I made the mistake the other day of opening up my yearbook from my senior year in high school. I say mistake because it pulled me in and whatever it was that I meant to be doing suddenly was forgotten as I flipped through the pages, laughing over pictures, puzzling over handwriting, and cringing over certain memories.
I enjoyed my high school years very much…which is a good thing as I went to three different high schools, transferring two times to schools where I knew no one, and where, after the first move, I was too shy to sit down at lunch with kids I didn’t know so I ate my lunch in a bathroom stall rather than face the unknown and intimidating cafeteria.
I know. Kinda sad and pathetic.
After about a week of that I got to know a few kids and soon I was comfortable, my bathroom lunches forgotten.
I was only in that school for one year – only in that town for 11 months – and then we moved again. In my parent’s defense, no one had expected to move so soon. We had lived for 15 years on Orcas Island, Washington, when circumstances forced us to move to Bend, Oregon. We thought we were there to stay. But then, unexpectedly, Pan American Airlines (which had laid off my father 14 years previously) suddenly recalled all its pilots.
And so we moved to West Berlin, Germany.
That move was far easier than the move to Bend, for several reasons. 1) I realized that eating in the bathroom is stupid. 2) I’d done this once, and, by golly, I could do it again. And 3) Every single student in that school had moved, just as I had, at some point in their lives – often more than once, twice, even three times (they were mostly American military kids) and so they knew what it was like to be new. As a result, they were good at making friends, they understood how I felt, and they were friendly.
Voila! No more bathroom lunches.
And so my last two years of high school – in an American school on foreign soil – were fantastic. And here I was now, in my Minnesota living room, remembering all the fun.
Remembering the 6 bomb threats we had in one week, when we’d tromp out to the football field while the bomb-sniffing dogs did their work as casually as Minnesota kids do tornado drills.
Remembering the military Duty Train that we’d have to take across East Germany (at night) whenever we went to sports events or Speech Fest, or Model United Nations events, window blinds pulled down to keep us from seeing anything of their communist utopia.
Remembering the way we could distract our math teacher into telling us stories about his bees rather than telling us about algebra.
Remembering being the yearbook editor my senior year and truly learning what taking responsibility means – even if it’s taking responsibility for something I didn’t do.
Yes, those were good years. Great years!
And then, reaching the last few pages of the yearbook, I read this, written by a well-meaning friend:
“Gretchen, you are so awesome. Don’t ever change.”
And I remembered, with a stab of guilt and remorse and bittersweet pain, that I was far from awesome back then. That I had so far to go still, to be anywhere near it.
I remembered how I felt reading those words the first time. Knowing, even then, that I had better change and I had better change fast. Time to grow up. I could not stay 18, and I didn’t want to. 18 is a wonderful age to be…but it’s not nearly as wonderful as 42.
Yes, it’s been 24 years since I graduated from high school. 24 wonderful years.
And, while I’m still far from awesome, I have at least changed.