“Honey, go upstairs and see if there’s anything you want to take home before we have that all torn apart,” Mom said. Every couple of years my folks get the bug to overhaul some section of their farmhouse. The long-vacated second level seems like as good a place as any to slap on some fresh paint and throw down some new vinyl. The rooms that once held my sister and me have been a warm ghost town for my parents’ puppy to defecate and grandchildren to Crayola the walls for years now.
I’m always amazed at how even now, 15 years since I technically lived under Mom and Dad’s roof exclusively (Hank and I did spend a year back in the nest in 2010-11 when we moved back to town) these relics of my younger years still remain. A high school phone directory with pager numbers written on the back. My cheerleading jacket and an “it’s a cheer thing” t-shirt. Pictures dimmed by a centimeter of pasty dust. A vase keepsake from prom that reads, “Oh what a night”. (Which I believe it really was.)
I’ve come and left with a carful of boxes at least three times, and these are the memories that didn’t make the cut. There just wasn’t a place to put them in my grownup life. Not that I wanted to lose them forever, but I didn’t want them on my suburban mantel, either. You just assume your folks’ place is your evergreen locker. A vault you can crack open at your leisure. Until they tell you to get your shit and throw it in your own dang attic so they can have a designer come in and punch up the color scheme.
My most recent sweep turned up a stack of notebook pages torn from the spiral binding nestled in my old vanity drawer. At first I thought they were just pieces of my typical written ramblings about teenage angst and pimpled pipe dreams, but then it came back to me. They were assignments from my …maybe junior … English class. The teacher, Mr. Rusk, would begin some of our sessions by proposing a question or topic. He would give us a few minutes to consider it and then encourage us to free write our thoughts. At the time, I don’t remember thinking this was anything particularly motivating or inspiring. But to read them from where I sit at the table now … gold. Pure gold. There are some real nuggets here.
Rusk’s Topic: Insignificance
2000 Courtney: “There are so many things in our world that we find insignificant; people, emotions, litter, time and pennies. I see these things trashed day after day. Throwing bags of litter out of the car window or spending a gorgeous April day on the couch watching a movie you’ve seen 8.000 times. Pennies are everywhere. People are always seeming to drop them, leave them, or simply just misplace them. They’re found stuck to drive through windows and clinging to car floor mats. People see them as 1 cent, and well, meaningless. Each penny is worth something. Saved, it can add up to a small fortune. Greed has led to the demise of the copper piece. Everyone wants a quarter instead. But those who save and don’t waste will pull ahead in the long run.”
Rusk’s Topic: What does it mean to be fearless?
2000 Courtney: “How many people can honestly say that they are fearlessly themselves? Maybe it only happens when we’re older. Maybe it’s impossible to fearlessly be yourself in high school, a time when most people don’t even know who they are. What holds people back from being themselves? Is it insecurity? Is it doubt? Or do people simply not know how to be themselves? I believe society drives people to be like everyone else because that is socially acceptable. I think that people should live by that statement. Fearlessly be yourself. After all, it’s only showing the sides of yourself that we usually hide away. It can’t be all bad.”
Rusk’s Topic: If you could invent something, what would it be?
2000 Courtney: “Warning labels for human beings. I would be able to read what I’m getting myself into before I was in too deep. For instance, I would probably avoid a person wearing a sign saying, ‘I am on a path to complete selfishness and you’re in my way.’ Perhaps maybe I would even be wise enough to notice a sign saying, ‘I say what you want to hear and do what you want me to do … until you leave.’ Boys would be another area of my life which would greatly benefit from these signs. Hearbreak is an inevitable part of dating. They go toegether like peanut butter and jelly. The warning label might read ‘I’ll give you the best 3 weeks of your life. It’s the three months after that you have to worry about.’ But, as helpful as these would be, I’d rather take the bad with the good and experience life’s lessons.”
Rusk’s Topic: Purpose
2000 Courtney: “A predestination given by God which is usually realized and achieved by a human being. That is purpose. I find different purposes in different ways. For example, after a month-long relationship that my friend assumed would be a lifetime, her heart was broken when he ran back to his ex girlfriend. i learned of the news when my friend showed up on my doorstep with nothing but a handful of tears and a broken heart. We stayed up late that night and I listened to her cry and gave her my advice. And right then, for one night, my purpose was to be there for my friend.”
Rusk’s Topic: Some book we must have read
2000 Courtney: “In the story, the wolf makes the brave decision to take freedom and independence over stability. As a 17 year old preparing to graduate from high school, I am surrounded by stability. I know I am alive and I know I’ve lived fro almost 18 years. But have I really lived? Have I ever been in a situation where I could only rely on myself and my personal strength? So, hopefully, come Ausgust 2001, I will be heading off to college. Somewhere far away from my 3 dogs, my flowered bedspread, and the goose cookie jar in the kitchen that always seems to be full. And when I am alone and searching for my future, it is then I will walk away from my collar. I will find my freedom. My independence. Myself.”
Rusk’s Topic: What would you do with 30 minutes of air time?
2000 Courtney: “I would sell it to the highest bidder and take my girlfriends to Cancun for our senior year spring break.”
Rusk’s Topic: Change
2000 Courtney: “In this world, there are always things we want to change. But the 7 girls I call my second family are just ‘cool’ the way they are. We couldn’t be more different. There’s the funny one, the crazy one, the moody one, the responsible one, the supportive one … However, it was only when I got all mixed up in the diverse group that I found myself. I know time will move us all in different directions. We will settle down and watch our children make their own friends. But time will never erase the campouts, the deep talks while everyone else was sleeping, or moments crowding in front of a mirror trying to fix our hair. It’s always been said that time would pass and then I would write a movie script about our relationships. I don’t know about that, but I value their optimism in my future. The ladies who have shown me strength, hope and love, my second family, I hope will never change.”
Rusk’s Topic: If you had a dinner party with 3 people, alive or dead, who would they be?
2000 Courtney: “I would have my maternal grandmother, Garth Brooks and God.”
Rusk’s Topic: What lesson would you share with your younger self?
2000 Courtney: “Never hurt others to make yourself feel cooler. Popularity, i have found, is like a game. The finish line being popularity, whatever that is, and the starting point being your first day, and everything in between is just scandals and drama and gossip. People get pushed around and stepped on simply so others can feel good about their social status in the end. Never give up on the human race. Just when you think it’s too ugly, someone will shine through. Never sacrifice parts of yourself to satisfy someone else.”
Rusk’s Topic: Write a letter to your future self.
2000 Courtney: “Dear Courtney, There’s probably a smile and surprised look on your face right now. My friends at the prsent time are Jenn, Kim, Kelly, Molly, Ashley, Jill, Jackie and Haley. News just broke that Jackie is pregnant and I see her less and less every day. I am awaiting my senior year of high school and thinking about going off the college. I hope that I am reading this while sitting with my dream husband, in my dream house, doing my dream job. I hope I actually went away to college and stuck with it. I hope I have an amazing job at Rolling Stone or a couple movie scripts on the screen. There’s a possibility I even pursued acting. Overall, I hope I lived the last 10 years the most I could have. i hope I took big risks and some even paid off. I hope I’m not sitting somewhere reading this with a heart full of regret and a mind filled with unfulfilled promises to myself. I hope I’ve made it and most of all, that I am happy.”
If these excerpts tell me anything, it’s that I was an over-analyzing, cheeseball of a teenager who had incredibly ambitious thoughts about what could be smushed into a decade. The crazy thing about this last one is the fact that our friend Jackie’s little girl is about to start driving and is one of the most beautiful, balanced young women I’ve ever seen. I still consider these girls my second family and I still value pennies, kinda. Really pissed that Rolling Stone thing didn’t work out though.