Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Veinte años

That's right, y'all. I've always been this awesome.

My 20-year high school reunion is this weekend. The cliché of life makes me feel I should have something to profound to say about that, about the passage of time or some such thing. I'm not sure I do, though. I think this is primarily because I remember so little of high school.

Not because I was on drugs or anything; I just have a really bad memory. Or, well, no, that's not true. I have a limited-space memory -- only so much can fit in there. These days, my brain is being used primarily to store useless information about pro wrestling story lines, the technical aspects of various motorcycles I will never own, and some dying bits of the Welsh language. To make room, I have jettisoned most of my knowledge about life and experiences from 20 years ago.

Over the past few weeks, people from my high school have been posting to Facebook various embarrassing photos of themselves and others with captions about hair or awkward declarations that those days were the "best." Occasionally I get tagged in one of these photos, thereby allowing me to look back in admiring wonder at my incredible style foresight, having come up with Macklemore's haircut decades before he did.

Mostly, though, I tend to feel a sense of confusion. I'll look at pictures and not have any idea of the stories to which they are tied: Where was the picture taken? When, exactly? Who took the picture? What are we all doing? And so on.

The above picture, for instance. That's me, my best friend Paul, and Steph, a girl both of us dated at different points in our lives. We're at a restaurant; that much I can guess from the soda and chequered table cloth. TGI Friday's, perhaps? We used to go there a lot. 

I'm making that face because I've got hard candy in my mouth, a strange addiction I carried through high school for fear of bad breath. And because it struck me as quirky. That's what you do as a teenager: you find something no one else is doing it and own it as part of your personality simply because you're the only one doing it. The candy. The hair. The tendency to wear purple. The pen around my neck.

I always wore as a necklace a pen hooked to a bit of leather shoestring. You know, because I was a writer. I felt the need to communicate this visually. Had tattoos been within my personal aura of acceptability I probably would have had the word "Writer" emblazoned on my forearm. The necklace broke in my senior year when someone used it as a means of tackling me in a pick-up football game, so I'll place the picture as having been taken in my junior year. 

That makes sense. That was the year I was pretty hot for Steph. I'm willing to bet this pose was instigated by me -- not because I wanted to throw an arm around my best buddy but because I wanted to achieve cheap physical contact with Steph. If that's correct, I'd guess the picture was taken in spring 1993, during the height of my infatuation with her. And I'd suspect the photographer was my friend Sara -- primarily because she's the one who posted it to Facebook.

OK, well, perhaps I remember some things better than I thought. But all those are generalities. I can't tell you the story of this picture. I can't tell you anything about what any of the people in the photo were thinking/feeling at or around the time it was taken. Who's Paul looking at? Who else was there? Why were we there? I don't know.

So, I look at these pictures and feel confused. I feel a sense of amnesia, as if someone has shown me these and said, "Look, here's us when we were young." And I am left to nod befoggedly, feeling these pictures are not helping to fill in the gaps, but instead create new gaps. Silently thinking: "I recognise the faces but I don't know who any of these people are. Including the person who looks like me."

There is, too, a feeling of sadness. That is more a reflection of my present self and present circumstances.

I live today 5,000 miles away from where these pictures were taken. These pictures reinforce my feelings of disconnectedness, that others look at the silly-haired kid in the photo and think: "Well, I recognise the face but..."

I won't be at the high school reunion, of course. Check the cost of a flight from London to Minneapolis for a clear understanding as to why. Many of my old friends will be. And I suppose the appeal of the thing is that it is like Thanksgivings when all of us were in college: everyone rolling back into town at once. All these faces come back to collectively help piece together the tales of old pictures, to help you piece together who you are by reminding you who you were.

And I wonder if perhaps that's part of why I sometimes feel I can't figure out who I am. Because I'm so far away from anyone who can remember who I was.

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