High school for me was full of ups and downs. Most of the ups were up in the auditorium sound booth, where I ran the lights for school assemblies while cultivating a sense of detached imperiousness over the student masses. Most of the downs were down in D Wing, where the attention of cowboy bullies made me wish I blended into the crowd better.
Time seemed to pass more slowly in high school, didn’t it? I know in math class it did. Sometimes the school year felt like a logarithmic curve stretching out to nowhere. By the time it finally ended we had all sorts of badges to show off: grades, marked-up papers, maybe a few stitches in the head. But my most treasured record of successes during the school year—social successes, if not scholastic ones—was my yearbook.
The yearbook was a thick volume crammed full of student and faculty photos, interspersed with articles summarizing the year’s events. It also had several empty pages at the back, which for a few frenzied hours on the last day of school became the most important section of the book. We spent the day running up and down the hallways, pens in hand, asking friends or secret crushes to write something memorable in our books. We all had our own mental lists of people we simply had to ask for a few choice words. At the same time some of us were desperately trying to avoid that weird kid from P.E. class who we knew was hunting us down for the same purpose.
The messages we wrote each other were often predictable and pretty much what we wanted to hear, albeit couched in safe, noncommittal teenage code: “You’re kinda fun.” “It was nice getting to know you.” “Maybe we can hang out this summer.” I don’t currently have access to my old yearbooks, but here are a few of my favorite quotes from memory:
- “Don’t change this summer. I don’t want to have to think of new reasons to ignore you.”
- “Dude, you are the coolest, funniest, smartest, freakiest friend I have in the whole world. Hopefully I’ll have more friends next year.”
- “What’s up with your yearbook picture, man? What’s that on your face?”
The ultimate yearbook entry for most boys was of course a girl’s phone number and an invitation to call her during the summer. Indeed, even I was blessed on occasion with a phone number or two. However, at the end of my junior year my best friend and I were caught up in a bizarre “call me” scandal in which a girl whom we both adored and were competing for—Suzy—wrote different phone numbers in each of our yearbooks. When my friend and I compared notes and saw the discrepancy, it was like we’d been punched in the stomach by one of the cowboys in D Wing. (I knew the sensation well.) I remember thinking: How could she do such a cruel thing to my best friend, giving him a fake phone number? And oddly enough, he was probably thinking the same thing about me. (It didn’t occur to us until later, through empirical research during the summer, that both of the numbers might be fake.)
Suzy had a great influence on me that summer, bogus phone numbers notwithstanding. I was just starting out on guitar lessons at the time, and I was determined to one day write a tender love song dedicated to her. In the short term, however, musical and emotional immaturity forced me to settle for simply bestowing her name upon our family lawnmower.
Mowing the lawn every Saturday was never fun, but for an increasingly rebellious and hormone-driven 16-year-old it became at times unbearable. Naming the lawnmower “Suzy” was one stopgap measure I tried. It helped reduce the boredom, knowing that Suzy and I were spending quality time together every weekend. (Many years later I finally did write a Suzy song, but it ended up being more about the lawnmower than the person, and it was full of double entendres about making mulch and keeping hands away from dangerous rotating parts.)
I don’t know how kids these days deal with summer separation from their friends. They may not need the solace of handwritten forget-me-nots in yearbooks. The yearbook concept itself seems to have been usurped and perennialized by ever-accessible mobile phones and cyber-hangouts like Facebook. Suzy was kind of a pioneer in that area; she realized early on that in social networking you didn’t necessarily have to say anything factual about yourself (like your phone number). I wish I’d been clever and prescient enough in high school to see what was coming. I can see myself suavely taking friends’ yearbooks, giving them a thumbs-up, and writing “Like” next to their photos.