Friday, March 02, 2007


Out of the blue I decide to write a letter to a high school classmate I have not seen in more than 20 years. I don't know what caused me to think of her. We rode the bus together and had the same physics class. We were friends but not close outside of school. We never dated, though I asked. When Diane does occur to me, her last name does not and I have to go thumbing through my old high school yearbook to find it.

Of course, that was her name 23 years ago. Some women get married after high school and some of them take on their husband's surname. Diane would have had the chance at some point. She was a late bloomer, a skinny long-legged girl with loose black hair who was just beginning to grow into her body. You could tell she'd always be long and lean and her fair but clear skin would age well if she took care of it. She wasn't quite a head-turner when I knew her but I could see the potential.

Google doesn't offer much hope that she still has her maiden name. Her name shows up only in an online listing of our school's track-and-field records. It's possible that I'll get no closer than knowing that her high-jump record still stands. gives me nothing but links to sites that promise information. For a fee. I wish I had thought to look more people up when I reported news for that Cincinnati TV station a few years ago. It had a subscription to Lexis/Nexis, which is a terrific resource for tracking people down. It's also expensive and I'm not stalking, here; I'm just curious.

Then I try and get a match for Diane's name with an address, age and even a birth month and year. For some reason I'm relieved to see that she's 40. As if I would have kept adding to my age every year and she wouldn't. It makes no sense, I know, but my brain does not come equipped with age-progression software. The picture of her in my mind fades but doesn't age.

Her address is dated 7/2001. I have no idea whether she still lives there. For me that was two states and three residences ago. But it's the only one I find for her.

Now that I have an address to send the letter, I have to write the letter.


Lordy! Lordy! Look who's 40! At least that's what the Internet that Al Gore invented tells me. Happy Birthday! Let me back up a second because if you're not the Diane W. who graduated from Methacton High School in 1985, this letter is going to make even less sense than if you are the Diane to whom I meant to write this.

I should back up again. My name is John McQuiston and I went to high school with you. For a while, anyway. I finished a year before you did. I wish I could brag that I left early to sign a fat pro contract but, no, I'm just older than you are and graduated in 1984. If you don't remember me, try ginko biloba. Kidding! Did I type that out loud? I meant to say that if you don't remember me, I understand. As the years pass, my memories of high school fade at an increasingly rapid rate.

I happened to page through my old yearbook recently. One of the people who signed it apparently found me witty, charming and all around great company, which means she thought more highly of me than I did. She even left her phone number. And I have no recollection of her at all. Not a clue. She signed only her first name and in such a small script that I couldn't make enough of it out to go searching for a possible match among our classmates. Maybe I should call the phone number. It's only been 23 years. I'm sure she's still there.

I lived around the bend from you on Mourning Dove Road in fabulous Audubon. We had physics class together. You were cute. When you signed my yearbook (in much larger letters than Miss Mystery Girl above, thank you) you instructed me to keep in touch. It has taken a couple of decades but now I have. E-mail has made me a much better correspondent.

I'm sure you're waiting for the sales pitch. And if I had one, it would go right here. Unfortunately, I don't have a fabulous investment opportunity for you. I'm not raising money for any worthy cause. (Some unworthy ones, yes, but I don't solicit donations to those.) And my Nigerian e-mail scam comes, by definition, by e-mail. So it's none of that. What happened was that a moment of idle curiosity caught me when I was at a computer and here I am. Well, you were cute.

I went to the University of North Carolina where I learned that I had vastly overrated my prowess at mathematics.* I remember sitting in my second semester of calculus class and realizing that I did not understand a word the teacher was saying. How I pulled a C-minus out of that class I have not the foggiest notion.

I majored in Political Science and Communications, which meant that I had two degrees for which there was no practical use. My GPA was nothing to write home about, though it was something my father often wrote to me about. My principal achievements were that I graduated in four years with no summer school and I never cheated. Don't worry. Nobody else is impressed by that, either.

The time I should have spent doing schoolwork I devoted instead working at UNC's student-run TV station. I learned how to write and report TV news and sports stories. After college I made a living at it for the better part of the next 17 years at stations up and down the east coast. I own a lot of license plates.

I abandoned the life of a TV news nomad in late 2004 and re-settled near Tampa, Florida, which had been one of the stops along my TV tour. (John likes warm weather even more than he likes referring to himself in the third person.) Now I work in the marketing department of a large real estate developer here and do some freelance TV work on the side. I've also produced a couple of short documentary films.

I still know the four chords I learned in high school guitar class and the three I learned in the four piano lessons I took when I was 17. I continue to play both of the instruments equally badly and I have recordings of my original compositions to prove it.

It is said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. It gathers no spouse, either. I have never married nor fathered any children. It's just my cat and me. But, I promise, we're just friends.

I hope this letter finds you -- I hope it finds you at all, first of all -- healthy and happy as you pass another of life's milestones. I would love to hear about your life after high school if you care to share it. You don't even have to use a stamp. You can e-mail me at If you're curious, you can watch some clips of my TV work at or visit my blog at where you might read about how I sent a letter to a girl I once knew years ago and wondered about the woman she became.

Take care,

John McQuiston

*In high school I excelled at algebra, geometry and trigonometry and also made A's in biology, chemistry and physics. Academic success that did not carry into college.

I print it out, fold it up and for the first time in I don't know how long I seal an envelope that contains neither a greeting card nor a remittance. An actual letter from an actual viewer.

I don't know if she'll get it. The address could be wrong. The Diane could be wrong. She didn't have a common last name so I'm confident that's not the case. Maybe the letter will get there only for a jealous boyfriend or husband to see it before she does.

And what does it matter? What if it does reach her and she happens to remember my name, or doesn't remember but is curious enough to open the envelope? What if she finds the letter engaging, amusing and occasionally profound? (sure signs of premature senility but still) What will come of it anyway?

I have no idea. I do know is that for reasons I do not understand, I felt terrific after writing the letter. That's reason enough.

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