There are two kinds of people in the world – people who have boxes filled with old high school yearbooks and mementos, and people who toss those things right in the trash. I’m the latter kind of person, and I make no apologies and have zero regrets.
More than ten years ago, I tossed what I believe to be the last of my old yearbooks in the trash. If it wasn’t the last and there’s a rogue yearbook lying around … well, you have my permission to throw that one in the garbage too, Mom.
This doesn’t mean I don’t hang onto things from my past or that I’m not sentimental. I have plenty of old photos and even a couples boxes filled with old newspaper clippings, swimming medals, and cards from graduation. But the difference between these childhood vestiges and old yearbooks is that I chose them. I chose what memories to hang on to. I chose what to treasure. These boxes and photo boxes were curated not just with nostalgia, but with intention.
Nor does this mean that I want to forget about everything and everyone from my past. Hardly. In fact, some of my closest friendships are more than 35 years in the making. I don’t have any enemies from my past, and I’ve even reconnected with some acquaintances from high school recently in new and interesting ways. It’s been exciting and gratifying.
Here’s the thing: I am not the person I was in high school. Not even a little bit. None of us are, really. But while some of us might be able to shed the regrets and hang on to the good to create their own “glory days,” I cannot. I don’t want to look at the photo of the guy who would catcall and stare uncomfortably at me while I walked down the hall. I don’t want to see that “stay cool” message from the girl who teased me in eighth grade. I don’t want reminders of bad perms or notes from old boyfriends or “friends” who turned out to not be friends at all.
Nope, I’m good. Thanks, but no thanks.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have some kind of traumatic childhood. I wasn’t bullied or mocked. I had a fairly typical ‘90s adolescence. There were homecomings and proms and Friday night football games. And sure, there were situations so embarrassing and regretful that I contemplated never leaving my room again. But I’ve moved on.
At my core, I am not the person I was then. Raised in a small, rural, and rather conservative town in Wisconsin, I was a product of my surroundings. At least back then. There’s a lot of my teen years that I’m ashamed of, and quite frankly, the yearbooks were a shame trigger that needed to be tossed in the trash. Good riddance.
But don’t you want your kids to have these memories of you?, some people might say. And my response is, NOPE. I do not. We each get to control the narrative of our own story, and this is my way of reclaiming mine. Besides, yearbooks aren’t as much a memento of me or who I am as they are a relic of my surroundings, of the other people whose handwritten notes take up space on the pages.
The things I want to remember, that I want to pass on to my kids and (hopefully) grandkids, are the keepsakes that I choose to hang on to, that I choose to pass on. We’re all evolving and changing and growing. At least that’s the goal, isn’t it? We’re all striving to be a better version of ourselves as time goes on. Some people do that with reminders from our childhood, of who we were before adulthood got in the way.
But for other people, like me, we need to be more intentional about what we bring with us. We cull old photos and notes and scrapbooks. And if that means ruthlessly tossing our yearbooks in the trash, like I did a decade ago, so be it.