The Breyden

Braid Constellation at GamersWithJobs

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]

Hm.

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 ...

Comments

Beautifully written Alex. As someone who can't remember a thing about Jr. High or before, little enough about High School, and whose memories of even college are fading I actually envy you, despite the bittersweet quality of some of those memories.

Yeah, i have to echo that sentiment. It's a wonderful article and insight into yourself - quite brave.

I also have very little memories of my earlier years but the ones i do have are negative. I remember embarrassing moments, hurt moments etc. I'd like to remember the positive moments more clearly but fortunately i don't.

What a wonderfully written, evocative piece.

Stuff like this makes me so glad to have found this place.

Bravo!

Great article.

I'm like Duoae - I've got a lot of bad memories close to hand, but fewer good ones. I think your approach makes more sense, why fixate on something that can't be changed?

On the other hand, glory days--well, they'll pass you by.

A nice retrospective, Spaz. Like you, I tend to be more prone to positive reflection. Every now and then I take a walk through my more melancholic memories, though, and they somehow always seem much more meaningful.

I think the darker memories might also make better learning experiences. The better things are looking, the less prone we are to pay care and attention to how we're directing our lives. It's not until we face setbacks and challenges that we really have to focus (or start looking for walkthroughs).

Really nice, Alex.

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.

My daughter just started kindergarten last week. My heart aches for her.

While laying in bed I sometimes replay certain events in my life that I consider important milestones. I wonder what my life would be like if went down different paths. I silently laugh at my own foolishness and cringe at other points.

As I read it I wondered why I can't remember triumphal moments in my school years. Periodically, for no apparent reason, I'll be assaulted by some memory that I wish I could reach back through the years to alter. On rare occasion, they'll rob me of sleep as I won't be able to stop my brain from berating me for not doing what should have been done. The good times, however, are hard to recall.

I know there were some. That much is without question. It's just hard to pull up the specifics without a lot of other crap I'd rather not revisit getting in the way.

Thanks a lot. Now I'm depressed.

No, not really. Nice essay, Mr. Spaz. Makes me wish I could find my old yearbook.

That period of my life can be summed up in this autobiographic piece:

Now this is the story all about how,
My life got flipped, turned upside down,
And I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there,
I'll tell you what happened - do listen if you dare.

In old Soviet Union born and raised,
In long lines for bread I spent most of my days,
Chillin' out, bicycling, being a fool,
And throwin' some frisbee outside of the school.

When a gang of six guys, who were up to no good,
Jumped me after class, pretty drunk to boot.
They barely started - the police were there,
But they knew me from school - and my life turned nightmare.

Perestroika came, and with it came fear -
Poverty, inflation, corruption loomed near.
Hate speech parades in the town square,
That's when my parents said -
"Forget this. We've had our share".

We won our green card - it was our fate.
A year has passed, we arrived to the States.
I looked out the window - was I really there ?
It was San Francisco - a start of new era.

I don't really miss it.

Alex "Spaz" Martinez wrote:

Tonight belongs to ...

TEAM FORTRESS 2 ... Heck yeah!!

On a serious note I didn't hit my stride until College ... the second time!!!

However reading your tome makes me want to go a little easier on my kids that are now both in High School.

Less dictatorial and more supportive.

Adolescence sux!!

I wish I could delete my comment.

I really liked the article. Please write more, I take special note to read the ones you have written. Sometimes I will - don't kill me - skip some of the others if I don't have a ton of time.

Podunk wrote:
It's 1989, my first day of kindergarten, and I feel misplaced.

My daughter just started kindergarten last week. My heart aches for her.

That one hit me pretty hard, too. I think of my son in that capacity quite frequently. These days my thoughts are much less centered on my own issues, faults and successes, and are very much focused on how I am shaping my son's life. I am afraid of screwing it up on a fundamental level; one that he is forever going to have to fight to overcome. It's irrational, but it's there. I want to be able to offer him everything, and the confidence with which to grasp his goals tightly. I have absolutely no idea if I am going to succeed in this and that is the biggest fear of my life.

As for your article, I love the melancholy tone. Whenever I write, it's about mood, and melancholy is the one I lapse into most frequently. I must have issues

Oh, and you're young! My first day of kindergarten was in 1977

Great piece. I just got through sending my daughters off to their senior year. It was the last first day of school for us.

One of the things in their backpacks was the order forms for their last yearbooks. I don't know if I'd call it a melancholy experience, but it's definitely brought up a lot of stuff I'd rather have forgotten. I didn't have a good school experience, and I'm glad to say theirs has gone a lot better than mine did.

And I'll second Sephirotic; I graduated school in 1986. I was married and had two kids by your first day of school. Don't talk to me about old.

This whole piece is brilliant. I haven't played Braid yet, but I'm re-reading Invisible Cities, so a lot of this is kicking around in my head, too. Without starting any fights, I'd say that your story is in fact better than Invisible Cities. (I've always been a little annoyed by Calvino.)

Yearbooks always intrigued me a bit - I guess they don't do that kinda thing around here.. In retrospect, I guess I don't mind that too much, not really caring for most of the kids I grew up with once in high school, and something trying to testify of happy stuff seems like a really bad way to fool yourself into believing something that isn't necessarily true.
I don't suppose that's entirely fair (towards them) either though - between when I was 11 and 16, we had 4 direct relatives who died, 2 of cancer with a mean sickbed before it, and in between, a big mess of relatives arguing and never talking to each other basically disrupted any family stuff that used to be so fun and stable.

Looking back at that sort of thing always reminds me of a song by a singer, world-famous in our country, who reminisces about his youth, and makes up his will..
Part of it:
"..
As for the teacher who tried to threaten me with
'boy, you'll go down the wrong path'
he may be satisfied and will not need to receive anything,
that is to say, he's always had the truth.

..

For my parents is the album with the pictures
that testify so falsely of a happy childhood.
But they don't show the insipid speeches
that raise a child with honor and virtue.
They also get all the foolish things
that they taught me too much back then.
After all, even they can't force me
to grow up without deep sorrow and regret.

...

Otherwise there's nothing, except some things
that nobody has any use for.
They are the good memories of my youth;
which you will carry with you, as long as you live on"

I cut some stuff, and I'm sure someone can do a better job at translating it from Dutch, but it suffices, I guess .. doesn't rhyme anymore though..

That isn't to say that I had no fond memories of those bygone years, and it's not like I grew up in the crime-infested slums of S-America, but I wouldn't mind not remembering much from those high school years between '94 and 2000.. I guess those teenage years make you who you are today, but whenever I hear someone say they're torn on whether or not they'd really wanted to do things differently if they could, I'm quite sure I would.

Inside I am as cold and dead as the past so please ignore me, but what was the point of this? "The best days are the first to flee" doesn't help either.

On a different topic entirely.

Uberstein wrote:

What a wonderfully written, evocative piece.

Stuff like this makes me so glad to have found this place.

Bravo!

Again, ignore my rotted heart, but when does praise go from being about accomplishment to being borne of pride of self? I regret if one perceives belittlement for the last thing I wish is to discourage another from doing as they wish. This is actually a moral issue for me. See, the comment makes the strong praise public, therefore one wonders if it is meant to bolster the author or the commenter by affirming the commenter's self-identity. My moral system has a deficiency in defining ways to share feedback. Also, GWJ likes itself a lot. There is generally quality and certainly helpful people to be found so it places me in a quandary.

Wonderfully said, RolandofGilead. Evocative, a true classic. Bravo !

...

Okay, seriously, I admire your awareness level, and we should totally hang out sometime.

As friends.

Roland,

I suppose any community can become self congratulatory. A bit of background mightbe interesting:

On playing Braid, I was enraptured, and thought about writing something. But then I read what Shawn Elliott wrote, and listened to about 10 interviews with Blow, and felt I was already over analytical.

So I had a conversation with Alex and realized I wanted to read something from him on it, because I dig his writing and perspective.

Two weeks later he posted some thoughts in the writers guild and we encouraged him to go down this path instead of something more traditional.

I'm really glad he did, but if it's a giant WTF for you, hey that's ok too.

Thanks for reading, and for commenting.

My yearbooks were places for discovery and divulgence of secret crushes, along with a place to write phone numbers for that and other ends--even if you were only likely to stay in touch with five friends over the summer.

And congratulatory posts are mostly because GWJ writers get paid by the post. Sure, they don't get paid money, but I'm sure Rabbit can tell you how far those GoodjeBucks go towards (*ahem*) "face time" with folks like Ken Levine.

shihonage wrote:

Wonderfully said, RolandofGilead. Evocative, a true classic. Bravo !

Classic Sarcasm! Bravo!

Okay, seriously, I admire your awareness level, and we should totally hang out sometime.

As friends.

Well that makes sense, I do so rarely hang out with my enemies. I'm also rarely that aware; I shall consider whether that is a pro or a con.

rabbit wrote:

I suppose any community can become self congratulatory.

Chief Devil's Advocate of GWJ here I come!

A bit of background mightbe interesting:

On playing Braid, ...
I'm really glad he did, but if it's a giant WTF for you, hey that's ok too.

Thanks for reading, and for commenting.

It in fact was interesting! Reliving the Past = Time travel = Braid. I am glad no one scorned me(even more reason to love like the site.
I have also had the exact experience the author relates except for building a false narrative of my school days and having an undelivered copy. I have no regrets, simply failures. Perhaps that keeps me from seeing his message.