Tomorrow I’m taking off to go to a wedding of a close high school friend. It’s a nice thought that some of the students I teach will be friends years down the road, like my friend who is getting married and I are. Years down the road. Okay, yeah, I know, I’m not that old, and I’m sounding positively ancient. But anyway, it’s a nice thought.
Just for a little walk down memory lane, I broke out the old yearbook. There are a lot of people who I barely remember, a ton of people whose names seem utterly foreign to me, and just a few names which I remember well. Partly it’s the hand of time trying to whitewash over my high school memories. However, I also moved to my high school at the beginning of my sophomore year; I didn’t grow up with these people. My histories with them don’t go back to childhood.
Here are two random entries:
Sam, my dear… It’s been an amazing year, and an… interesting… high school career. We are officially cast members of the longest-running Samuel Beckett production in history. You will always be the Godot tree to me. I love Mr. Parent and his countless journeys deep into the Absurd. That English class was the best. Hmm, what else? Oh yeah… WHAM! It was so much fun WHAM-ing it up the past couple of years. Jew power! We are the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. I wish you the best of luck at MIT and I know you’ll do well. I’m sure I’ll hear about you when you win a Nobel Prize or something. I really hope we can keep in touch next year. Sam, you are an extremely talented person and I’m sure you’ll succeed in whatever you decide to do. Have a great summer and have a great time next year. Talk to ya later.
Dear Sam-Bam, someday we will change the world, either together or separately. Everyone will know our names because you will invent the formula for world peace and I will be there to document it. I’ll take artsy fartsy pictures of your experience, and I will write poems about your equations. All you have to do is be a genius. Man! I gave you the easy job… But seriously, Sammy. You are one cool cat, and even if you still miss Illinois, I’m so so glad you moved here. Of course I don’t want to get mushy in your yearbook because this isn’t goodbye. We’re going to be friends for a long time. In fact, you’re not going to be able to get rid of me… ha ha! No siree bob, I’m going to show up just when you least expect it. When you’re a world renowned math professor. I’ll enroll in your class and surprise you! (Of course, we might have to work out a “payment plan” so that I can pass) (kidding!). I’m glad that your’e going to MIT rather than Harvard Smarvard. Those people are just stuck up. And I’m not just saying that because they rejected me. (No, I’m really not, because I never applied. I should’ve though. They might have taken me on as a social experiment.) Well, so far its taken me 40+ minutes to write this, so it’s about time to wrap up. Let me leave you with these two thoughts: 1. I love you! 2. “If you’re going to do it, overdo it. That’s how you know you’re alive. Go ahead, take a coma-nap baby; take a Puddle Dive” – ani. You know I had to end with ani.
My high school experience was in no way standard — my group of friends did not easily fit into a single stereotype. We were… unique. We saw ourselves as… unique. Maybe that “we’re so different” attitude is our stereotype, I don’t know. We thought we were just so great. We started an underground zine, and secretly put posters up around the school telling everyone about it’s imminent arrival. We would drag couches and TVs outside of people’s houses and watch movies in nature. We would drive 45 minutes just to have tea at this hip tea lounge because it was a place no one else knew about. Annually, we would all skip school on the same day to go to a giant rummage sale. (Okay, you got me, I had my mother call me in sick.) We would go to the local truck stop (hey, we were in Jersey after all) and drink coffee and order fries and hang out at midnight or one or two in the morning.
We were also “good” kids. We did lots of community service. Lots. We quizzed each other for American History exams during lunch. We liked talking to (some of our) teachers. We were kids that — barring certain classes here or there — actually liked school. Most of us had jobs (me: restaurant and supermarket). Most of us didn’t drink until late in the game. Most of us didn’t do drugs.
Maybe secretly we did want to be normal. But we were an eclectic group, and I think we identified as that.
But because of that “I’m so uncategorizable and unique” attitude I copped in high school, I thought “Our yearbook won’t reflect my high school experience at all.” And so I gave each of my friends a page and told them to fill it up with whatever they wanted. Quotes, messages, doodles, pictures, photographs, whatever. Then I made color copies made of each of the pages, bound them, and handed them out. My group of friends had our own yearbook, one that actually reflected who we were in high school and what we did in high school.
On my page, I put a whole bunch of memories strung together (“And the four-boy-trampoline-party in the rain? And my daily doses of “so sorry sams” and people going for the gummy and then making up?… Try not to forget the wrestling matches on the lawn, in my house, at Eva’s house, etc… And then there was the Skynard Concert and Dennis’s Fourth of July Mishap with THE DIP….“). I had a Richard Feynman quotation (“I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here or there“). I had a quotation from My So-Called Life (I won’t embarrass myself by telling you which one). I had a pretentious math formula that I probably copied from my beaten CRC book of tables and formulas. I also stated that Counting Crows was “the best band in the entire world.”
High school feels like forever ago. And yet, my high school friend getting married? That same friend who let us watch Real World in her basement? The same one with whom I tried to get ice cream from the McDonalds drive through by walking through, after playing ultimate frisbee? The same one who I ate lunch with, sitting in those weird-colored plastic seats in the lunchroom?
PS. Do I think of any of this when I’m at my high school, teaching? Do I see any of my old self in my students? Do I remember the friendships that get forged, the drama that breaks out — daily!, the heightened emotional response to everything? Honestly, the answer is no. Maybe it’s because my high school was so different than my current high school. Probably it’s because I just have such a bad memory that I remember almost nothing. But for the most part — minus the “when I was in high school, I never would have…” moments — I don’t associate my life as a teacher with anything about my life as a student. At least not consciously. Fascinating, now that I think about it.