Personal Archaeology 18: That One Summer

Part of my 1994-1995 scrapbook project. At left: an essay about being in Paris. At right: a page of all of us taking pictures of each other taking pictures at the top of The Arc De Triomphe.

Among the three notebooks (and several folders of MS Word files) I have left from my personal journal is a notebook where I recorded my trip to Europe in the summer of 1994 as a People to People Student Ambassador. It’s a trip I wrote about on livejournal back in the day and then ported over to Pop Culture Affidavit in 2014 in an essay I’m still proud of called “Leave Yourself Behind.” It’s also a trip I scrapbooked for a class project, so it’s well-covered territory.

I’m coming back to it now because I’m reaching the end of summer and thought that the summer of 1994 was as good a topic as any, especially since so much happened personally that I consider it to be “the summer that changed my life.” Yes, total hyperbole there, but as I flipped through those journal entries as well as the entries from my “main” journal, I do notice a shift in my teenage outlook. Oh, I’m still a naïve suburban kid, but I’m a naïve suburban kid who all of the sudden had a social life.

That’s a fancy way of saying that there were girls.

There were always girls, of course–I seemed to spend most of my teen journal wishing for a girlfriend and expressing my undying love for crushes who were way out of my league. But between my junior and senior years of high school, the girls started to notice me. Now, my calendar didn’t go from completely empty to overflowing, and I was “just friends” with the majority of females I spent my time with, but it did seem like I flipped a switch or turned a page or whatever metaphor I can come up with.

Another page from that scrapbook. At top: a photocopied page from the journal I kept. At bottom: a pile of teenagers.

A closer examination of my journal shows that this was on its way as far back as the fall of my junior year because I was writing about being blown off by a friend I wanted to date, and hearing the phrase “I just want to be friends” from my junior banquet date (which I also blogged about on Pop Culture Affidavit in 2014: “A Banquet, A Song, A Date, a Mug”). Most of the rest of the journal is about what’s going on with my grades as well as raising the money and getting prepped for that student ambassador program. Once August of 1994 rolls around and I’m getting ready to start my final year of high school, though, my tone changes. Maybe it’s because I’d actually used the newfound confidence I’d gained from my summer 1993 plastic surgery; maybe it’s because I spent half the summer of 1994 around people who knew me outside of my hometown and high school and felt comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a while as opposed to having to play what I felt was an assigned role.

That idea–having an assigned role to play as if a suburban high school is the setting of your own personal teen movie–is something I couldn’t let go of when I was seventeen. I’d write poetry about it, essays about it, and even an entire novel about it. And maybe it was that trip to Europe and the trip to San Antonio a week later for an Anchor Club convention that was its catalyst. That week in San Antonio was supposed to involve some sort of official club business, and I’m sure it did. I just remembering passing notes while sitting in an interminable hotel ballroom meeting, invading one another’s hotel rooms after curfew, and hooking up with a girl from Alabama after we went and saw Forrest Gump. Then, as the summer wound down, I met–and quickly developed a massive crush on–my new next-door neighbor.

Part of the San Antonio section of that scrapbook and the hotel ballroom I mentioned. We wrote notes to one another on that table card, which I kept and included in the scrapbook.

It was like I was making up for five years’ of nobody status all at once.

I can’t say that I would achieve “escape velocity” from said nobody status just because of two months of people not treating like the butt of a joke. In fact, in the fall of senior year, I’d wind up in some prolonged high school drama that lasted all the way until the fall of my freshman year, and a serious relationship that would last until I was a college sophomore. I don’t know how much I want to write about either of those for this blog, considering how much I’ve examined them in other writing during the past few decades. But when it comes to this summer, looking at what I did and what I wrote about makes me feel wistful and even proud of myself for coming out of my shell the way I did. It’s nice to remember those times, however fleeting they were, when I first felt comfortable being myself.

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