My Old Yearbooks Were Clearly Suicidal and I Happily Assisted
When you buy a new shirt (let’s say it’s blue and it has buttons and a collar) no expectation exists that you’ll keep it forever. You wear it and think you look like hot shit until you’re sick of it or until your excessive beer drinking compromises the stretching capabilities of the fabric or until you knife a stranger after a particularly bad day and it’s basically ruined because of mega stainage.
But with certain items, like school yearbooks, there’s an assumption that you’ll be hanging onto them until the moment you die at which time everything you own enters this weird transient state for a few minutes before the Law of Passing Possessions kicks in and suddenly your kids are responsible for all your junk.
My yearbook acquisition period spanned junior high and high school. Together, it was a fascinating six volume story full of teen awkwardness and untimely erections. A fine read, really.
Over a dozen times I carried those books to new homes criss-crossing central and south-west Illinois. Tearing into the moving box — and it was always the last to be gutted as it was marked something like “not important, misc” — I’d find this teenage tang had seeped from the pages and poisoned the whole box leaving a sad film on my other “not important, misc” crap — neck ties, second tier socks, and that salmon v-neck I really thought I’d wear.
Before we get too far into this, let me give the official definition of what we’re talking about. A school yearbook is a collection of ink spots (like, millions) on glossy paper arranged in such a way to stir up weird feelings of exclusion and shame when opened at irregular intervals throughout life until it eventually morphs into a death reference. And something about letter jackets and expired fashion trends.
Every time my mother pulls out her senior yearbook (class of ‘71), it ends up going something like this: I laugh at the ridiculous number of horn-rimmed glasses and then her finger glides from face to face: “Car wreck. Suicide. Overdose. Cancer. Work accident. Car wreck. Heart attack. Oh, and Steve here lives right down the street.” (They’re not all dead.)
My yearbooks were never accepted into top-level domestic space, never rubbing elbows with Gatsby, Caulfield, and Dick. That’s Jay, Holden, and Moby. And, yeah I know, whales don’t have elbows. Sadly, the yearbooks were instead stacked in the same dusty room in the basement with the cat toilet guarded by hockey puck-sized spiders.
I realize you may not share my pessimistic view of yearbooks or the educational experience for American teens in general. Maybe some of you rub your yearbooks against your privates every Monday morning for good luck in the week ahead. None of my business. I don’t judge.
You might be wondering: “Aren't we just talking about yearbooks here? Seriously, what crawled up your ass?”
Fine, I can tell you what crawled up my ass as you so crudely put it. I guess around the time I was pubertized, social anxiety disorder (SAD) slithered up my leg and burrowed into my essence and wormed around my body up to my brain at some point between 7th and 8th grade, and the evidence was hidden in those goddam yearbooks. Also around this time, hair suddenly appeared on my scrotum, which was fine I guess, I mean, if all the other boys are doing it, why not? But the social anxiety? I didn’t ask for that. And yes I created a new word: pubertized. It’s a verb. Past tense of pubertize.
I would look at seventh grade me and think: “Ah, happy kid. I like that kid!” Then I’d look at the oily eighth grade me and think “You awkward, freaky little man-child. What did you do to seventh grade me?” Suddenly, life was complicated and terrifying; I was no longer me.
Social anxiety disorder, simply, is a life crusher. Not in the pulled-into-a-commercial-meat-grinder kind of way, but the occasionally-wish-I-could-be-pulled-into-a-commercial-meat grinder kind of way. I’ll try to convey it to you in a single pithy paragraph.
When I walk out my front door, it feels like the neighbors are peeking from their windows at me, judging. People I meet, in my mind, think I’m the most bizarre human ever born. I feel out of place almost everywhere, all the time. If you want to be my friend, forget it. You might as well insert a first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises straight up your butt. It’d be quicker and much less hassle. But don’t do that because the book’s worth, like, two grand.
So, yeah, the yearbooks bummed me out, so the obligation to keep them faded bit by bit until one day they had morphed into this third hairy nipple in the center of my forehead, except getting rid of a hairy nipple on my forehead involves calling a doctor, going to the appointment, talking about it, maybe being referred to a dermatologist, talking again about the nipple.
“Oh, it looks like you have a hairy nipple on your forehead.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of why I’m here.”
Then sharp instruments, blood, bandages. Phantom nipple pain for chrissake! But throwing yearbooks away? Hell, that’s easy.
Before moving thousands of miles away to London in 2014, we were faced with the monstrous task of dividing our life into piles. Trash it? Bring it? Donate it? Sell it? After a colossal amount of brooding, in a guilt-fueled frenzy, I snatched them, stomped up the basement steps into a bright summer morning and slammed them fiercely into the bin.
Okay, I didn't stomp, nor did I slam, but instead I tiptoed up, opened the back door over twenty achingly careful seconds and then gingerly placed the yearbooks in a corner of the bin and covered them with cardboard.
See, my wife has this odd, frankly superfluous, sixth sense that allows her to detect my bin blunders, whether it’s throwing away something recyclable or tossing something that should be kept.
For example, one time she’s wearing headphones fifty feet away farting around in the yard with weeds or flowers or organic soil — I really don’t know — while I thoughtlessly toss a cereal box in the trash. Her nostrils flare; the hairs on her arms spike. She straightens and her head rotates 180 to face me like Regan in The Exorcist.
In a coarse, scare-the-shit-out-of-me voice:
“Don’t throw that away! You know chipboard goes in the recycling!”
Returning to my point, let’s talk about the cruel social experiment that was Yearbook Release Day, a minor highlight of the Spring for some, but a gut punch for the socially awkward. I enjoyed the first quiet moments chuckling at the portraits of kids clearly surprised to find themselves blinking into a camera.
“What the hell happened to study hall?”
But then all hell would break loose. Furiously, yearbooks would begin to exchange hands, favorite pens would be pulled from bags and lockers.
The cool kids seemingly had tables set up in the hallway with crowds gathering not unlike you’d see at a J.K. Rowling book signing at Barnes & Noble.
Suddenly my yearbook, the same as yours seconds ago, felt unfinished and inferior. To me, thrusting my book at people would have been comparable to standing on a desk waving my penis around in the middle of homeroom. Or, maybe not quite the same, but still.
So picture this exchange in homeroom between two socially adept kids on either side of me. (Don’t picture me swinging my penis around because frankly I regret bringing that up.)
“Dude, do you want to write in my yearbook?”
“Sure! Here, can you write in mine too?”
Me, looking at the ceiling, thinking: “How ‘bout I sign both your yearbooks with a blowtorch.”
Anyway, my takeaway message is this: Yes, I realize yearbooks are not evil and they look spiffy over there on your shelf, but just remember that unfortunately-timed spontaneous erections don’t end in adolescence and social anxiety is a real thing and maybe I suck at takeaway messages.