Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I stole that title from the writer Peter de Vries. Kind of nails it, eh?
I was already in the throes of this unexpected nostalgia binge when I had a crazy experience last week. On the hunt for yearbook-style pictures I could use to stand in for my three nostalgia girls, I stumbled onto an online copy of the yearbook from my own high school in 1974. I was a junior. The site let me leaf through it and magnify the pages, so it was the next best thing to holding it in my hands.
The scanned yearbook seems to have belonged to someone named Kathy. All the inscriptions were made out to her, though I couldn’t find her last name anywhere so I didn’t know if she was someone I knew or not.
I wasn’t a yearbook kind of guy. I only bought one out of the four, but if there were one I wish I’d bought it would have been this one from junior year. I was feeling more confident that year, writing for the school paper, Tigerism. I was in the National Honor Society and the Quill and Scroll Society. I took some interesting classes like Film Production and Band I, where I was learning to play the effing oboe. Good times.
I was geeky, though, and even if I wasn’t technically a nerd, I was definitely what we called a “freak.” In our school we had freaks and greasers, and the greasers were like Fonzie from Happy Days. Freaks were long-haired hippie types, misfits trying to look cool in an effort to hide their insecurities with girls.
Here’s my head shot from that yearbook. I don’t know. If not for the Adam’s apple, I could probably be mistaken for an earnest young lesbian who’ll go on to become a lab tech or professional dog walker. I tried to put on a good face that day.
And below is a shot of me (on the right) and a classmate in journalism class, discussing the school mandate to have a story about the cheerleading squad in each issue of the paper. I preferred writing reviews of rock concerts and my favorite records and caused quite a stir once with an op-ed entitled, “Gimmicks Threaten Rock Integrity.” David Bowie and Lou Reed frightened me.
The profound thing about having a relic like this from your past suddenly reappear is that you realize your young self still exists in some ways, he’s out there continuing to embarrass you, making the same mistakes you remember making, over and over again like Nietzsche’s principle of eternal return. Scary stuff. You realize other kids from your class, now pushing sixty, are leafing through yearbooks, real or virtual, seeing your face, and going, “Oh there’s that guy! What a freak. He was like the weirdest kid in school. When he passed you in the hall, he’d hold his hand up and say ‘Greetings.’”
Yes. Yes, I did that, for a while at least. It was an experiment. A failed experiment.
I started reading the inscriptions in the yearbook to see if I recognized any names, and I found a note to Kathy from the girl who would become my first real girlfriend the following year — the dynamic redhead. Her handwriting was like a wormhole to the past. She wrote on the page that showed her performing in The Bad Seed. I spotted some other names I remembered, all saying things to Kathy like, “Well, what a year it’s been. Let’s keep in touch this summer!” A few teachers wrote stuff like, “To one of my favorites. It’s been a pleasure, Kathy!” Nothing suggested that I might have known this girl aside from the fact that other kids I knew had signed her yearbook.
Then, near the very back, I found an inscription in handwriting even more shocking than my girlfriend’s. It was mine. Apparently I did know Kathy (though I still can’t remember which Kathy this one must have been …).
The message might seem strangely sage, or like I was trying too hard to be remembered, but it’s really just a line from a George Harrison song. I was spreading around song lyrics like grass seed that year. I probably thought this particular one was empowering or deep, though I don’t why I went with “Signed, Kevin.” Maybe it was my yearbook equivalent of “Greetings.”
I think this nostalgia binge as the year winds down has been an impromptu revisiting. A revisiting in the same way we like to drive by homes we lived in as kids (which I did with my eighty-year-old mom last spring, inviting a cascade of her childhood memories). Those old homes, and those yearbooks, revive things we’ve allowed to drift into the dark. They’re still there. They just need a little nudge to float back into view. But what I understand after indulging in this backward voyage is that I’m exuberantly happy with my present life and have everything I ever needed, including the woman I was always meant to be with. And that I wouldn’t go back to high school for any amount of money.
Be here now. Amen.