My friend Bentley came to visit last fall. We went to high school together and have remained close. He brought two of his daughters who really hit it off with my two girls. Things were going well until someone pulled out our old high school yearbook. I’m not usually keen on revisiting photographs from the past. I’d rather rely on my memory.
But the girls were having fun. One of the first things they noticed were the “Senior Superlatives.” It’s the section that shows who was chosen as “Most Likely to Succeed” or “Best School Spirit.” Bentley’s daughters proudly discovered that Bentley had been voted “Best All Around.” Thumbing through the pages, the girls learned that Bentley was also the star of the basketball team…and on Student Council…and in National Honor Society.
I have a vague recollection that I probably finished second to Brian McCaffrey in the category of “Best Looking” but they didn’t publish the photographs of the runners-up.
I sensed that my girls were feeling the competition and getting a little nervous.
“Dad weren’t you a cheerleader?” asked my youngest.
“Um, not exactly.” There were several pictures of me in a female cheerleading outfit taken when we were doing a spoof at an assembly. I look like a 12 year old girl so it was an innocent misunderstanding.
One of the kids asked whether I was in Boy Scouts.
“Me? Boy Scouts? Ha, too gay for me,” I scoffed.
My daughter deadpanned: “Yeah. He did musical theater instead.”
It’s true. I was in all of the musicals and I played trumpet in the band. But back then it was the cool thing to do.
At least that’s the way I remember it. And therein lays the problem.
High school happens to coincide with the age when our pre-frontal cortex is crafting our identity. Our still developing brains are bombarded with images and perceptions of ourselves and our place in society. Most sociologists agree that we have a psychological immune system that protects us from a negative view of ourselves. We all think we are more handsome, funnier, smarter, and better all-around than we really are. The self image we begin to develop in high school-right or wrong-transcends all our years.
And the passage of time allows us to craft an even rosier memory of ourselves. Some, like Bentley, don’t have to rely on a faulty memory. He’s forever tagged as “Best All Around.” Another friend, Tony, will always be known as “Most Likely to Succeed.” History will accurately recall Mike as “Friendliest-Bishop McGuinness High School, Class of 1981.”
What do I have? I have such a kaleidoscopic self-image I can’t even recall whether my memories are even mine. Did I make out with Karen Munsell in the club room of the Normandy Apartments my sophomore year while “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest played in the background? Or did Dan or Blake tell that story and I misappropriated it as my own? It was probably me since I was so irresistible.
These false self-images continue in real time even as we age. Thank goodness. Believe me when I tell you that a strong psycho-immune system will serve you well over the course of your lifetime. Otherwise how could I have spent three years driving around the streets of Fort Worth in a bright red Ford Windstar minivan while wearing jeans with silver buttons on the back pockets?
It has been written that the only reality is the one contained within us. I’m fine with that, faulty memory and all. I’m comfortable with who I think I was….and who I think I am.
I was not some band dork or theater queer. No sir. In fact I was one of the cool ones. Probably not runner up to “Best Looking” but pretty damn handsome nonetheless. At least that’s how I remember it. Just don’t ask to see the yearbook.