hear from you again. I didn’t need to hear much. I just wanted to know that you were out there living a good life. That you were well. Hopefully in 2003 you were.
I didn’t have more details than what was in the email. I still don’t. The writer responded to one of my emails, the one with old photos, but didn’t respond to my last. And why should he? I didn’t recognize his name. For all I know Bernie never mentioned me to him. I appreciated that he took the time to write at all.
Most people go through life oblivious to the impact they’ve made in the lives of those around them. They don’t realize that they’ve been missed.
I spent the next few weeks chasing old memories, looking for what I remembered of you and finding your memory in others. It was frustrating. We knew each other from 6th grade to 12th and I couldn’t find as many memories as there should have been for all those years. I looked up old friends and passed on the news. I wrote letters and I talked. When I could find them I reread the plays we’d been in together. And thought. Wrote and rewrote this letter. Many times.
I’ve learned that you can only climb a mountain one step at time; that difficult projects are best attempted in pieces. And getting started has been so hard. I’ve wanted to be poetic. Profound. Meaningful.
Ah well. This is the best I can do. We’ll have to call it enough. We’re not done. This is just part one.
And because one never knows who might be reading – I’m looking for Bernice Jinkerson (or perhaps Jinkersen). We both attended the same high school in Sebastopol. Last I heard she was working for Bill Graham Productions but that was over 15 years ago. I’m not sure that there still is a Bill Graham Productions any more. SJ and I have been wondering whatever became of her. Anyone who might have a clue what’s become of her, please contact me at email@example.com. I get a tedious amount of spam so be sure to mention Bernice in the subject line.
Update 7/16/2008 – And sometimes one doesn’t get the news one wants.