Wednesday, December 22, 2010

vivid recollections.

A view from the corner of the empty school.
As we left Sugar Plum Cafe the other day, I pointed ahead and turned to Cort and Rach: "That's my elementary school." There, at 25th and K, stood the familiar three-story structure. Eight years of my life were spent within those walls and, as we walked past the school, I felt compelled to run inside and take inventory of the classrooms. I wanted to sit in the middle of the gym and race down the stairs to the piano in the social hall where we used to sing. I wanted to visit the third floor library and see if they still used the card catalog system and see if the computers in the lab were as old as I remembered. I wanted to walk through the playground, past the bright plastic play structure, to the church, with its beautiful high ceiling and stained glass windows and dark green carpet. I wanted to remember everything about those days, even if most of my memories there remain tragic.

When I told my mom I walked by the school, she looked surprised. "You mean you didn't know?" she asked. The school had moved--something about failing an earthquake safety inspection. The beautiful 115-year-old building is now vacant.

I was more taken aback than I thought I would be. In truth, I hated that school and the people in it: I hated the stuffy, un-air conditioned/heated classrooms; I hated the gym that doubled as an auditorium; the social hall, where Ms. O'Donnell would force us to watch the same fucking Irish movie every year on St. Patrick's Day, thus forcing a hatred for the "holiday" I've yet to truly overcome; the old, slow computers in the lab and the fact that the library/computer lab was on the third floor of the building; the weekly prayer services and monthly masses; the black and white jumpers and skirts and stupid jewelry and nail polish dress code rules; being stuck with the same 30 classmates for eight years. Despite my "involvement" (student council, choir, theatre, whatever), my memories are dense with negativity. The positive things I remember are, of course, exaggerations of fleeting moments. The only exception that comes to mind is the library (books foreverrr) and the beauty of the church--I always did love the architecture of Catholic churches, despite my feelings toward the religion itself (aside: I was never Catholic to begin with). Is it ironic that I lost my faith in God inside the antique walls of the cross-shaped edifice? Inside, with its candles and altars and marble steps where we sat for choir, I cemented my beliefs against some Higher Power. But that's another blog for some other time...

I went through old yearbooks earlier--from preschool to kindergarten to first through eighth. I remember the transitions well, the friends I gained and lost, who was considered my "best friend" or "best best friend" from year to year. It all seems so trivial now, but at the time it was of utmost importance. "Your my number 2 best freind," someone wrote to me in the back of my yearbook for third grade. It was quite the compliment.

Sixth grade: Emily's annual all-girl's
sleepover at her house.
I'm friends with many of my old classmates on Facebook, though being Facebook friends doesn't really mean much, does it? It allows you a window into the lives of people from your past, but you don't really know who they are. If I were to run into any of them in a store, I doubt we'd speak. Which is funny, isn't it? "We were best friends last year and now we barely talk. What happened?" one girl wrote in my eighth grade yearbook as we all said our farewells. And it was true: I was "best friends" and "best best friends" once upon a time with a few of them, though it felt like that changed every year. I used to spend hours on the phone with them and pass notes in class (and then get caught) and gossip in the cafeteria. We told each other we loved one another and that we'd be best friends forever.

But the days of losing lunch boxes and falling off monkey bars are far past. They were even past as I was living through them. My memories of elementary school were lonelier than I care to admit. All of the social skills the Montessori education taught me faded after I started losing my hair and I retreated quite a bit. Recesses and lunchtimes were spent reading books on the bench because we weren't allowed to spend our outdoor time inside the library; during PE I would pretend to be interested in sports people played to avoid the reality of not having anyone to talk to; theatrical performances were  preluded with my mother hovering over hair and makeup sessions so she could whisper to the volunteering parents to be gentle with the hairstyles they wanted to give me and so she could explain to them why I couldn't wear mascara and had no eyebrows.

I won't depress you with more, but I'm sure my point is clear. There is so little of the person I was in those eight years that remains in me now, aside from what was documented in yearbooks and photos and what I have written in abandoned journals and diaries. When I graduated from eighth grade, I remember feeling sad, but that's natural when any chapter ends. Loretto was a wonderful four years, despite the growing pains we all experienced there, and I was terribly sad to leave that too. Now, I falter at the thought of returning for the reunion this week--not because my love has turned to hate (untrue, I still love Loretto and always will), but because I know I'll encounter memories with people that I'm not sure I'm prepared to face.

Another chapter of my life will be closing soon as well. But when I leave UCI, the difference is now I'll be more prepared to let go. I've grown to accept the concept of impermanence since Cheever first taught us about it and I'm anticipating the rush that'll accompany moving forward and onto the next chapter.

Eighth grade: post-Baccalaureate, pre-graduation.
As for the abandoned building sitting at 2500 K Street, the nostalgia will never really escape me. I can still see every floor of the school in my head. As we got into Cort's car the other day, I caught a glimpse of the school's side door and I can still see Mr.  Clay smoking. I still imagine the combination of sights and smells of every corner of the school, and it all feels as if it was just a minute ago. The school was historic and it felt like it. Though I grew to hate that it was across from Sutter's Fort (first: Jog-a-Thon--UGH; second: learning about the Gold Rush was cool for the first couple of years...then it got old...really, really old) and right next to the church (which allowed us to have all of those services), it feels wrong that future classes be robbed of those same memories (whether they enjoy it or not). After all, I survived eight years of that school, both emotionally and physically--earthquakes, floods, bomb threats, lockdowns and all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

the ghost of Christmas past.

January 26, 2004
Dear (Senior) Self,
This is odd. Just a couple days ago I got my 8th grade letter to myself from retreat and now I have to write another letter to myself!...Uhm...I dunno what to write about. I can guarantee  that I'm going to forget about this until I receive it. Frosh year is interesting. I've made loads of friends and I hope I'll still keep them through high school and "beyond"--Liz, Katie, Cienna, Manda, Cait, Janelle, Emily..so, my senior self, I hope this promise is true and that I still keep at least these friends. So what's important?...Hmm...that I actually make it to senior year so I get this letter! And, well, there's a lot of things that are important. Family, friends, school...and what are my hopes/goals? Well, that whole getting to my senior year is pretty much a major goal. And I hope to continue in the Shakespeare Society...and I hope I go into acting or film or entertainment or literature...and, if anything, I hope to be happy! Hmm, I dunno what else there is to say. Oh, let's hope that Janelle and I actually say what we're going to do: visit New Zealand, visit Europe and go cross-country! We want to visit at least a zillion landmarks. And where should I go to college? Oh, I don't know...Let's hope that I will still be best friends with my current friends--No regrets!
Love from, my freshman self

Wow, that was incredibly painful to type up--mainly due to bad handwriting and grammatical errors. The content itself is forgivable (kind of)...I was 14. Like none of you have those skeletons in your closets as well.

I like finding these letters and old blogs, as embarrassing as it all is. I do regret destroying my old high school Xanga though because it would've been amusing to read now--even though the reason I deleted it in the first place was so I wouldn't have to read it again.

"My Grown-Up Christmas List" quartet - Dec. 2006

Checklist of the above items:
  • What did I even write to myself in my 8th grade letter? And what was with these schools and having us write letters to ourselves? I believe at Senior Reflection we also wrote letters to ourselves for one year into college...did those ever get mailed to us? I feel like they did because I remember talking to Rosa about it in the dorms.
  • Of the seven "best friends" I mention, I only remained close to two of them by the end of senior year, though our paths haven't crossed much since I left; three of the friends I mention became distant acquaintances by the end of my freshman year; one friend left Loretto at the end of Third Year and we fell out of touch; and one provided a thoughtless end to a destructive friendship.
  • I did make it to senior year (and stayed with the Society and Festival for four years) and to college. Cool.
  • My career goals seemed vague, though they're still (sort of) vague now. I've abandoned acting and music since I moved, and I don't realize how much I miss it until I remember the post-wedding declaration of love between Benedick and Beatrice or I think about four-part harmonies. 
On that note, Christmas season is coming up. This time, six years ago, I was preparing for my first Christmas concert as a part of concert choir; five years ago, I was up until all hours of the night memorizing old English as a part of chamber choir; four years ago, I was re-writing arrangements for Harnoor, Cort, Rosa and my quartet--I listened to the recording last night and the part where I messed up still makes me cringe, ugh.

"Stage Door" - fall 2006
I've been reminiscing with Cort lately and assaulting her with the past via her old Xanga. I don't remember auditioning for Ring Ceremony, though Cort swears I did. I remember my failed Advanced Drama audition and the time Cort and I auditioned "Believe" from The Polar Express two days after I got sick and lost my voice. And that evening we were supposed to open the Old Sac Christmas tree lighting and there were only five of us trying to do a five-part split? Oh, God. Then there were the successful auditions and moments too, from Festivals to concerts to Stage Door and even fashion show. High school was fun, in those respects. 

Music (as well as the theatre) was so much a part of my life and it still feels weird to be separated from it for so long. Every time I pick up my guitar or listen to a powerful monologue, I miss the passion that came with performance.

I don't miss those suffocating choir dresses, stage makeup caked onto my face or choir warmups though. "I have a nose like a ping pong ball" still haunts my nightmares, Mr. L. Thanks.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

you've got a friend in me.

Tiggy enjoys college.
I never hosted tea parties or taught classes to my army of stuffed animals. It seems like the traditional thing to do as a child, but I wasn't interested in these imaginary scenarios. Instead, I would go on adventures with my stuffed animals, take them camping in my sofa cushion forts and eat dinner with them. I would rotate my stuffed animals everyday so that everyone would have a chance to play. We'd watch TV, go to piano lessons together, hide under the covers during thunderstorms. He/she would wait in the car for me when Mom came to pick me up from school and we'd do homework together at the dining room table. One morning when I was in kindergarten, I refused to go to school until Mom let me take my stuffed animal dolphin (aptly named Dolphie) with me. She shoved Dolphie into my Spottie Dottie backpack and I was content. Even though Dolphie stayed in my backpack in the closet for the entire day, I was happy to know I had a friend at school with me.

All of this makes me sound like a very lonely child. When I used to share anecdotes in class about my childhood, Amy always said it sounded like I was an only child, which isn't true. Na and I are only 18 months apart and we always did everything together. Growing up, we were very close and we're even closer nowadays. But I still felt isolated and afraid of people as a child. When I first got sick and my friends stopped talking to me, it wasn't as terrible of a blow because I was fine with my collection of stuffed animals at home to be my friends. When I heard my friends talking about me behind my back, speculating over "what was wrong with me," I became spiteful of their fake demeanors as they pretended to still be nice. I replaced people and trust with bright, furry creatures and I didn't mind it at all.

You know that scene in Toy Story 3 when...okay, well it was really ALL of Toy Story 3 that got me. The movie hit home for me, from the beginning when Andy needs to decide who to bring to college with him to the end--no spoilers; if you saw it, you know what I'm talking about. Though I know that my stuffed animals don't come to life when I'm not around, I have an emotional connection to them that is generally absent from my life and, thus, makes it hard for me to imagine them gone forever.

Which is why Na's text message to me yesterday made me bawl: "Going through more stuffed animals. Found lamb chop, bobo bear, dolphin, sea otter...Any keepers? Picture of line up to follow..."

And then she sent a picture of them all lined up on a shelf, smiling and just as worn and fuzzy as I'd left them.

First: thanks Na, that was cruel. Second: I know I have no practical purpose for keeping them in my parents' house. I had no intention of taking all of my stuffed animals to college with me and I wouldn't be playing with them when I do go home to visit. They would be "sitting around and collecting dust," as my mom used to point out when she would donate our old toys. As I looked at the picture my sister sent me, I knew that there were plenty of other children in the world who would love those stuffed animals. But would they take as good care of them as I had? What if they just threw them away?

Me, age 3, with Rosie at my grandparents' house, pre-washing machine incident.
I thought about my various stuffed animals and the great pains my mother had taken to make sure they stayed intact. When I was five, my grandmother threw my stuffed bunny Rosie in the washing machine in protest of how dirty it was thanks to my romps in the backyard and other misadventures and Rosie was shredded to pieces. Mom told me that Rosie had to go to the hospital and took nearly a month sewing her back together and re-stuffing her the best she could. When Rosie was returned to me, she was wearing a Cabbage Patch Kids Hospital shirt and hospital slippers which hid the floral-patterned patches she sewed onto my bunny to hide the holes. She was obviously worn, but I didn't mind. She survived! She was a fighter. Then there was Bobo Bear (I don't know why we called her that) who was the victim of unfortunate timing during flu season. Yes, I Traci Lee-ed on Bobo Bear in our Mazda van one day on the way home from school. But Mom scrubbed her clean and hung her up to dry on our shower curtain rod, and then she was good as new. My "oddly-shaped stuffed animal tiger," Tiggy, whom I wrote about often in my Personal Essay workshop, also had his share of misfortunes, particularly hot chocolate stains from bumpy car rides. I managed to save Tiggy from my grandmother's washing machine though.

In the end, I told Na to donate the stuffed animals in the house to Maryhouse and I know I won't regret it. Whether they go to "better homes" or not, I had my years with them and now it's time to move on. Things aren't meant to be permanent, and so...farewell, old friends. And thanks for saving me all those years when I had nowhere else to turn.