New Year’s Eve is a time to think about what we’ll remember from the year about to expire, so this is a post about memory.

A few years back, Christina Nunez, who went to high school with me, wrote a blog post which included this recollection of the history class we both took:

This class was supposed to be an “honors” class, but it slowly became apparent that we were learning nothing at all outside of the reading and research we were required to do on our own. The classes were taken up mostly by two things, in my memory: watching videos about cathedrals, and listening to our teacher talk unrestrained about stuff that had nothing to do with history. Mr. C was a relatively tall, big man with a belly, a mustache somewhere between horseshoe and walrus, and a very sharp, incisive way of speaking. His way of holding forth made you feel—in the beginning—that it might be important to listen, because something was going to be revealed. He would punctuate his lectures, which often had nothing at all to do with history, with questions to the group. “Who here has ever had a dream?” he would ask, and we raised our hands, and then waited for the point.

Later, we learned not to bother raising our hands or waiting for the point.

Toward the end of the semester, a kid named Jordan had taken to sitting in the back of the class on the floor, backpack in front of him, and sleeping either slumped over or with his head lolled back against the wall. This was typical teen behavior made slightly untypical by the fact that Jordan was an academic prodigy. He was the kid who got a perfect score on his SATs before we were even supposed to take the SATs…

So when a kid like Jordan sat at the back of class sleeping, it was amusingly refreshing, because kids like us who got placed in those classes tended not to be the ones sleeping at the back of class. But it was also a little unnerving, because he was signaling a truth that was sort of scandalous for this particular track at this particular school at this particular time: this class and this teacher were an absolute fucking joke.

Mr. C tolerated this open act of defiance from Jordan for I don’t know how long before he finally got sick of it. One day, he began yelling. Jordan ignored it at first, but then he was roused to perform a sleepy, casual and yet brutal takedown of Mr. C as a teacher. It was something along the lines of I don’t need to take this class, you have nothing to teach me, I am learning nothing here that I can’t learn from a book. Et cetera. Mr. C lost it. I think spittle formed as he ordered Jordan out of the classroom. The kid picked up his backpack and walked out. I had never seen Jordan act remotely disrespectful, and had never seen a teacher so boldly—no, deservedly—challenged, and it was kind of thrilling but also a little sad. All of us, including Mr. C, were wasting our time in that room, and there was really nothing to be done about it.

That’s a pretty great story!  It obviously made a big impression on Christina, and why not?  I did something memorably crazy and out of the ordinary.

But I don’t remember it.  Not at all.  Not even with this reminder.

It happened, though.  Here’s how I know.  Because what I do remember is that I wasn’t allowed in Mr. C’s classroom.  I remember sitting outside in the hall day after day while all the other kids were in class.  Who knows how long?  I remember I was reading a Beckett play I got out of the school library.  I think it was Krapp’s Last Tape.  It never occurred to me, in the thirty years between then and now, to wonder what I did to get kicked out of class to read Beckett by myself while my friends were open quote learning close quote history.

I opened up a Facebook thread and asked my classmates about Christina’s story.  It happened; they remembered it.  I still didn’t.  And I still don’t.

It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing I would do, does it?  It doesn’t seem to me like the sort of thing I would do.  My memory of high school is that I followed all the rules.  I went to football games.  I went to pep rallies.  I liked high school.  Or did I?  Maybe, because I think of myself as somebody who liked high school, I’ve just edited out the moments when I didn’t like it.  Who knows what else I don’t remember?  Who knows who else I was angry at, who else I defied or denounced, what else got edited out because it didn’t fit the theme of the story?

And who knows what’s happening now that I’ll later edit out of my 2018?  Maybe a lot.  Most things don’t get blogged.  They just get lost.  You can’t have a new year unless you get rid of the old year.  You keep some things, you lose more.  And what you lose isn’t random.  You decide what to remove from yourself, and, having decided, you lose the decision, too.

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2 thoughts on “Edits

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    Must be a kind of cognitive dissonance effect, suppressing memories of episodes that clash with our self-images.

  2. Inner Weather says:

    I came to your blog for the first time to search for something about statistics, recalling how much I enjoyed your clearly-written book. And found this, which oddly enough approximates an episode from my girlhood. I am older than you, I imagine, and my school was right out of “Dazed and Confused” – surely yours was more competitive. But my role, if I was more generally intractable, was similar. I acted out in a way I would not have, had the class not been so absurd; and the absurdity, initially novel, after months, grown tedious for all. (How slowly the clock moved, at school – I would think I hadn’t let myself look in a long time, then be dismayed when only 4 minutes had passed … now of course, it sounds positively relaxing and I can’t understand why I hated it so …) I was ordered out, and I never went back. What I don’t remember is how I received credit for the rest of the semester … have I, oppositely to you, suppressed the memory of returning, lamely, to the class at some point? Perhaps. The teacher sounds a bit similar too. When I think of it, I can’t avoid feeling some guilt at my disrespect, and I hope it didn’t amount to cruelty – but I’m not at all sure. Yes, he was a joke, but sort of a beloved fixture even so: he was obsessed with a famous 20th-century American poet, even to having staked out his farm to catch a glimpse of him when he was alive (this he relayed, year after year, as though the subject had just that moment pulled the remembrance out of him – how could I know that, though? I guess I was just “that” smart). He had procured the poet’s old car somehow. He taught us that poet, that unfashionable nature poet – and that was all he taught. How this was allowed, I don’t know. He was just a lowly English teacher at an undistinguished high school in a barbarian city, though, and he didn’t know how to kindle his passion in us, the way a star college lecturer can. Perhaps he may be faulted for giving no thought to how removed from the world of those poems we kids were. Still, images and whole verses recur to me – having never replaced them with anything else, particularly. Some seem a little sing-song or hackneyed maybe, but I am much more receptive now, than I ever could have been then, having left school and figured out that outdoors was where I should have been all along.

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