The other day, I had a pang of nostalgia, and wanted to look through my old high school yearbooks. Yes, I was one of those students who bought a copy every year. Freshman-Senior. I wanted to savor the memories at the time of purchase, and loved passing the books around in those last days of school, trying to think of witty things to say in the blank signature pages. And then reading them, those platitudes that seemed so important at 15, and again at 18. “You are so sweet, such a great friend, I will miss you, remember Mr. So-and-so’s class, wasn’t he a nut, K.I.T., 555-6798, etc., etc.”
This morning, after not being able to find them for a bit, I unearthed the 4 books from an unpacked box, and began to peruse them. I reread the signature pages, and found myself not quite remembering some of the inside jokes, wondering when I had a class with this person or that, chuckling at the pictures of myself, laughing out loud at what my closest friend wrote, still, and smiling at the vast youthfulness of my peers, grinning in black and white, behind the pages of a 16 year old yearbook.
We were once 16, they and I. And I, at 16, would giggle at the faculty staff photos, thinking of how absurd it seemed that these ‘old’ people would sit and pose for a picture, when it didn’t really matter for them.
But today, I was struck by the fact that they weren’t old after all. Most of them, it would appear, were in their 30s. Not much older than myself. I remember my biology teacher talking about her young children. My play productions teacher, pregnant with her first. The new, very young teacher, obnoxiously trying to be everyone’s ‘friend’ rather than respected elder. The spunky, single teacher, happy with just her career. They were merely the looking glass to our own futures, but we didn’t see the image quite as clearly then, as we do now.
On the flipside, I was struck by how young we were. We looked like children, but tried to act like cool adults. The friendships that were sworn to last forever. The cool ones and the nerds. The jocks and the drama crowd. The best and the worst. The school contained us all, those children embarking on a journey to adulthood. Somewhere along the line, life crept up on all of us. And the yearbooks tell a story of the past, musings of days gone by. Today, there is no printed book to document the changing seasons: The high school sweethearts are married now. They have children, and have settled into suburban life. The one who dreamed of stardom lives happily in a new career. The crushes you wonder about. Those who have followed their ambitious desires, those who have not. The smiling baby faces of peers, gone from this world, and laid to rest.
I see the pictures of my closest friends, and see how we have gone our own ways, and how time has changed the surface of our camaraderie. I see the pictures of those who I barely knew then, who have become like family now.
It’s surreal to think that I am a full- fledged adult, not the teenager I once was. But I am still that person, the same, but completely different. We all are. It was bittersweet to reflect on the past, now that the shoe is on the other foot. It’s like an endless loop, youth and age is. The way we once viewed our teachers is the way we are seen. And someday, it will be how they are seen. And we all stop being 16, and start being grown up. And our children grow up, and theirs do as well. I’m relieved that those teenage angst years have come and gone, great as they were, yet I love having a reminder of their existence.
If you have one, go find your yearbook, or books, and wander for a few moments down memory lane. Those were certainly the days, but the best is yet to come.
Wouldn’t you agree?