Memories Of My Yearbook

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

There was a girl I had a crush on, back in 1987. And my wife’s away, so tonight was one of those nights where I couldn’t remember her name, and I couldn’t remember if she was half as pretty as I thought she was, so I went back to get out the 1987 Norwalk High Year Book.

Even now, years later, there’s some faces I frown at.

I’d forgotten most of the 350 or so students, of course; I probably had some sense of who they were at the time, but memories fade around the edges. And there were some of my old friends, dressed in ill-fitting suits, some handsome, some doofy.

Then there were the dangers.

And it was odd, because I literally hadn’t seen some of these dudes for over thirty years, but part of my brain lit up to tell me “AVOID WHEN POSSIBLE.” Much of the yearbook was a catalog of bullies; either the angry jock bullies who’d fuck you up if you got in your way, or the snide bullies who’d snarl insults at you, or – worst of all – the friendly bullies who’d pretend to be on your side just long enough to wring a personally embarrassing admission from you, which they’d transmit to the crowds.

I wasn’t afraid of them. One of the weird benefits of being a nobody in a 1987 high school was that few people really wanted to fuck with you. But even after all these years, I had marked those young faces as assholes I didn’t want to be around, and even now, I remembered the senseless cruelties they could inflict if you hung around them.

Which was one of the weird aspects of high school. If it’s a job today, and I had to deal with those bozos, I could quit. Or talk to human resources. Or just decide hey, this job pays well and I got health care, so at least there’s a benefit in tolerating them.

But back in high school? We were all locked in with each other, with no real escape, so we became a bizarre sort of family. And like any family, there were people you knew to avoid, and some of these faces I had completely forgotten about until I went “Oh, Christ, that douche.”

I couldn’t even remember what that douche had specifically done. But I spent four years learning to not engage with him.

Likewise, and inversely, there were the kind faces – mostly girls – who I’d marked as safe spaces. I didn’t really have friendships with any women, not then, but there were a lot of women who I could occasionally sit next to in class and have a nice conversation with, or we’d shyly bitch about the same teachers, and as a result the details had melted away but the good feelings had not.

Which is, actually, a nice realization: thirty years later, I still think well of them. I hope they’re all happily in relationships that nourish them. And I hope all the bullies are burning to death on a tire fire – or, even more ideally, I suppose, look back upon their high school cruelties with a rueful “What the hell was I thinking?” and the knowledge that they’d buy me a beer at the high school reunion if ever they saw me there.

And infiltrated among those were all the crushes I’d had. It felt sort of squicky, because here were pages of seventeen-year-old girls, and to my fifty-year-old me they looked really super young and inexperienced, and so finding a part of me that went, “Oh, but aren’t they dreamy?” was a little fragmented. But I was seventeen when I first sighed over them, so I suppose it’s not too bad.

But there were the crushes, and I was surprised to find how ordinary they looked. In my mind they were in soft focus with that vaseline-on-the-lens gaze, with perfect hair and pert jewelry and pearl-white teeth, and honestly they were just regular teenagers. I could summon up the powerful attractions I felt to them at the time, but mostly, I think now the attractions I felt were just a combination of ordinary teenaged horniness and proximity. Which isn’t a bad combo – in fact, it’s the classic – but it was still weird to have those memories stripped away to face a pleasant, if pretty enough, reality.

And then there was me.

Why did I ever think I could pull off that mustache then?

What is it about teenaged boys that they’re so willing to pull off that wispy peachfuzz look?

And there I was, in my awkward suit, smiling – the babyfat still in my cheeks, my hair freshly combed, pimples hidden. We didn’t get a whole lot of room to write our thoughts down, so I – like almost every other kid in the school – had condensed my thoughts to a slurry of initials and shorthand in-jokes that I no longer remember.

I am impenetrable to myself. Which I always have been, I guess.

But I was happy enough. I try not to look in the 1986 yearbook, which is around somewhere, because in my junior year I had actually no friends. 1987 was an upswing year – I sat with buddies for the first time ever at the cafeteria, I played in a band, I had people to do things with on the weekend, I’d even gone to a Rocky Horror Picture Show – and my eager caption represented that, with a bunch of initials of my old friends.

I was happy to have in-jokes. Because if you don’t have friends, you don’t have in-jokes, you just have in.

And there I was, about to be let loose upon the world. I wasn’t ready, of course, but I don’t think anyone there was. I was young, stupid, about to do my best and to do a shit job of it, but hey, everyone starts on the ground floor. And I was so happy to leave that weirdo little confined prison of a high school, to leave behind having to tolerate the jerks and bullies, to go out on my own.

What I didn’t anticipate is that thirty years later, I’d be looking back on those years with a weird fondness. I don’t miss high school per se, but I do miss having everyone sitting at the same desks, the predictability of it all, the knowing that these were the people you’d see every day so you have to make friends with some of them. Not like the isolation of adulthood, where you didn’t have to be anywhere so you had to seek harder, and if you didn’t you could wonder where all your friends went by the time you were thirty.

Naturally, the girl I went looking for wasn’t there. I think her name was Jennifer. That will sure narrow it down.

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