My sister was graduating from high school, and I had a plan to make it extra-rad.
It was the early ‘90s, a few years after I had graduated from the same school, and a few years before people had stopped saying “rad”. And even though I was well into college, I still, somehow, associated myself more with my high school than anything else.
Maybe it was because college was tough going for me. I was a year younger than my classmates, and not particularly mature for my age. Maybe it was because there was so much of the world that I had not yet figured out, and I could look at high school as something I had begun and ended with a modicum of success. Maybe I had been away from it just long enough to forget all of the stupid things, and only remember the great parts.
I still had friends who were stuck in the public school trenches, while I had moved on to grown-up school (as grown-up as theater school can be, anyway). So I would pop to my old alma matter when I was back in town, guest-lead an after-school session of drama club, and go support the fall or spring show, that sort of thing. For someone who mocked my generation’s embracement of instant nostalgia, I was guilty as the people who thought quoting the “Connect Four” commercial was the height of cleverness. Pretty sneaky, irony.
So there I sat with my family, on the giant hill behind my high school, staring at the makeshift stage that I had traipsed across what seemed like hours ago, not years. In my pocket, I had a cassette tape. It was Soul Asylum’s “Grave Dancer’s Union”, and it was cued up to their pretend epic song of pretend epic rebellion, “Somebody To Shove”. The only way this scenario could have been any ‘90s-er would be if everyone were wearing Hypercolors with a flannel shirt tied around their waist, and chugging OK Soda.
But it was a song I loved, and it was a song my sister loved, and suffice to say we’ve both gotten better since. No matter. On to my plan.
In my head, it was perfect. I would stroll over to the techie dude working the sound board. We would exchange pleasantries. No doubt he would know me from the long shadow I cast over the theater program. The hushed, reverent tones (I assumed) kids in drama club spoke of me. If nothing else, he would be impressed I was obviously a grown person of the world who was taking time out of my busy schedule of doing grown-up stuff to talk to him.
And then I would give him my pitch: When they announce my sister's name, he would slip the tape in the deck, press “play”, and the pretend heavy opening guitar solo would come blaring out of the PA system. My sister would have an awesome walk across the stage to get her diploma, and then we would all chug OK Soda or whatever.
So I walked over to the 15-year-old techie dude working the sound board, who, in addition to doing 200 things at once, had long ago made a lifelong decision to hate everyone and everything. Somewhere there is a high school theater department with A/V kids who don’t make jaded nihilists look like a book of Lisa Frank stickers, but this was not that place, and dude was not that unicorn.
I opened strong with a, “Hey, dude, how’s it going?”
He responded with a series of grunts and eyerolls that, to anyone else, would have swiftly communicated, “Go fuck yourself, preferably in a ditch filled with hungry tigers and fire.”
Not me, however. He probably didn’t realize who I was.
I tried again. “Hey, dude, I’m Josh Cagan. I used to run drama club, and was in all of the shows, and my sister is—”
Still not looking up from the 200 activities he needed to do in the next 10 minutes, he said, “I don’t care.”
I was confused, this in no way was going how I thought it would go in my head. In retrospect, I am confused by younger me’s confusion, because my life up until that point had been an unbroken 19-something year series of things not going how I thought they would go in my head. (We’re at 42 years and keeping on keeping on, by the way.)
I tried one more time. “Look, man, just play this tape when my sister walks across the stage.”
He finally turned and looked at me. “DUDE. Go away.”
And that was that.
Sitting back in my seat with my family, I tried to process what had gone down. Obviously, I had been grievously disrespected. Obviously, this kid didn’t understand he was dealing with a legend of Hall High’s theater department. I had played the Stage Manager in Our Town. My gender-swapped production of Mamet’s “Duck Variations” was a hit at the regional high school one-act competition a few years back. Not to mention the fact that I was a real-life college student, who had drank beer and everything (“everything” = “more beer”).
As I sat, and stewed, and watched the 92-hour ceremony unfold, I saw the looks on the faces of all the kids getting their diplomas. It reminded me of the looks on our faces at our graduation. They were faces that announced to the world at large, “Goddamn it. I can’t WAIT to get out of this fucking place.”
I began to feel a little silly. What was I doing, exactly? Why was I trying to boss around a kid trying to do his job? Why was I mad that he didn’t know who I was? Why was I trying to maintain a psychic presence at that school at all? Just a few short years ago, I ran away from that building like it was on fire, regardless of all the good times I had. I ran away because it was time to go. Time to move on. Why was I trying to run back in?
My sister graduated that day, without the aid of any mind-blowing Top 40 rebellion-ish rock. And thanks to that snarky, snotty, completely justified in his actions techie dude, I re-graduated, in a matter of speaking. High school was officially over. It was time to move on.
Every few years, I find it’s time to re-graduate from things in my life that are over and done with, but for some reason I have yet to let go. Because, ultimately, the past does not care about me the way I care about it.
The past is a grumpy kid working the sound board, hopped up on Mountain Dew and soothing delicious hatred. Any attempts to interact with it are met with dickish indifference, and rightfully so. The past does not care about who I was, and the past sure as shit does not care about who I am now.
It’s hard to let go of things, especially good things. But, and I am speaking for myself personally, I have to remind myself that it is absolutely essential. I don’t want to be known as the person I was. I want to be known as the person I am. Even if that person is kind of a mess. I’m today’s mess, darn it.
Today is my last piece for The Yearbook Office. Today, I graduate.
I will miss doing this, to be sure.
But at some point, it will become a thing I did, part of a person I was.
And then I will move on. I will re-graduate. I will realize these words were merely things, and nothing more. Although probably not soon enough, and certainly well after the world has.
Until then, thank you for your time and your patience.
This has been extra-rad.