I have a handful of very detailed visual memories from high school. I’ll never forget, for example, what I wore on my 14th birthday (September 11, 2001), or kicking a girl from the opposing team in the ass during a basketball game while she bent over to pick up the ball.
A memory that sticks out to me, for less obvious reasons, is the first time I saw Taz Reed. I had not yet met her, but she was preceded by her reputation: a drum playing transfer student from Germany. Germany! How exotic!! A chick drummer! Woah!! In my mind, I pictured a tiny blonde. No clue why. (Germany).
I was pretty surprised when I showed up at marching band practice on a hot August afternoon to see instead a tiny black girl in a Korn shirt and Jnco jeans, with a blonde stripe running itself through her short hair. Does it ever matter if anyone is black or white or purple?! Actually, it feels like a necessary detail because it was at that moment in my life, my brain, which had only left the Midwest 1 or 2 times, chewed up the word “stereotype” and spit it right out onto the timpani Taz was standing behind.
I ask Taz if the memory of her outfit sounds about right and she says, “Unfortunately… yes… what the actual fuck was I thinking?”
Maybe in this memory I am wearing my red Dickies and oversized John Lennon t-shirt. So I console her with that.
“You never got mistaken for a boy or a lesbian.”
Touche! Oh high school.
Speaking of foreign languages: Taz isn’t really FROM Germany. She was a military brat. There’s no base in Waterloo, Iowa, but she had come home to live with her grandmother.
We became friends immediately. She had a car and could help me with physics, but more importantly, we were both navigating through high school life as gap-toothed introverts hiding inside baggy clothes, with very specific taste in music. And, at the time, we were good kids. Which meant we could stay occupied and out of trouble just by eating chicken wings or laying in bed listening to hardcore music. I had never in my life met anyone more boy crazy than Taz, and Korn frontman Jonathan Davis topped her list. I leaned more toward the pretty boy type. Orlando Bloom. YEARS of longing. Taz and I were both accidentally goofy. The only girls in a group of nerdy guys (sorry dudes), which made us the butt of many gentle jokes. Pretty soon Taz knew all my secret AIM screen names, which is how you define true friendship!!
Taz is older than me, so she graduated earlier and headed off to college to study physics and philosophy and continue being boy crazy. Eventually she headed down to St. Louis to finish school and be close to her family, and we would meet up for Pancheros and intellectually stimulating conversation whenever she would return to visit. Pancheros, btw, is Iowa’s Chipotle, and it is better than Chipotle because they will “Bob” your burrito. (Mix up the ingredients).
Eventually Taz decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the Air Force. So off she went to Germany, the apparent home of tiny blondes. It’s easy to lose touch with someone when you don’t get a chance to connect with them, physically. Taz is back in the states, in Baltimore, actually. Even though we don’t see each other, it feels nice to know we can.
In the movies, part of growing up is going to your high school reunion and seeing who’s fat and who’s successful. I would be lying if I said I didn’t compare. Thanks, Facebook. But Taz is someone I could never hold a candle to. She graduated from basic training in 2011, and has been steadily stacking up the awards ever since. Along with her actual job (Cyber Systems Operations Journeyman, Training Manager- “Sorry, I can’t tell you where I work”), she is a Suicide Prevention Monitor, a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate, a musician, a student, a basketball coach and a Dr. Who fanatic. She addresses most people affectionately as “Friend,” and refers to Civilians as “you guys.” In certain circumstances, she can arrest people. A benefit she has just recently learned of and seems very excited about.
I love to hear about the work she does, because there are so many stigmas associated with the military. We talk about the riots in Baltimore and how she could protest as long as she’s not in uniform. We lay bare the discussion about whether or not soldiers are heros. We fondly remember our friend Jake, a victim of the war in Iraq. We don’t talk about boys anymore. We don’t need to because our everyday lives and our career goals are interesting and complicated enough without them. Taz doesn’t plan to be in the military forever. But it has helped her focus and given her a sense of purpose.
“If anything, the military has helped me realize that I want to contribute to my community and make things better.”
My friend Taz is a badass.