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Parallel Lives by Renee Anne Krist

Ricki was my best friend in high school. Of course, his name was Ronni then, but we were always changing names. Trying on new sounds, new looks, new personas, anything to escape parental imposition into our lives. He had long hair, thick, black, wavy, and almond eyes from his mother. I was short, and redheaded, with no sense of boundaries, except against my folks.

It was, as if, we'd always known each other and always would. Our circle of friends was similar, but oddly mirrored in this 1990s television show. My mom was Angela's, only heavy. She tried so hard to do the right thing, for all of us, only to receive my wrath. Seeing her trying the same things, twenty years later, makes me feel guilty, yet justified, for the choices I made. She wanted to be our friend, but her own sensibilities, made her the enemy.

Karla's warped sense of life was brought to the screen by Rayanne. Drugs, yes. Booze, yes. Sex, yes. And, as always happens in TV shows, and my life, she was punished for her excesses. Do you think the writers of "My So Called Life" would have made Angela suffer the second oldest female decision? I doubt it. Rayanne would have been the likely victim. Will she carry? Or not? Of course, she would. This is the 90s. Motherhood is the escape key to adulthood. Why would anyone give that up, right? How sad that girls hardly old enough to babysit are convinced of that. Karla wasn't. The abortion changed her, made her care more, about herself and her life. She figured she owed it to the neverborn.

Gary was Brian, sans the curly, golden locks. Having nothing in common with either his mother or his step-father, he haunted our houses, trying not to be a bother, wanting desperately to be a lover, willing to settle for a brother. When I finally saw him, I loved him. But his parents moved away, taking him to a small town, with no higher math or computers available. It took me two years to find him. Too late to save him. He'd given up. Probably works as a technician in a power plant now, if he's not in jail. Dreams of MIT and Nobel prizes pickled in stale beer. My parents offered to keep him, as did three other families. Kids shouldn't be treated as property. A seventeen year old genius turns party animal, because of parental possesiveness.

Miss Goody Two Shoes. An insult to rival "bitch" in any high school. Dari feared the label, though she live the life. Like her MSCL refelection, she was active in school politics and activities. She was queen of the PDAs with which ever boy was her steady for the week. We shared many classes and friends, but hated each other. Then one day, we ended up at the same table for lunch. Seems she and I were both upset about our parents. I suggested we go off campus for a smoke. She nodded, with a stunned look on her face. Once in the glen, I pulled out a joint and lit it. She stammered out the phrase of social death "I thought you were a narc!" Returning the insult, I said "I thought you were a slut!" We laughed and talked for hours, deciding our newfound friendship more important than AP History and Math. We plotted out the loss of her virginity, choosing a fellow she was in crush with, who'd taught me some interesting positions. There were still times when we would compete, for grades, school honors and guys, but we placed our loyalty in our overcoming of all social conventions. The slut and the narc. The virgin and the head. Appearances are nothing. Friendship is everything. Perhaps Rayanne and Sharon would have found this comaradierie, if their friendship had been allowed to flower.

And then there was Ricki, I mean, Ronni. Funny, sexy, talented. The drama club treated him like a star. The girls tried to seduce him into seducing them, but he just pretended not to understand. This was the early Seventies and Gay Lib hadn't found the suburbs yet. We didn't have the words to describe what we were. We didn't let on that we were so different. When the gossip got vicious about our dating, we staged a breakup, then started dating neighbors who were virgins. She was blond, pretty and religious. He was older and dumb, but had a car. We four were seen everywhere together. Our secret feelings went unspoken, our hidden desires, unconsumated. How lucky Ricki is, to be able to speak the truth, even if his family abandoned him.

Our parents wanted to split us all up. Mine sent me to an aunt back east. Ronni was sent to his father. When I returned, Ronni was gone. Dari and I left home for good. We became lovers, but she left me for a guy who abused her. When I dropped by for a visit, I found Gary had sent Karla a letter for me, six months earlier, asking to be rescued. I hitchhiked out to find him. I hope Angela would have done the same. He was intellectually DOA. I was late.

Years later, while teaching at a college, I started a Gay Student Union. I told the story of Ronni to some students, now knowing the names of those desires. I spoke of how important support, friendship, knowledge and tolerance are for gay teens. After the meeting, a young woman came up and told me how much she appriciated my story and how she has a friend name Ronni, who always talked about his best friend from high school, who he'd lost. We compared notes and decided to give him a call. It was him. Years and miles rushed away. We were in the glen again, chatting happily, except now, his partner was a guy and I had a husband and a ladylove. We saw each other once and made plans for more meetings, that never came to pass. Life happens all too quickly, sometimes. Ronni, if you see this, I miss you. I hope you saw this TV show and thought of us.

Thank you, ABC, for showing my life on prime time. You created characters more real than you knew. Too bad you gave up too soon. The sitcoms on NBC are getting old. The dramas on CBS are for the old. And Fox is for the vapid. I guess I'll just read a book.

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“My dad thinks every person in the world is having more fun than him.”

Angela Chase, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"