Tripping Over Memory Lane

Before I even get started, a folded paper falls out from the pages. It’s a prelude of sorts, an elementary school “graduation” program. All the names from both sixth grade classrooms listed together in alphabetical order. Nearly half the names have pencil marks in front of their names, either a / or an X. If an adult had discerned the meaning, and the year had been 1999 instead of 1987, and it hadn’t come from the last day of school, it might have gotten me in trouble, as in today’s world it might be interpreted as a hit list.

It is not one, but only for the barest of reasons – I didn’t want to do the dirty work myself, just see it happen. A fire, perhaps, or an alien invasion. People marked with an X would be killed. People with a / would hopefully just be maimed or horribly burned. These were people who might not be beyond redemption, but maybe needed to be hit by a car to snap out of their blossoming meanness.

The marks indicate boys and girls alike. I am for equal opportunity vigilante justice.

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Jason. Well, I don’t really know you but I’m glad you’re in my class. Good luck in the future! –J.

It took me until my senior year to get up the courage to ask everybody I admired to sign my yearbook. Happily, some did. Others pretended to inscribe something, but used a closed pen. One girl sold it so strongly that the impressions of the pen cap are readable in the right light. It says “I don’t know why you’re trying to talk to me. I hope nobody sees me. The end.”

Some write something, but are even more scathing, although deserved, a reminder of the hurtful power of gossip, especially in the hands of a novice who is giddy with the prospect of having been deemed worthy to be told salacious information:
Jason, Thanks for telling everyone I gave AK a blow. Nice memories. –T

Another writes, Goon! H.P. got a bad rep!
I’ve never been certain whether this was in regards to a person I knew with those initials, or with the High Potential program, which I openly mocked and declined to be a part of on the grounds that it had no interest in individuality, but only high college placement in a way that would reflect positively on the school. It’s probably bad that there is sufficient cause for either scenario.

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Plaid Gramma was the first cover band I ever experienced. It was made up of fellow seniors, most of whom I knew. Although their banner was a bed sheet with a hand-painted logo that looked like Gonzo the Great set on fire, I secretly wanted to be a part of it. Being in a band was like a record cleansing achievement. You could become cool just like that. I imagined myself in a group with like-minded and similarly hopelessly destitute in popularity forming a group singing funny songs like “Weird” Al Yankovic or the future Jonathan Coulton. We would call ourselves Nerds at Escape Velocity.

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You’re one of the few here I have the guts to respect. Sorry about the misunderstanding. I don’t hate you, don’t worry, even if your friends think I’m a bitch. I don’t care. At least I know I’m not submissive. – E

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I am more convinced than ever that English classes need a unit on writing photo captions and conceiving titles. The story headlines and photo text from the spring supplement are painful to read. The only exception is a somewhat censor-defying juvenile story header about intramural softball entitled “Crack the Balls.” The thirteen-year-old inside of me laughs briefly.

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A handful of wallet-sized senior photos slides out from the yearbook onto my lap. Among those I’ve kept, there is one without writing on the back and a watermark on the front. I am confused at first, but then I remember how I was so in awe of how my classmate looked — how I felt that if you had showed her picture alongside a series of shots from a model photo shoot for a clothing catalog or something, that I doubted anyone would be able to identify which one wasn’t the paid model. I remember it had simply been a sample I had gotten in the mail during “picture season.” I remember I had chosen to use that same photographer.

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I was given some horrible advice. In fact, it wasn’t so much advice as it was a curse: You Never Forget the Girl You Took To Prom. If someone had given me the corollary: You Never Forget the Girl You Should Have Taken To Prom, I would have behaved a lot less like an asshole. But for once I was a really slow learner at a subject, and that subject was how to treat people who love you.

You see, I had never kissed anyone until I was eighteen. How sad is that? But because I had my doubts that this wonderful girl I really did care for and I were probably not going to be together forever, I didn’t want to impugn whoever my future wife would be. So I broke up with a real person over an imaginary person. And then we got back together again just before college. And then I broke up with her again over that same imaginary wife, who I had actually met now but only for about five minutes. The fact that I wooed, won, and have been married to that person for going on fifteen years now is little excuse. In fact, my wife holds me in lower regard for NOT taking her to the prom, as I should have.

I am so, so sorry her pictures are not here, in either my photo album from that time or in this two-page photo spread in front me. She would have looked gorgeous. She would have turned heads. She would have happy memories to keep. Now, the best I can hope for is that she has forgotten or forgiven The Boy Who Never Took Her to Prom. I dearly hope so. I consider this series of events one of the worst things I have ever done to anyone.

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You were the first of our “group” that I met in 7th grade. If I hadn’t gotten to know you, I might have had “normal” [teenage years]. Yeah right! Anyway, I know you think people try to avoid you (and some probably do…) but I really enjoy being around you and you’ve really changed over the past year. –S

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My grandest aspiration for my junior year of high school was to find the courage and the means to jump off of a tall structure to my death. I got close once, poised on the edge of the top level of a parking ramp. It was only about 120 feet high. Would that have been enough to kill me? Perhaps I should go headfirst.

Obviously I didn’t. The cops showed up and offered to take me out for pizza until they could call my parents. “Pizza” was code for the juvenile ward of the mental hospital. I was there for three weeks.

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Having eradicated nearly all required courses with early bird and extra hour classes, here was my senior year schedule:

6:30 AM (early bird class): Government

1st period A.P. Calculus

2nd period German

3rd period: Open

4th period (A): Band

4th period (B): Open

5th period: Theories of Humor

6th period: Creative Writing

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There is a picture of my usual chem lab partner wielding a bow and arrow. She looks bad-ass. If Hunger Games had been around when we were in high school, she would have been homecoming royalty.

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I wonder how many people open up their yearbooks and look at the staff pages. Today I am closer to their age in these photos than I am to myself in my senior photo. I try to imagine them as contemporaries, people I might meet in the hallway at work, or at church, or on a volunteer project. I manage it with some. However, I find that with the teachers I respected, it’s impossible. Their set age remains masked by a historical filter of authority and wisdom.

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Rochester is a town filled with Mayo Clinic doctors and their children. In German class I am sitting next to a girl whose father operated on my father. Doctor/patient confidentiality what it is, she has no way of knowing it. But when I tell her to thank her dad for me, she nods in understanding.

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To Jason Glaser – the only person I’ve ever known to sink the 8-ball on the break! – A

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I see a picture of an underclassman and suddenly remember I took her out on a date once. We went a movie, shared some popcorn, had an amicable chat about it afterward, and that was all there ever was to it.

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In a startling piece of actual journalism, two classmates write a scathing criticism of two senior year policy decisions – to remove the term “Christmas” from school sanctioned activities and to set rules that restricted playing cards, including Magic the Gathering and solitaire. By happenstance, the story notes that the rules against cards were lifted and mentions the date, exactly twenty years ago today.

**********************

Please remember my party!
I’m hoping I did, because I don’t remember it at all now. You’d think I would. I think I got invited to more grad parties than all other social events combined K-12. I think I tried to get to everyone’s who asked me, even if I was surprised by the invite, but if I didn’t go, I apologize.

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As I see a name appear over and over in bylines and photo credits, I recall that being co-editor of the yearbook was only one of the positions this classmate heaped upon herself in what was perceived to be an overcharged effort to pad her college application. In a rather brazen display, she joins the Speech Team for the first time as a senior, and promptly gets herself elected as a captain, over myself. She abandons the team before the first meet. Whether she still included it as an achievement on her college forms, I don’t know, but probably. Suddenly, my years of experience with the team becomes valuable, and I am promoted. Although I help many of the team’s members on their way to success, my own humorous recitation, about how to become a superhero, never ranks at any meet. Although it is popularly acclaimed, it is a critical failure. My crowning achievement seems to have been in instructing everyone on how to engage in psychological warfare to win over judges and avoid being rattled by competitors. Many of the speech team members who have signed my yearbook comment on it. They also tend to sign their entries “to [their] favorite superhero.”

Oddly, I was not present at the speech team picture. I do not recall why.

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My younger brother was on the school newspaper staff. Somehow I was completely unaware of it until now.

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The eyes of the dead look back at me from the highlight of their vitality….

**There is the girl that everyone believed was carrying on an affair with one of the teachers. I don’t know if this was ever verified. It was fueled in part by the rather lecherous way he made sure she sat at the front of the class and hovered by her desk, and her remaining unflappable in the face of it. Having been in that class, that part is verified. She died in a car crash in 1998. I only later find that her uniquely fetching appearance came courtesy of her roots in the Haudenosaunee tribes, known inaccurately to most as the Iriquois. The teacher’s family goes back to the Mayflower.

**How odd is it that the same class mentioned above had two people in it who would die so young? At the way back of the class was a guy with long hair and musty smelling clothes who hated being paired up with me for group work, despite reaping the benefits of my usually having to do all the work. When I heard he died unexpectedly in 2010, I had no reaction to it. I later learned that he left behind a loving wife, and that she works with my brother-in-law. It’s the closest I ever got to a personal connection to him, but it’s enough, and now his passing makes me sad.

**It was a bit of an emotional breakthrough, the night I did my best to help former classmates try to locate a fellow grad who, it was strongly believed, was out to end his own life. Even though this person never said one nice thing to me in his life, I understand depression, and I know that I would not wish it on anyone. Even my worst enemy, as they say, though he was not. Our success of the evening was tarnished by his successful follow-through about a year later. Like everyone else, I too hope he is at peace.

**The oddest thing about my first post-college 9-to-5…(er, 8-to-5 now, I guess)… is that I ran into two people I went to school with back in our hometown. They both had the same first name – not rare, but not standard either. I remembered that one had gotten her hand run over by an ice skate at the Rec Center in 1981. I remember my instinct still looked for a scar there. That one introduced me to the other one, who I’d be working with. She was fun, pleasant, nice, kind, and would leave her husband with a brand new baby boy when complications from childbirth caused a previously undetectable heart defect to take her life. I think about them all the time, and wonder if they could use clothes, or diapers, but I’d never met her husband, and each day increases the gap and makes me less comfortable with offering out of the blue, though there’s no reason I shouldn’t. Those are moments when prayer alone feels empty and false.

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By the way – What’s my line?
The town is never so far as the mustard flies south.
Remember the Garp.
Save the blue frogs.
Don’t forget your dXs and +-0s.
Twin towers of power!
There’s never room for a piano player.
Bananas are fun!
The answer is always OBE.
Try not to squeak your poodle there.
P.S. Watch out for full moons!

…..I no longer remember what any of these secret handshakes mean.

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The same year that I went to my freshman year of college, a girl I knew from drama club and speech stuff moved with her family to the same town. We were acquaintances at the very best stretch of the imagination, but I still felt emboldened to call her after a group from the college had seen her in a local high school production and thought she was amazing in it. The initial, unchecked horror in her voice, at the realization that instead of any of the people from her old school who could have turned up in this new state there was me, was deeply soul rending.

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Some of the faces appearing on the Drug Free Life page are ironic in a not funny way.

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Jason – you have intrigued me since I met you. I always wanted a chance to get to know you better. It seems to me that if we translate German the same way we probably have other things in common also. I have a feeling that things will fall into place for you and that you will be happy. Keep up your sense of humor- you make me smile even if I may not always truly understand. – A

I was stunned to get this response from someone whose circle was so stratospherically above my own. I have never been able to decide if those words were genuine, or represented a supreme attempt at writing something kind and meaningful. What I came to realize was that in either instance it was still about the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me in high school.

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There are people I see who are not dead, but I feel it an injustice that those who are, are, and that these people are not. It taunts me, all of these rapists or soon to be rapists who walked around the halls with me. After my post on bullying went viral, a lot of people (some classmates and some not) got in contact with me to share their experiences of bullying. It was horrible to find how easy I had it in comparison to some. I think I wept myself dry to hear how many of the women who contacted me had stories that included one or more instances of rape or some other level of coerced sex. I had only known about one of the them previously, and it still burns a hole in my chest because she had been my best friend for a long time.

Besides being driven to suicide, being sexually abused or assaulted is perhaps the most punishing and longest lasting form of bullying and dominance, and all these victims were still dealing with it to varying degrees. One woman, even while devoting time to sharing her story, still admitted only to “allowing herself to be seduced” because she wasn’t sure what else she would be able to do at that moment. Almost no one told anyone in authority.

I have three daughters. I am not so foolish, naïve, or optimistic as to assure myself that they will all “save themselves for marriage.” They will hear my thoughts on the matter, to be sure, and they will make their own decisions and their own mistakes the same way we all did. But the one thing I pray my daughters take to heart is that however, whenever, wherever they come to experience this weighted and bipolar world of sex, that that moment is completely in accordance with their terms, and no one else’s.

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A clear part of my high school narrative was that I was by no means an athlete. If you’re looking for me, you can just skip right over the sports section of the yearbook. However, two things stick in my mind:

1.) I loved to swim. As a youth, the refraction properties of water were the same level of refraction my glasses had to correct my vision. What that meant was that I could see perfectly clearly under water for a long time. So I took lots of lessons and went to the pool a lot. In high school we had to swim a mile. Only four of us achieved it with any real pace. I was not on the swim team, but the other three were. I often wonder if I would have been able to do well in a long endurance event.

2.) My whole world might have changed if I realized there was intramural volleyball, the only sport I really love, and have any skill in. I still play it today and know I could have held my own even back then. I would have had something to really look forward to in school. I’ll never know how that would have worked out. I’m sure I ignored it along with all the other sports because I assumed I’d just get laughed off the court before setting foot on it.

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There are people who are not smiling in their professionally taken senior photos. I wonder why that is.

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Author of over sixty children's books, as well writer of textbook materials and standardized exam text. I may have helped teach your children...

Posted in Semicoherent Rambling
One comment on “Tripping Over Memory Lane
  1. Stephanie says:

    I love reading your posts. You are so thoughtful and reflective. And it reminds of things that I have forgotten, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not. 
    Your posts often make me think about my own girls futures when it comes to their experiences in school. My oldest daughter and I take Tae Kwon Do together to help her grow the self-esteem and strength that she does not currently have. Perhaps, she needs to learn archery too. Maybe the combination of the two activities will allow her to feel as bad ass as the girl in the picture looked, because I know she did not feel that way at that time. But for today she smiled a large, bright smile remembering how she enjoyed that activity (even it was not cool) and the friendship she had with the person who stills has that photo.

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