Before I go, I have something to say

The Boys of My Youth

Looking through your high school yearbook can be a dangerous thing. If you wrote a poem that’s featured in its opening pages, and your best friend, Gail, wrote all over the book to you, and boys you hardly remember wrote really sweet messages to your long-ago self, it’s a wonder you can open it at all.

That would be me, the girl with the poem and the best friend and the boys I never dated but should have. Granted, some messages are easier to laugh off than others. Jim, for instance, wrote this: “I’m not quite sure if I’m over the immaturity of BSCS, but I can tell you that Freaks have more fun.” BSCS was advanced biology, a memorable class. If I am not completely mistaken, Jim ended up in the news, a judge convicted one time too many for driving under the influence. Some freaks, I’m afraid, never grow up.

Others wrote more memorable notes. Take Ron, one of my pals in Pub, short for Publications, the place we closet intellectuals hung out, writing the school newspaper (for which I was features editor) and the yearbook (which Gail co-edited). “Good luck, stay sweet! Don’t forget our passionate dances at the Draft.” That was the Draft House, a club on Davenport’s levee where we went to hear live bands on the weekend. I do not, I’m afraid, remember any passionate dances with Ron, although maybe he was kidding. He did sign his note, “Love you always,” but it was easy to get carried away while signing yearbooks.

Gail wrote on the Pub page, “I couldn’t believe it was over. I don’t think I’ll ever cry that much again.” How naïve we were. Of course she would cry again, even harder, when her first child was stillborn, and when her first marriage fell apart. But at the time, I knew what she meant. High school was fraught with mixed emotions, sudden crushes, and great plans gone awry. How did we live through it?

Evidently, part of the answer lay in the friendships we had, many of them with people we never would have dreamed of seeing outside of school, let alone dating. This is what really brings me up short when I encounter these messages from the past. The guys who wrote in my book were so nice, so smart, so funny, and yet I only gave them the time of day when school was in session.

For instance, Mark. One page featured a big picture of him pounding on a typewriter, and he wrote all over it to me. The page was headed, “Wisdom Gained Through Academics Improves the Mind and Body,” which I’m sure his best friends wouldn’t let him live down. We met in kindergarten and spent every year after that in the same classes; our IQs, not to mention our interests, must have been identical.

Among other things, Mark wrote, “I sure had fun in Pub this year, talking about records, movies, drugs and assorted subjects with you, not printable on anything but asbestos paper. If I ever get another chance, I’ll try and convert you (you humanist, you). Don’t forget, Jesus Christ was a superstar. (You are pretty “super” though. Blush, blush).” Well, that was a surprise. Did Mark have a crush on me? If so, I was clueless. His final lines still make my heart stop: “It’s really been great knowing you all my life.”

And then, nothing. I have no idea where Mark is today, nor where he went to college, what his career was to be. He’s probably married, four kids, great job, lucky wife. I hope so. I know this is what Facebook is for, and it’s the only reason I might start my own account. To see if I can find Mark, and Ron, and Jeff. Jeff is the one who wrote on the Pub page, “Pam Ann Kress! See page 16.” So I do, and there is this long, wonderful note from him, this boy I hardly remember. And yet he starts out, “Dearest Pam” and ends, “May you always be loved.”

I’m not kidding myself. I don’t think all these guys were smitten with me. After all, even my journalism teacher, who ran the newspaper and yearbook productions, wrote, “You’re a doll!” and I am not going there, thank you very much. But it is sobering to think of all these nice guys, these boys who probably knew how to date, not just go steady, watching me from the sidelines as I fell in love with, and remained pretty much velcroed to, the Bad Boy who became my first husband. Did they know I was making a mistake? Why did I not notice how much fun I had with them, and how little with him?

I’ve tried to tell my own daughter that looks aren’t everything. (Peering at these pictures, I see now that those nice guys were nice looking. They just didn’t have long hair, or a tooth broken in a fight, as did my more “interesting” boyfriend.) Recently, I found a website designed by a guy named Brian,, in which he solicits dates by being completely upfront about his shortcomings and ordinariness. Nice guy, that Brian. I wish him luck.

As for me, if I had it to do over, I like to think I would have given the nice boys of my youth a chance. That way, I might not have had to wait 45 years to meet my own nice guy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, if you want to stay as sweet as you are, it helps to start out that way.

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