A high school bedroom is like a museum of your former self. Among the yearbooks filled with inside jokes, the concert tickets for shows that used to be cheaper, the pay stubs from your first job, the random mementos coated in dust — time almost freezes in those angsty, formative teenage years. I entered that time capsule when I recently cleaned out my entire high school bedroom in preparation for a big move. It took one week, three trips to Goodwill, and five large trash cans filled to the brim.
I had the strange realization that I might, in fact, be a hoarder — but I started thinking about something else, too.
Why did I hold onto so many things? Was it really necessary, nine years later, to keep the birthday present from my high school crush tucked away under my bed?
Revisiting the gift was both heartwarming and cringeworthy. I couldn’t ignore those fleeting feelings of lust. I was instantly reminded of how giddy I felt when he arrived, unannounced, at my birthday party (with a present, no less!) It seemed wrong to throw the gift away.
Like most high school crushes, my unrequited love never amounted to a legitimate relationship — it was no She’s All That story. It was really just a string of moments in which I was particularly thirsty, hanging onto his every word.
But that’s the thing about high school longing.
You save these pieces of evidence as proof that, on a certain day, your crush actually talked to you.
When you’re a kid, those passing comments feel so special and precious, like some grand sign from the universe. Being the angsty high schooler that I was, I tried to keep my crush fantasies still rooted in reality, so holding onto those tokens of lust were my secret.
Those keepsakes also reminded me of that feeling I got when he laughed at my jokes or honked at me in the school parking lot.
If my romantic expectations were low enough, then I could still get through high school unscathed without a terribly broken heart.
Sifting through all that I’d collected in those four years was overwhelming and revelatory.
I read old diaries and letters spanning from freshman to senior year, and I realized that my most memorable times were actually spent with my friends — not with the unattainable dreamboat I had lusted after.
The best times were with them, when we were silly and carefree.
We weren’t particularly cool — but we did run adjacent to the cool kids.
Instead of weekend parties, we opted for concerts on school nights. So many stories exist in the piles of concert posters and signed Bright Eyes setlists that cluttered my room. They remind me that high school was filled with dance parties for hours on end, questionable mosh pits, hours spent waiting behind venues so we could meet the band, and that new phenomenon of internet celebrities that we’d recognize from MySpace.
It’s these artifacts that provide the ultimate flashback. It’s these things that I would actually save in a fire. Those friendships trump the crushes, as sweet as they were.
After a week spent time traveling back to high school, it was time to say goodbye. I kept a few boxes of carefully selected mementos and bid farewell to my teenage self.
Reading through deeply personal diary entries reminded me that I was so sure of myself and thought I already knew so much. The truth is, that’s the high school experience for most people.
It’s bittersweet to realize that I wasn’t actually a fully-formed human yet. I didn’t have really anything figured out. All those dark Bright Eyes songs seemed to make total sense in high school.
The truth is, I had no understanding of what the songs really meant.
And that’s okay..
In the nine years since graduation, I’ve grown up, but I’m still trying to figure it all out. Looking back at the angsty 17-year-old version of myself — that girl who was so ready to take on the world — makes the next adventure into adulthood all the more worth it.