Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW c. 2002

Tue, 07 Mar 2006 6:41 AM (GMT+0000)

I'm such a sap. Rarely, maybe twice a year, I get the motivation to sort through the vast collection of dead tree pulp I've accumulated in neat piles on my desk and in my file drawer. This time I've had a new impetus: I bought a safe, mostly for the fire-proof aspect of it. By now I have enough of a collection of paper that I could start to have problems if it disappeared. Not to mention the amount of data I've accumulated that needs a good place for the DVDs it's on.

I think that every single time I start out trying to sort out the crap I don't need, I end up reading just about every damn thing in there (except the mountain of bank/CC statements - I need a bigger shredder). This time I discovered some new, old things that I don't remember seeing the last few times. To keep myself honest, I'm saving the best for last.

Some things were probably hidden because they are misfiled. Did the Class of '96 Graduation Thank You's book really belong in the 'Test Scores' folder? Why do I even still have a copy of the one from '95? I only talk to one person from that class, and that's usually only at Christmas. And of course, my favorite find this time was clearly misfiled under 'Oakwood Grades.' If I didn't know myself well enough to know I couldn't get away with it, I would say that I left myself surprises like these as a sort of treasure hunt.

I'm not sure why I was even in the Oakwood folder at all. Maybe it was egotistical curiosity. I was a bit shocked to find that what I called my "lazy academic performance" was actually mostly A's with a few scattered B's and A+'s. Oh, and few shining C's in Phys Ed, probably mostly due to my rotten attitude toward the teacher. I think I had an unhealthy contempt for PE teachers. What a farce. I'm sure I'm right that I was lazy - I definitely didn't work for those grades. It just doesn't seem to show on paper.

It's strange what does show on paper, though. Dark fifth-grade essays about violent dreams in which I beat Clay Apesos to a bloody pulp and obsession with fast cars and money. Ninth and tenth grade pessimism and depression. Solitude. Longing. Sarcasm. It almost seems that most of my formative years had taken place by the time I was thirteen.

In first grade, I did poorly in math, compared to everything else. I remember what math meant in first grade. It was pages and pages of tedious addition problems. Carry the one, I fucking get it already. By the time I was a senior, things were quite the opposite. C's in English, breezing through the math. It was the English that was tedious.

It almost seems a miracle that I still love writing and language this much, considering the institutional browbeating I received at the hands of my English teachers. In the limited space I had, my senior thanks sarcastically included every one of them, for never giving me an A. Maybe I didn't deserve one, but I feel justified in taking what I felt was the only sane approach to most of the literature we were subjected to: I didn't relate to it. I think it takes a special kind of insanity to try to imagine the world of Poe, where his brand of horror could be the most frightening thing in a person's life. Our world is a lot scarier.

I'm staring at a pretty big pile of Pendaflex that isn't looking like it's going to all fit in the safe. I've tossed a few things from the nostalgia pile (and a shitload from the useless records and leases pile), but I'm still not at the point that I think I can get rid of any more of it (let alone toss the whole thing). I imagine that most people don't have piles like this, but I hope that they do.

There's a sort of baseline sappiness in sorting through records of our distant past. I generally don't intentionally go digging, but I'm inexplicably incapable of objectifying the process of culling old collections of (mostly) words on paper. That's something that doesn't compare to looking at a flat disc of polycarbonate substrate, which is where words like these are going to end up.

Will I ever do this again, once the pile gets moved to the safe? I'm guessing I will. I always end up doing it when I run out of space in the drawer, or the pile on the desk gets too big. The safe is even smaller, so maybe I'll do it more. Maybe at some point I will be able to look at the pile and remember all of the things that are in it, yet still be able to dump the whole thing into the bag of recycling.

I didn't remember everything that was in it this time. I didn't remember The Freshman ABC's, a compilation of letter-themed essays from our honors class, one letter per student. I didn't remember what she wrote, but I didn't quite get the same jumpstart from it rereading it this time. I didn't remember the trio of dance cards from Junior Assembly. Her name was written sloppily in mini-golf-scorecard pencil on the line for "Girl's Choice" on the first one of them. She was my choice on the third, but I'm almost positive it's because I ran out of "Girl's Choice" lines before she found me that night. I can't remember why she was missing on the second, or if that was even the right order at all.

I can feel that the intensity is fading. I think I was more excited about how I would feel opening up the dance card than I was when I actually did. The last time she showed up in my dreams, I barely made it beyond a touch and a first look into her teary eyes before I woke up. Even when I'm unconscious, I can't convince myself that it's real.

It's about time. I'm so separated now from her that I all I really have to be excited about is the idea of her. Looking at the original lined notebook page that had all of the discarded verses, the scratched-out words, and the pencil smudges of "The Baroness" just reminds me what a hopeless wreck I was over her; it doesn't turn me back into that mess the way it used to.

I hope I'm still capable of that kind of passion. I hope there's still someone out there that can bring it out of me. I hope that I have some words on actual paper in a notebook one day that I can find when I'm sorting out my safe for the hundredth time. I hope that on that hundredth time when I find them, I can bring them up out of the basement and show them to the girl I wrote them about.


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