“Memory,” as the Barenaked Ladies sing, “is a strange thing.” In the last 24 hours I’ve found that to be very true, indeed.
Like millions of other people, I’m on Facebook. I’ve enjoyed catching up with old friends, sharing stories, sharing memories, and looking at photos, both old and new.
One of my friends recently posted some photos from our high school days on Facebook. I remarked that somewhere around this house, I had a box with similar photos. I vowed to dig it up and scan the images for the world to see.
Last night was that night. I checked all the places I thought the box would be: the spare room closet, under the bed, the dark recesses of the upper reaches of my own closet. But the box wasn’t there. Eventually, after much digging, I found it in the basement, buried under a mass of other boxes. It was old, and dusty, and it made me sneeze.
My son watched with curiosity as I opened the box and pulled out items: A Senior Memory book, corsages from homecomings and prom, old autograph books from 5th through 8th grade, certificates and test results and lots and lots of old photos.
The autograph books were a sight to behold. I didn’t even know I still had them. I didn’t remember EVER having had them. But here they are, solid, proof.
“Never kiss at the garden gate. Love is blind but neighbors ain’t.” Noelle wrote that at the end of 5th grade. What’s all this about kissing? I wondered as I read it. Kissing in 5th grade? It wasn’t until 6th or 7th grade when my friends secretly passed around Judy Blume’s book Forever, that I learned much about kissing. I read those passages with wide eyes. Kisses indeed!
Kathy, my best friend, whom I’ve kept in touch with all these years wrote simply, “Have a nice summer. It was nice nowing (sic) ya!” As if our friendship was over. Ha!
I don’t remember what Ermis did to me, but he wrote, “To Belle, The person I got good on her birthday.”
Alyson simply told me to have a fun summer and “don’t drown while swimming.” I must have taken her advice. I’m still here.
Susan told me to “Stay Cool and Stay High.” If I recall correctly, she had a slew of older sisters. This was the late 70s. I bet they smoked pot.
Shawn wrote: “I really enjoyed being your friend this year. I will always remember you. You have been a close friend and I don’t care what other people say, but I say you’re the best.” What DID other people say about me? I had no idea. The way I remember things with Shawn, well, we rode the bus together, and we had the same 5th grade teacher. One day Shawn had a necklace. It was imitation gold with crystals glued into it to look like diamonds. He was going to give it to his mother for mother’s day, or perhaps her birthday. Somehow, I convinced Shawn to give that necklace to ME instead. Maybe other people thought I was manipulative. How horrible was I? Oh my God, Shawn, I am so sorry. I’m glad you still thought of me as a friend, and for what it’s worth now, some 30 years later, I STILL HAVE THAT NECKLACE! It’s in mint condition, as I could never really bring myself to wear it. That’s how guilty I felt about talking you into giving it to me.
A turn through the pages of my autograph book from my middle school years left my husband asking “What did you DO to those kids?!” Sadly, this is where my memory begins to fail. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t remember.”
But maybe it gives me a glimpse into what THEY thought of ME.
Somebody who signed their name as “Tuna Fish” wrote “I don’t mean to be mean but you need Listerine, not a sip not a swallow, but the whole damn bottle.”
Andy said I was NOT a goodie goodie. And then he wrote that Damon said I had a big butt. Somebody, be it Andy, or Damon, or perhaps I myself, scratched that last part out with pen, but not so well that I couldn’t make it out.
Mark always thought I was mean. Melissa thought I was weird. Jon thought I was all right, and that must have been what kept me going after more autographs.
Eric “The Great”, David, and Jon, were all in love it with me. “It’s true, honest” someone wrote.
Shelley must have read Forever before me. She wrote “Two in a car, two little kisses, one second later, Mr. and Mrs.”
Linda offered “May your life be as long as Dolly Parton’s bra strap.”
Laura said I had a lumpy head!
Faye said I was conceited, and a few pages later Vivian backs her up with “To Belle, an ugly stupid, dumb, conceited pig!!! Just Kidding!! Your lovely, beautiful great, talented, sweet, friendly, friend. I’ve had a wonderful year with you. (I lie). Vivian.” And still, she wrote down her phone number and asked me to call her.
Andrea said she’s really sorry she met me, and Shannon said I was a wonderful person then wrote “signed, A Just Kidding Person. Shannon.” She’s on Facebook too. Hi Shannon!
By the end of our 8th grade year, Jon wrote that I should “Drop Dead”, and Ted simply wrote: “Fuck You!” (Thanks, Ted, I loved you too!)
But it wasn’t ALL bad. There were plenty of nice things written about me too. In fact, Sandy, whom I’m sad to say I don’t remember AT.ALL. wrote that I was her BEST FRIEND EVER. And my teachers all had good impressions of me. They wrote glowing statements telling me I was “one of the good folks”; one of the “best students ever”; “smart and intelligent”; their “favorite student”.
I found an envelope with my test results from the California Achievement Test from 11th grade to back up the smart and intelligent statements. Unfortunately, it also seems to refute Andy’s claim that I wasn’t a goody goody. The summary of pupil’s scores states: THIS STUDENTS ACHIEVEMENT IN BASIC SKILLS MAY BEST BE SUMMARIZED BY LOOKING AT THE TOTAL SCORES. IT CAN BE SEEN THAT HER TOTAL SCORES ARE BETTER THAN APPROXIMATELY 98 PERCENT OF THE NATION’S 11TH GRADERS IN READING, 99 PERCENT IN LANGUAGE, 83 PERCENT IN MATHEMATICS, AND 96 PERCENT IN TOTAL BATTERY. SHE HAS STRENGTHS IN CAPITALIZING I/PROPER NOUNS, TITLES, USING END MARKS, COLONS, AND SEMICOLONS, USING COMMAS, USING QUOTATION MARKS.
But I wasn’t perfect, not so perfect as to elicit such mean comments in my autograph book. The statement goes on to say: SHE MAY NEED TO REVIEW SPELLING CONSONANT SOUNDS, SPELLING ALL SOUNDS IN A WORD, SPELLING VOWEL SOUNDS, USING PRONOUNS. Personally, I think the CAT needed to review the use of CAPITILZATION. And THANK GOD for spell check.
As I scanned photos into the computer to post on Facebook, I marveled at the things I’d glued into my Senior Year Memory book. Ticket stubs from concerts I don’t remember attending: Chicago, Adam Ant, BARRY MANILOW???!!!; from dances I don’t remember dancing at; playbills from school plays I don’t recall, yearbook seminar’s I hardly remember.
Gas was 89 cents a gallon when I graduated from High School in May of 1986. Movie tickets cost $4.50, unless you went to a matinee for $2.00.
I kept a list of the guys I dated (Why?!), and when and how long I dated them. The lengths of time seem off, much shorter than how I remember those days. Marty, 9th grade, 2 months. Brian, 10th grade, 6 months. Mike and Darryl, in turn, 2 months and 3 months respectively in the 11th grade. Lee, 2 months in 12th grade. I remember those days, those guys. But then I come to another name, Steve. Someone I supposedly dated the summer before and through the beginning of my senior year in high school. And I don’t remember him. AT.ALL. A face comes fuzzily to my mind, if I search hard enough. But is it Steve’s face, or is it simply someone I saw on a television commercial? I have no idea. The guys I list after Steve, I remember them. But Steve escapes me. Who was he? Where did we meet? What happened to us?
Memory. It’s a strange thing.
My brother has a great memory. He was able to confirm for me that yes, he remembers that I went to a Chicago concert. And Adam Ant concert. The name Steve, he says, is familiar, but no, he doesn’t remember him.
I had a story published in a magazine. I didn’t remember this. I opened the magazine wondering why I had kept it. I flipped the pages and read poems and stories from other classmates, and then I saw my name. The story I wrote. When did I write it? And who submitted it to the school magazine?
And so I’m left sorting through the stuff that fills this old box in front of me, turning the pages of a memory book. Left feeling like I’m sorting through the memories of someone else’s life. Trying to remember who the hell Steve was. And how the hell did I get to that Adam Ant concert?