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March 5, 2008

Collecting Pieces

The three of us kept these scrapbooks back in high school, called “Nothing Books” or “Anything Books”— an indication of their contents’ specificity. I was partial to transcribing copy from sportswear ads into mine, penning bubble letters in rainbow hues: “Seek the Goal” or “Run Fast in the Direction of Your Dream” which I thought was inspirational and I wasn’t even athletic.

Pop lyrics were prized like they were poetry— excerpts from “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree (“Listen as your day unfolds/ Challenge what the future holds”), the entirety of “Forever Young” by Alphaville. We preferred our illuminations encapsulated, entirely divorced from their contexts: lines from novels we’d not yet read by Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde. We had a thing for speeches by Kennedys, and Martin Luther King Jr. I had a quote by Sappho on the side of one page, and a lyric by Bob Geldof on the other.

And amongst all these wise words were pasted photographs of ourselves, and pictures cut from magazines of the dreams we hoped to one day embody, the kind of people we hoped we’d become. Also, ticket stubs from movies, plays and concerts. Shiny labels peeled off juice bottles. We’d make lists with such headings as “Things I Like” and “Future Children’s Names”.

We were partial to a premature nostalgia, this furious attempt to contain the present exactly as it was. Entirely self-absorbed, perhaps, but I would argue our scrapbooks were more about the world around us. Assembled more in homage to the future than to the present or the past.

Because in high school, although the world was just beginning to show its face, it certainly didn’t belong to us yet. There we were, as grown as we’d ever be (or so we figured), both capable of and yearning for real life, but with most of it still out of reach.

So in lieu of our lives and in lieu of the world, we turned to collecting the pieces instead. Life’s rule was chaos, as we were beginning to understand, but if we could write down its maxims, perhaps we might tame it. Imagine various butterflies, pinned by their wings, encased under glass, and such were our pieces of the world, these scraps and clippings— our desperate need to contain in order for understanding. But imagine scotch tape instead of the pins.

The truth was that apart from these sloppy collections of stuff, the three of us had nothing. Oh, of course there were the usual teenage trappings; we’d been born lucky, each of us blessed with bicycles and bedrooms. But so little of it was actually our own, things we’d chosen ourselves as reflections of our tastes. Usual trappings were all well and good, but we were after something more essential.

For we didn’t even have our selves yet, and perhaps we knew that. That in so many ways we were still in utero, and how terrifying it must have been to be alive and unsure of who we’d ever grow to be. Exciting too, but it made for constant insecurity, this explaining such lists as “Things I Like”. We had spent our whole lives ever-changing; our very souls only ephemeral, fluid, impossible. So it was no wonder that we self-defined in bits and pieces, down on paper in point form. When you’re sixteen years-old in the world, you see, you take what you can get.

Though of course over time we would get much more. Teenagedness was an affliction to be cured of, finally, as life started offering us three-dimensions. Bringing with it actual things, experiences, and none of it cut from magazines. So we could be living the life un-tape-downable, learning new lessons that couldn’t be contained on a page.

And though we are still not so old now, these days we’re old enough that it’s remarkable we’ve been friends for half our lives. Remarkable too, for it seems that between the three of us, somehow, we’ve acquired the trappings of adulthood. We have husbands and fiancés, a beautiful house, two cars, a dog, a couple of successful careers, six degrees and we’ve traveled to 20 countries. We’ve made a wealth of new friends, good memories, smart decisions, proud mistakes with lessons learned and stupider ones with stories.

Though none of this is entirely essential either; of course we know that. All these things we hold now— whether literal or figurative in their three dimensions— they might one day appear as insubstantial as our scrapbooks. We know that we’re probably still assembling our pieces.

But this makes them no less a creation, these lives of ours. Like the treasures our books were— how we’d marvel that we’d made them. Like the treasures the books still are, and how far they show we’ve come. So we can keep marveling at the world’s knack of making wholes out of pieces, and at friendship as the very foundation.

3 thoughts on “Collecting Pieces”

  1. Rona Maynard says:

    Kerry, this post got me thinking about a friend’s recent funeral. Three of her closest confidantes, who’d been part of her life since high school, got up and reminisced, one by one, about hanging out in her old room under the eaves and writing brave slogans of self-definition (mostly quotes) all over the walls. My late friend had formed a multitude of other treasured connections since those days (including her bond with me), but there was a breathtaking poignancy about the stories told by those who were blessed to find her while they were still trapped in high school.

  2. Anne C. says:

    This was a beautiful post.

  3. Kerry says:

    Thank you both for reading. It is a fortunate thing, indeed, to meet some of the best people you’ll ever know at the age of twelve.

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