I have to admit I’m somewhat of a pack rat. I save most everything I’ve ever collected or gathered: books, records, National Geographic magazines, bank statements, vibrators, etc. I mean almost every damn thing my calloused hands have touched! I’m loathe to throw stuff away. No, I don’t need an intervention! My alternate personalities usually keep me in check. Fortunately, I went paperless with my bank statements and cell phone bills years ago. But, back in September 2007, I launched into a destructive frenzy. I yanked out mounds of paper from my office closet and ran it all through the shredder. The poor little device screamed for mercy and almost reported me to the police after a week. My spine nearly did the same, sore from being hunched over the trash can.
Perusing through some boxes last month, though, I was surprised to find more ancient paper, including packs of ATM receipts. Oh yea, I keep those, too. But now, I destroy them after a year. Thus, I immediately jumped into another round of paper shredding. Amidst the refuse, however, I encountered something I really didn’t want to see again: my high school annuals.
I’m one of those people who bear absolutely no fond memories of high school. I came to hate it so bad that I made no effort to attend my prom and almost skipped graduation. In the second semester of my senior year, I had earned enough credits to attend only half a day. When I realized my senior class ring didn’t fit, I didn’t bother to have it resized, despite the company’s please that they’d take care of it. I just demanded a refund. I may have been the only kid from my senior class who didn’t graduate with a ring.
“Enjoy those four years because they’ll go by quickly,” Eddie, one of my parents’ long-time friends, told me as I neared completion of grade school. I was excited back then. I was finally leaving the rigor of a Catholic parochial school and a mandatory daily uniform for a three-year-old suburban Dallas high school. My freshman year was the first year the school had a senior class. The building felt as new as it looked; it was bright and colorful. The people were different. No one knew me, which was as frightening at the time as it was exhilarating. A brand new world. But, by the time I started that second semester of my senior year, I could hardly wait to leave the damn building. It had grown so old.
So, thirty-one years later, I sat here in my home office and scowled when I saw all that crap from high school. For some reason, I guess I thought that stuff was like a moth; once it gets trapped somewhere it dies and disintegrates back into the Earth. Thus, I ripped out every single page with my name and picture in each of the four annuals – all 12 or so sheets of it – and dropped them into the shredder. Seeing the blades grind up those glossy pages almost gave me an orgasm. It was one more thing from my past that I just had to let go.
I never blamed Eddie for his misguided optimism; he was just trying to be a good mentor and help out a shy boy. When details of the 1999 Columbine massacre came out, I realized I felt more in tune with the killers than the victims. I know what it’s like to be bullied throughout the school years. I know what it’s like to feel left out. I know what it’s like to hate yourself so much you wish you were dead – and wish everyone who tormented you could die with you.
Around the end of 2001, a man called me from some organization that was handling plans for my high school graduating class’s upcoming 20th anniversary reunion. And, you know how some things just trigger a strong reaction in your mind, almost involuntarily? Like a cough, or a sneeze – it just hits, and you have no control over your response. That’s how I felt the second I heard the name of that school. Everything flooded back into my brain; every pathetic, aggravating moment from those four pathetic, aggravating years. I wanted to yell at the man. Instead, I cordially told him to remove my name from his list. I think the dismal tone of my voice revealed how I felt about it. He simply didn’t ask any questions or say much more, other than ‘thank you.’
Then, I found those books. And, it all came back again. Damn! I’m fucking 49-years-old! I stopped reliving those nightmares a long time ago. Yes, I also collect memories – good and bad – like I collect books. But, just like you can’t change your birth date, you can’t change your past life experiences. They’re ingrained in your soul forever. The key is not to allow them to become a scar on your future. I could teach classes on that and probably make a fortune. Hm…I think I just found a new path to early retirement!
Oh, and as for the rest of those annuals? I chunked them into the recycle bin, hoping the paper can be turned into something more useful – like an inspirational guidebook on how not to take high school too seriously. Or, National Geographics.
Image courtesy Fuck Yea, Book Arts!