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.