With only a couple of months until high school graduation to go, I was content to quietly slip out the doors of my sleepy, small town high school and into my future at college. But one chilly spring morning in 1986, everyone knew my name as it was screeched out over the school’s PA system. “RON STEMPKOWSKI REPORT TO THE OFFICE!!! RON STEMPKOWSKI REPORT TO THE OFFICE!!!” I can still hear it like it was yesterday. Wid-eyed and surprised, I couldn’t imagine why a notorious “good boy” would be called to the office so vehemently.
Turns out, my powder blue AMC Pacer was on fire–ablaze in the school parking lot. Anyone in a classroom on the front side of the building (both floors) could see it. I imagine you could see it from space. When the vice-principal told me “Your car is on fire!” he said it like I was supposed to know what to do next. I think I said something like “Okay” then asked to use the phone. As I dialed my mom’s work number, I could see the smoke billowing from the hood of my car as fire trucks arrived (a TWO alarm fire.) I calmly told her my car was on fire, but once that was out of the way I got to the real reason why I was calling. “Can you come pick me up?” I couldn’t spend an entire day at school in the wake of such a ridiculous and public spectacle. Life in high school was hard enough as it was. I don’t recall my mom laughing at my request, but she might as well have. With my dad out of town, I was stuck in school for the day–horrified and now carless. The thought of spending the entire day at school being gawked and sniggered at was repulsive enough. But to endure a bus ride home pushed me to the brink.
I don’t remember much detail of the day progressed, but I do remember being relieved at how kind people were being. No on really made fun of me or the event. I got a lot of “what happened?” and “glad you weren’t in it when it happened” and a couple “do you think it sabotage?” Yikes. Sabotage?
As I trudged out to the buses after the final bell of the day, holding my head low I anticipated the longest ride into town imaginable. But then, Jennifer Bower, one of the most popular and nicest girls in my class stopped me on the way to the parking lot and asked me if I’d like a ride home. I think I hugged her. I’ll never forget her act of kindness, saving me from humiliation–real or imagined–and getting me home where I could regroup and try to forget about the entire event.
Then, my senior year book came out with this photo:
It was official. My last high school humiliation was memorialized, never to let me forget that humbling day. So, maybe it was Freudian that I lost my year book somewhere over the years. (Special thanks to my high school pal–and Prom date–Jody for digging hers out and scanning this pic!)
It has turns out that one of my worst high school experiences is one of my favorite high school memories. Seriously, who else can say they’ve had this experience? Even if they had it, who else would admit to it?
Also published on Medium.