Lessons Learned Via My Middle School Yearbook

I spent the night in my childhood room, with my head and arms dangling off my childhood bed, wading through childhood books, all dog-eared and strewn about arbitrary shelves as if I never actually left. As a sort of ceremonial act signifying that yes, I am embracing this wave of nostalgia, I pulled out the old yearbook — no, not high school. Middle school. Grades five through eight, because that’s what happens when you are really in deep in the emotions and the memories there doesn’t seem to be another option.
Here are a few things that I learned on my precious little trip through reverse puberty:

1. You will never shudder with second-hand embarrassment more violently than when looking at the seventh grade page of a junior high yearbook.

Here is how the initial meeting of the Official Yearbook Format Planning Committee of the World probably went down. “Hey, you know what would be a great idea? Capturing the most disoriented, graceless, emotionally scarring time in adolescence by taking headshots of all the seventh graders (preferably after gym class), and using them to fill the pages of a book that will be passed out to the entire school and revisited for years to come! We should also pressure their parents into buying about eight giant glossy blow up copies of this sure to be traumatizing photo and hey, while we’re at it, let’s throw in a few wallet-sized!”

It’s brutal, man. Open up your seventh grade year book and I can guarantee that you will not find one un-awkward looking person on five or so pages of your class. There will be center parts. There will be braces. There will be that one kid every year whose mom makes him wear a suit. There will be, gawdforbid, a full head of braids and beads shoved up over aluminum foil from a summer trip to Cabo, and all attempts to look cool and fashionable will be trumped by clear discomfort — necks stiff, turned slightly and unnaturally à la photographer’s orders. “One, two, chee…” “But wait, are you going to say thr…” Snap!

Mm, yes. That will be on your living room wall for the next year.

2. It is possible to forget an entire person and remember them all at once.

You know how when someone says, “Remember Jesse McCartney?” and suddenly an entire wave of song lyrics, passionate anguish and posters that hung on the inside of your closet door come flooding back as if memory lane was actually recollection ocean and you were just pulled down by the current? Is that just me? Oh.

Well, that’s what this feels like, only crazier because you KNEW this person. You had conversations, like, a lot of them. Maybe they even came over to your house once. Maybe he/she moved to your town from somewhere exotic like Singapore or Kentucky, or had a strange sense of humor and that’s how you first learned what sarcasm was. But then you forgot. This person switch schools or faded out of your social circle. Your life went on and who knows where he/she could be? Except now you do because six seconds after recalling his/her name, you were on facebook figuring out where he/she went to college and what he/she studied and how many girlfriends/boyfriends he/she has had since junior high because that’s how the world works now. A few days later, you’ll forget again.

3. What your fellow sixth grade peers write in your yearbook means absolutely nothing.

“HAGS!” or when we got a little older and more edgy, “HAKAS,” short for “Have A Kick (ass!!!) Summer” Or taken from the Lizzie McGuire eighth grade graduation episode, “You rock, don’t change!” Because let’s be real, no one would have ever said something like that on their own. How did we get so unoriginal? Were any of these well wishes actually sincere? Wait…what if HAGS wasn’t an acronym at all, and everyone was actually calling me an ugly, wart-covered old woman, pluralized to throw me off. Was this just an elaborate school-wide joke? WAS IT?! I might need to see a therapist.

4. What your sixth grade teachers write in your yearbook means a whole lot.

No professor or mentor has ever written me anything that can hold a candle to the thoughtful notes from Mrs. Binversie and Mr. Wolf circa 2002. They got me. Like, really got me — pinned me down in purple sharpie and loopy schoolteacher cursive on a fresh page in the back of my book. And I’ll admit it — reading those ten year old inscriptions still makes the twenty year old me feel hella good. Definitely worth that weird moment when you have to decide whether or not to go in for the post-signature hug.

5. Man, life was so simple.

Damn you, fifth-grade Maria for not thanking God every single day for spelling quizzes. That shit was so easy! You have one week to memorize ten words and BOOM! A hundred points! Gold star! Big smiley face on the top of the page! School, accomplished. What’s for snack, mom?

6. Man, life was so hard.

Kids are so mean. Girls are so mean. Puberty is so mean. School just sucks in general. Do I really have to get into this?

7. I always have and always will care too much about what other people think.

So these kids intimidated me, huh? The girls whose opinions I thought about when trying on my gaucho pants in front of the bedroom mirror. The boys I hoped didn’t notice how bad I was at gym. They’re babies! But when I look at their photos, say their names out loud, imagine them passing me in the blue carpeted hallways of my middle school, I still feel a strange uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. These are the people whose thoughts defined my preteen self-worth — my self-worth period, if you want to get all Freudian and stuff. WHY did I let that happen? Though I guess the real question should be why do I let that happen because I don’t know if I’ve actually grown out of that trait since junior high. I still care about the quasi “popular crowd” — what internships they are applying for, how many literary magazines they follow on Twitter and whether or not they still secretly like Call Me Maybe. But maybe that will never change. Maybe in that respect, life will always be a little middle school. I just wish I could tell my ten-year-old self that she rocked those gauchos and that capture the flag will matter very little in the great scheme of her life. Ughhhh, it would have saved me a lot of grief if I just lived Benjamin Button style and worked backwards.

8. Thank God choker necklaces stopped being a thing. Were they ever actually a thing?

If fashion is decreed by pictures of me in early junior high, then yes, yes they were. So were pigtail buns apparently. TC Mark

image – Shutterstock

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