optima dies... prima fugit. -- Virgil
[font=arial][color=blue]'Dear Mrs. N.' [/color][/font]
The script is my own. The shaky composition betrays the writing implement, one of those disposable BIC ballpoint pens that my mom was so fond of stocking my backpack with. I haven't used one of those in years.
[font=arial][color=blue]'This is a small token of appreciation from your Class of 1995 ... Thank you very much for your support. We wish you all the best. Don't forget about us!' [/color][/font]
The dedication is puzzling. I'm looking at my 8th grade yearbook and, instead of finding a modest assortment of autographs and well-wishes, I'm looking at a dedication written to my 6th grade teacher.
I remember signatures. I remember a 7th grader telling me to visit, to “be nice to all us Jr. High Schoolers” if I did. I remember phone numbers meekly offered, lifelines through distance and time. I didn't make that up. Did I?
I look through my bookcase to assure myself. I'm through with the top half when I remember that I had purchased two yearbooks. It seems quite natural that such a triviality would be forgotten, but a moment of recall gives me the answer and I'm diminished by the failings it betrays. One book was mine to keep, filled with the earnest oaths of friendship and schmaltzy camaraderie that is found only in graduating classes. The other I would give to my former teacher – a gift to thank her for the desktop-published yearbook she had put together for us on our last day. “Look at how far we've come” would be the message conveyed.
That never happened, obviously. Despite living a block away from my elementary Alma Mater, I never worked up the nerve to drop by. I was afraid she wouldn't remember me, or that she would somehow be disappointed or wouldn't care. I was left with a gift that was never given, a token of my lack of self-esteem. A leaden weight of Could Have, Should Have.
In the years that followed, I didn't just forget about that extra book. I willed it out of my personal memory.
I shelve the orphan, ease into its sibling tome. I leaf through it reluctantly, cringing at the 13 year-old me that inhabits the pages – after all, middle school was the apex of my awkwardness; bad haircuts, unflattering glasses, and a guarded interest in the fairer sex color my memories of the period. As a result, I've always categorized Junior High as a holding period, a perfect storm of childish transition and teenage anxiety to be tucked away and quietly forgotten.
This time, something is different.
I read on and my adolescence comes flooding back. For the first time in a long while, I welcome it. I relive moments of humiliation and indecision, of stark social terror and feigned indifference, punctuated by the smiles of familiar strangers.
Time flows by effortlessly. I rewind, replay and relive choice moments. “Can't relive the past?”, I cry incredulously. “Of course you can!” But am I doomed to experience those moments endlessly?
I bring the pivotal and the mundane to mind with ease. With some effort, I can even alter the outcome. I pick glasses that are flattering so my ID picture doesn't remind me of Harry Potter some years down the line. I don't jump into silly crushes or juvenile relationships. I actually talk to my classmates, develop friendships with them that don't end at the autograph page of my yearbook and keep myself from becoming a caricature when around them. I laboriously craft a time where I'm not embarrassed by myself.
Doomed to relive the past? Not exactly. But I am cursed to come back to reality, because at every step a willful act of selection is at play. I know that these flights of fancy have no basis in fact. I can pretend that I worked up enough nerve to carry that yearbook to its intended owner, even map out an intricate script of events that correspondingly transpired, but I can't replicate the feeling of accomplishment - the sense of worth - that such bravery would have rewarded. I can't extract significance from a non-event. The retreat is a temporary, empty patchwork.
I reach the end, a page covered in smiley faces and friendly acronyms, and put it to rest once more. The resulting nostalgia overwhelms me. I lay on my bed and I close my eyes. I open them in 1997, on the same bed, on the first day of High School. My hands tremble. I'm opening a letter in 2002 that tells me I've been placed on academic suspension. It's a great end to my freshman year of college. I breathe in as I prepare to give a graduation speech in 1995. It's a great end to my elementary school career. The breath escapes as a sigh in 2001. My high school (ex) girlfriend gives me a parting kiss on the cheek and, as I watch her sink into the crowd of new graduates and cheerful family, I suddenly feel very lost. My hands sit idly on my lap, clutching a lunchbox. It's 1989, my first day of kindergarten, and I feel misplaced.
These moments happen in parallel. They are smooth and tangled. I pass through them and pass into them at will. They fill and they warp. They cross over, under and back again, tighten over each other neatly, then cross again. They are clinched together by my present, each moment adding to the whole's unwieldy length.
But they can also fray.
There was a while, not too long ago, where I'd spend an inordinate amount of time meandering about my High School recollections. I'd dip into a moment of triumph or a comical event that was particularly noteworthy, sometimes for comfort, sometimes for fun. I was convinced that the best moments of my life had blazed past me and I was trying to grasp at the dying embers that were sparkling past my reach. The surprise that this once-lost book delivered caused me to recall a host of other memories, thoughts atrophied due to carelessness and scattered through inattentiveness. Through them I realize that by crafting a Greatest Hits record of my life, I had allowed other memories to become obsolete.
I built up a false narrative around me, one that ignored so very many of the stones in the road because they were displeasing or problematic. And, while that was convenient for a time, I think I should stare at the weaknesses of the past to find a little bit of detached glee in this present. I should see what unexpected stories spring to mind.
The wealth of the past isn't in its ability to be projected forward, but in its ability to stand. To be, to have been. I can't change my past, no matter how much time I spend pondering it. Defiantly, it will always apart of me. And because it remains, I will ultimately have to acknowledge it.
The more I stretch my arms further out, the more I'm borne ceaselessly into the past. Considering how much I've let myself forget, I see the potential for rediscovery at hand. I pick out my Junior and Senior yearbooks, heavy with several hundred pages of what-was, and place them on my nightstand. There is familiar and unfamiliar ground to trek through, but not tonight.
Tonight belongs to ...