Lightning in a Jar: Signing Yearbooks

Chapter 13:

This is how it all went down.

I went to the prom, wearing a pink chiffon dress that my mother had made for the occasion. It had puffy sleeves and an empire waist, and it made me feel like a princess. George arrived on time to pick me up, wearing a white jacket, tie and jeans. He led me to his car, opened the passenger door and as I took my seat, I felt a sense of dread that just wouldn’t quit. A few minutes later, we were at the school, where the prom was being held.DSCN7486

I wanted to leave as soon as I’d arrived. How long ago it was that I dreamt of this prom, of going with Jake? Now, here I was with George, Jake’s best friend, whom I had used in order to make Jake jealous. And, for what? What did it get me? Bupkis, served with a slice of misery.

I soon saw Jake there. He looked as handsome as ever, with his dreamy eyes that sparkled when he smiled. Yet, seeing him now, with Miss Pinched Face in tow, I realized I no longer cared about either of them. Jake saw me too, and for a moment it seemed as though he was actually glad to see me. He flashed a smile and started to walk toward me. Perhaps he had something important to say, after all this time. Or maybe he was just going to rub it in how happy he was without me. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I turned and walked away, making it clear I wasn’t interested in whatever he was going to say. And, for the first time, it was true.

I wanted to leave. I looked around at all the seniors, most of whom I didn’t know, and there didn’t seem to be much point in staying. I didn’t want to make small talk or dance or munch on the platters of cheese and crackers, cold cuts and pickles that had been set out in the school cafeteria. I didn’t want to sneak off with George, as he’d asked, to smoke a joint behind the school, which is where most everyone else had gone to, George included.

All I wanted was to go home, get into my bed, curl up into a tiny little knot and disappear. I wanted to stop walking around the cafeteria like some kind of zombie, with my smile etched in place, and I knew if I didn’t leave soon, the smile would splinter into countless bits of clay.

Halfway through the evening, with the prospect of heading to the beach to make out and see the sunset before me, I finally told George I wasn’t feeling well and asked to be taken home. Relieved, George obliged and was rather sweet about it, offering to stop at a pharmacy to pick up some aspirin.

With June came graduation for the seniors, including Jake. After that near encounter at the prom, I only saw him one more time, the day everyone was signing yearbooks. He asked if it’d be okay to sign mine. Hesitantly and nervously, I handed it to him, as I wasn’t sure what he intended to write. For all I knew he was going to spew hateful words at me on how vile I’d become since he’d dumped me. He took quite a while to write in my book, and I held my breath the entire time. When finally he handed the book back to me, with great curiosity I opened to the page he wrote on, to read his message. I was soon awash with new emotions, for this is what he’d written.

“I really don’t know how you feel about me anymore, whether you believe it or not, I loved you very much. I’ll never regret ever saying anything or doing anything we did. I’m sorry that we’re so far apart now. I hope you stay as kind and as beautiful as you are now. With all my love, Jake”

When I finished, I looked up, feeling an old ache reawaken inside me. He was gone, and I never saw him again.

I saw Max off at the train station. He left for Manhattan the day after graduation and stood at the front platform on the train, eager to start his life anew.

As the train pulled away, I could almost hear him channeling Barbra Streisand, as he belted out in his best, wobbly voice, “Don’t tell me not to live, just sit and putter! Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter! Don’t bring around a cloud to rain on my parade…”

Max’s parting gift to me were two original drawings he created for the posters promoting the school musical, Good News.  Never one for sentimentality, here’s what he wrote in my yearbook:

“Miss Thing, It’s been nice knowing you (sounds like you’re dead, huh?). Take care, and don’t get the clap. Love, Max”

After the prom, when George took me home early, he got out of his car and walked me to the door.

I looked him in the eye and stammered, “I’m sorry, George. I didn’t know. I didn’t want it to be like this. I so wish–”

He cut me off.  “It’s okay,” he assured me. “I understand.”

He started to walk away, then, changing his mind, came back and kissed me lightly on the cheek. As he returned to his car, I stood under the porch light and felt my eyes burn with tears. As easily as he came into my life, he slipped out. Poor George, I felt so bad. Later, I heard that he spent that summer working in his father’s office, and met a nice girl there. In the fall, he would go to school somewhere upstate. Needless to say, I never saw him again. Here’s what he wrote in my yearbook:

“I’m really glad that I met you because you are really a fine person with many beautiful qualities. Remember me, and I hope I can continue to be friends with you. Love, George.”

I hurt James by going to the prom with George. I hurt him so many times, that I could no longer face him.  I’d see him from a distance and turn away, not wanting the reminder of having broken his heart and, along with it, my own.

On the day everyone was signing yearbooks, he walked up to me and, pointing to my copy, asked, “May I?”

I nodded. As I handed it to him, our fingers touched for a moment, rekindling the feelings of yearning he’d once stirred in me. And, just like that, it passed. He opened it to the back of the book and happened upon Jake’s message. I saw him hesitate as he read what Jake had written. Then, he turned to the next page and wrote his own. Years later, damaged by water and mildew, some of what he wrote was lost. But, here’s what is still legible:

“Hope you find what you’re looking for without any help from Ann Landers. You’ll find happiness with…anyone though, Bubbles. It’ll probably be someone like…  Love, James.”

I didn’t see James that summer, but I would see him again in the fall. In the coming year, our relationship would continue, more or less. I loved him, I wanted him, and I pulled away, holding him at bay as long as I could, until I collapsed from the weight of it.

To be continued.

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

28 thoughts on “Lightning in a Jar: Signing Yearbooks

  1. Monica, please, please forgive my lateness in replying. The WiFi signal here is unpredicatable and unstable. I find it’s best either in the wee hours of the morning or late afternoon. Either way, I’m glad to have been able to read this wonderful installment. I’m with Brenda–I love how you’ve woven the yearbook dedications into the post. Such a shame that James’ was incomplete! As always, every emotion you felt at the time is tangible in your writing. It’s incredible how you’re able to allow readers to “feel” the sadness, nostalgia, and dare I say, a little regret? This post brought me memories of my yearbook dedications. I remember one boy, whom I didn’t know very well, asking if he could sign my yearbook. I was taken aback when I read what he wrote. “I have loved you from afar for the past three years and you never once glanced my way. You’re cruel like that.” Oh my goodness, can you imagine what it felt like to read those words? Sadly, he was right–not about the cruel part, but about my not really noticing him. Sigh. Hugs to you, lady! 🙂

    • Oh Bella! How wonderful to hear from you. I’m glad to know you’re reading my saga again. You know, from the beginning I knew I wanted to use in my story the yearbook messages, but wasn’t sure how to go about it and incorporate them into the story. I’m glad you liked how this turned out. These messages represent the only “voice” these guys have in my story (unfiltered) from that time of when they wrote them, so I wanted to make sure that was conveyed.

  2. Aside from the emotion, the wonderful story telling, the goodbyes, the idea of the signatures is brilliant. I loved how you incorporated them here. All I know of you is here on the your blog, but I agree to MeditatingMommy – you seem wiser and have endured, and lived a full life, but I sense at your core you are still that same girl.

    • Thanks, Brenda, and thank you for appreciating how I weaved those yearbook messages into my story. First, I thought they were so nice, I just wanted to share them as they represent the only time these guys have a voice of their own in my tale. But also, I wanted my readers to see another side of them. That even Jake who dumped me and George who I wasn’t in love with were still kind, good guys. And Max was, well, Max. So thank you for your thoughtful words.

  3. Monica there is so much I want to say, but will keep it brief… I think your essence doesn’t change no matter how you define your experience in high school. Every time I read an installment of Lightening in a Jar, I love who you were back then, teen angst or not. That essence is reflective of all the lovely things the boys said about you. Do you think that you managed to stay so sweet and maintain who you are because of your upbringing?

    • Frankly, MM, I can’t imagine why they said all these nice things. Mostly, I remember the angst and being so terrible to poor George. I know had lots of angst, but there were good parts, too. It’s the angst that stands out. Sigh. My upbringing definitely had a lot to do with it. I was taught to be good and polite. But I’ve always had a wicked sense of humor and I remember coming across as shy, but when people got to know me, they’d be surprised at how funny or outspoken I could be. Took me a while though, to warm up to people.

  4. Your prom night was very different from mine, but equally memorable. So much is made of prom night — a rite of passage, indeed. All I can say is this — if I had to do it all over again, I would do high school very differently.

    • They sure were sweet, Jodi, I agree. Back then, we wrote more to each other, so everyone had lots of practice writing and writing well. We lived in a text-free zone! 😉

  5. Don’t know if I’m jealous or relieved I never got a H.S. yearbook, so I’m not haunted by what “my guys” wrote, or DIDN’T write. I’m sorry your prom was such a dud, but at least you didn’t go make out with George when you didn’t really want to.

    • Be grateful you never did! I have two yearbooks, the one for my class and for the year before. They sometimes consume me to no end, trying to figure out what was going on in my life, or even trying to remember some of these folks who wrote me all kinds of stuff! Yikes.

  6. You don’t me to let the pages of my diary out. Yours is sweet and romantic. Mine is crazy and sweet and crazy. Yikes! Were we ever really these people? Love your stories. They conjure and brew.

    • I have to say, these guys really knew how to write sweet, caring messages. Sigh. But don’t forget, this was before texting and email. These guys often wrote me notes or sent me cards. Jake even wrote poetry. I think he was the most romantic writer of them all. They don’t write them like that anymore.

    • Kathy, I wish you could find yours! Do you ever wonder what it would say about your younger self? No doubt, revealing, as mine is. Sending you lots of hugs in sunny Ecuador!

  7. I remember my prom well. I asked someone to go just so I could experience it. It was someone I thought I loved but at the time if the prom I was not even interested. I never saw him again. Can’t wait for your next installment….

  8. Monica, this chapter brings tears to my eyes! So poignant, so heartfelt and honest! Most of us don’t want to publicly acknowledge that we weren’t “perfect little darlings” all through our growing-up years. Yet here you are, admitting feelings you didn’t fully understand and actions you weren’t proud of.

    I love the way you’ve tied it in with the traditional yearbook-signing, too. I don’t guess any of us at the time could appreciate what others really meant by their thoughts — or how those thoughts would later be pored over, dissected, and etched on our hearts.

    It’s too bad James’ message was partially obliterated, though. I’d have liked reading what he had to say!

    • Debbie, that yearbook is all I have connecting me to my high school years. I have worn the pages out, looking through it for clues of my youth. Proof that these boys meant something to me, and I to them. I will always remember them.

  9. Oh Monica, this was so beautifully written, I wanted to cry with you. Each of these boys left their mark on you. More telling, you left your mark on them.

    You know, I am curious who did your eventual husband most resemble in temperament?

  10. Excellent post Monica.
    So often in life we know what we want, or we think we know what we want. But circumstances dictate it will not be. That’s life!
    Also sometimes we will get what we want and then find it is something different to what we expected.
    Often we will hurt people either intentionally or unintentionally in our quest, they often become the excuse for what goes wrong, they are the ones that emotionally suffer.
    I also believe that you know when you meet your “Soul Mate” and when you do you should move heaven and earth for them.
    Looking forward to the next instalment already Monica.
    Have a great week.

  11. From the messages and signatures, it seems you left an indelible mark on them as well. Jake-George-James-Max- It adds up to quite a list of guys whose paths you were meant to cross. What respect you show in your writing, cherishing the details of what made them…them…and bonding with them to make lasting memories. What respect they had for you to leave their messages more meaningful than “To a real swell girl. Your friend, X” Their messages could not be repeated in any other yearbook.

    • Thanks, Georgette. I feel lucky to have known them all. They were each, in their own way, good friends, coming into my life at an important time. I’ll treasure my yearbook always.

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