I ran across my old high school yearbook while packing up my life for this trip. The yearbook is a tool we use to say goodbye without ever saying goodbye. We press upon our friends to write something special inside the cover that we can always remember that person by. It’s like pre-packaged nostalgia. We were romantic then, all of us, even a geek like me, but for me the yearbook ritual was as horrifying as it was stupid. I think I picked up the whole cynical thing ahead of my time – I was postcocious.
I cracked open the yearbook not really knowing what to expect. There were warm words from people that I have not thought of in years, and far more empty paragraphs that from this distance were obviously rote statements made for those you had no strong affinity for but you had to write something. Then there was one from someone who I still know and count as one of my best friends. Much of it was in code. “Don’t forget Maynard,” it said. “Don’t forget Edgar.” Maynard and Edgar were not acquaintances, they were words that had special meaning for us. Maynard was, um… and there’s the thing. I don’t remember. I have forgotten Maynard. I have forgotten Edgar.
I do remember thinking that I would never forget those things. I remembered the first time I read that passage and thought that those things would always be a part of me. I remember lots of other things about that year. Many of them I would prefer to forget. I remember stupid things I did that only hurt other people. I didn’t learn from those years, I’ve kept right on dong those things. I remember small triumphs and big disappointments.
I remember the person who gave me that crazy list of things to remember. Even back then it was pretty widely recognized that remembering things was not my forte, but he asked me to anyway. Had I studied the list, well, ever, I might remember what all that stuff was about. Instead I remember moonlight frisbee golf, Mars 2021, and guerilla brass caroling in July. Those really were good times, no matter what the yearbook says. Sorry, Maynard.
Another thing I don’t remember is what I wrote in anyone else’s yearbook. That’s probably a good thing. I don’t think I signed that many, but I’m sure the ones I did I took just as seriously as everyone else and said a lot of dumb crap. Somewhere out there someone has pulled out their yearbook in the last couple of years, perhaps for the 20th reunion (if there was one), and looked at what I wrote and asked the air, “Who’s Jerry?” Better, probably, if we ever meet again, that my name is never associated with what I wrote. “We will always be friends,” or something like that. Nothing like reading a note from someone you haven’t seen in 22 years and only vaguely remember saying what a special time this has been and how you will always be friends.
My advice to any kids out there who are about to be put in the position of trying to say something sincere and lasting and flattering and intelligent: Write “elevator ocelot rutabaga” and sign your name. Learn calligraphy so those three magic words seem all the more important. The people that matter, the ones you really will be friends with forever, will look back on that oddity and say, “Yep, that’s Martha, all right. What a character.” (Assuming your name is Martha, of course. OR – better yet – sign as Martha no matter what your name really is. If you’re female, sign as Maynard.) Then they’ll go right on remembering you for who you are and why they like you so much. The others, the ones who don’t remember you at all, will have a mystery to puzzle over when they blow the dust off their yearbooks every ten years or so.
Elevator Ocelot Rutabaga. I’m pretty sure that’s not what I wrote back then.