As graduation loomed nearer and the reality of the end sunk in, many in the Class of ’91 abruptly (and radically) altered their habits. For the most part, social structures and standings faded and the soon to graduate seniors interacted with others in ways they never had before. I watched as several chose to ignore years of mistreatment and pretend good friendships with the very classmates who mistreated them. Everyone seemed to want to go out on a high note. I also wanted to go out on a high, but because I saw the new situation as the pleasant fiction it was, mine was in a slightly different key.
It’s important to note that there were individuals who genuinely wanted to make amends for things they had done and repair relationships. Their were others who didn’t need to because they had always treated others kindly. Both groups deserve praise. My issue was with those who settled for replace-tionships founded on dishonesty and willful ignorance of how people had treated each other until recently that could never really make up for the lack of the real thing.
To be honest, I was greatly tempted to simply give in and playact with everyone else. It would have been easier, but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. I made my peace with the fact we weren’t all friends and that not all our high school memories would be good years before. It saddened me to observe how many bought in to the idea that if we all just pretended we were great friends, then they could look back and that would be The Way it Was. I preferred reality seasoned suffering (which made the moments of beauty that much sweeter) than an idyllic lie. It might sound nicer, but it didn’t ring true.
One conversation during this period stands out and is one I reflect on occasionally. I sat in the lunch room early one morning before school started. I scribbled in my notebook of (mostly bad) poetry when one of the Elite walked over and pulled up a chair. We were the only two in the cafeteria, but it was still odd for her to sit with me. It was even more odd when she spoke to me.
“What are you writing?” she asked.
“Uh, nothing you’d be interested in.”
“Could I decide that?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean could I take a look and read for myself?”
“I guess so.” I handed over the notebook which she took and began to read. It was an awkward moment. I watched, not exactly sure what I was supposed to do. I quietly waited as an extremely popular girl read something I wrote.
“This is pretty good,” she said after reading a few pages. I can only assume she has questionable taste.
“If you say so.”
“I do say so. How long have you been writing stuff like this.”
“Years, I guess. I’ve always liked to write for as long as I can remember knowing how.”
“How come I didn’t know you write poetry?”
“Um, I guess we just don’t really talk that much.”
“Why not?” With those two words I faced a choice. Right them I had the opportunity to jump on board and forge a replace-tionship. It would have been easy. I went with the truth instead.
“You want me to answer that honestly?” I thought I should give her an “out” just in case.
“Yeah, honestly. We talked and laughed a lot before Richview. What happened?”
“It’s pretty simple. You haven’t spoken to me in almost seven years. I’ve talked to you, but you didn’t answer. We haven’t talked because apparently you haven’t cared to.” I was amazed I said it. So was she.
“Right now, this morning, is the first time you’ve acknowledged my existence since before middle school. I don’t know why that is, I just know that it is. I also know I would have enjoyed it if we talked this whole time, but we didn’t.”
“That’s pretty rude.”
“I know it is, but I’m willing to get past it if you want to talk. We might could even laugh like we used to.”
“No, I meant what you said was rude. You are rude.” She got up and walked away in a huff. We haven’t spoke since. And they (who are “they” anyway) say honesty is the best policy.
I never understood why she began that conversation, why she didn’t just leave things the way they were. I could have understood if she truly wanted to be friends again (with all the effort that entailed), but she clearly didn’t want that. She wanted what so many others did: the pleasant fiction.
I finally began to understand what may have motivated her when our yearbooks came in. A little while into singing them, I noticed a pattern in what my classmates wrote. Friends, acquaintances, and even people I didn’t know well wrote some variation of the same two words: Don’t Change. Many who wrote this in my annual were the same ones who wanted me to cut my hair, grow it back, dress differently, talk differently, or just be different than I was. Comprehension dawned as I saw that they wanted a memory of the perfect senior year, one in which it was how they always wished it would be.
I couldn’t let it go. “Don’t Change” just stuck in my craw and annoyed me. When I asked a couple of people why they wanted me to stay the same, they didn’t have an answer. For one, it was just something he thought he should write, and for another it was because she wanted to think that we would all still be recognizable in the far future.
I started writing some variation of the following in yearbooks I signed. It’s advice that I hope I still follow now and that I hope sparked a thought for one of my fellow seniors.
Everyone keeps writing Don’t Change.
I say CHANGE! Don’t Stagnate!
Grow, learn, become something more, something better.
Take what we’ve learned here and run in to future. Look back
on these years fondly, but don’t STAY back. Go forth!
Class of 1991