I spent three of my four years in high school on the yearbook
committee, staying late after school almost every night sorting through
photos, drawing layouts by hand, trying to come up with new and
creative ways to avoid my co-editor who was clearly stalking me. We
went to yearbook workshops and heard all about how, when the
distrubution date finally arrived, people would be poring over and
thoroughly enjoying the fruits of our labours and we could fully enjoy the satisfaction
involved. This was bogus, of course. When the day came, we were
dispatched to actually deliver the books from classroom to classroom;
everyone else signed each other's books and brought them home, put them
away and forgot about them.
So did I. Others might
experience unpleasant memories from high school whenever they look at
their yearbooks. I, and others like me, remember the added unpleasant experience of producing the
damn thing. I rarely dig mine out for that reason. Indeed, I've only
ever dusted them off when someone in my family -- usually my younger
sister, who just graduated from the same school -- wants to see them.
Or when someone I went to school with dies.
I was in my last year of high school, a woman who had been a guidance
counselor there before becoming an administrator at some other school
was killed. Murdered. By her husband. We included a dedication page in
that year's yearbook, with a tribute to her and to a former drama
teacher and a former vice-principal, both of whom had died of cancer.
They all died during the same week. For a month or so after that,
teachers dropped by the computer lab we used as our headquarters to
look at old yearbooks. I never really understood how that would make
them feel better until it started happening to me.
after I started university, a high school friend who was going to
the same university I was e-mailed me a link to a
news article. There had been a set of twins -- sisters -- in the grade
behind mine. One of them sang "Sweet Surrender" by Sarah McLachlan at
the same school talent show during which I performed a monologue from a
Neil Simon play. The two had been driving somewhere one winter night
and had been hit by a drunk driver. One -- the one who sang -- died on
impact; the other was sent to the hospital in critical condition.
dug out a yearbook the day I learned about that and saw the two of
them, their photos side-by-each, identical twins with individual
personalities and different smiles.
Sometime within the next
year, another girl from the year behind mine was shot and killed. She
was an innocent bystander, and while the name that kept coming up on
the news sounded familiar I only realized she had gone to my old high
school when I saw her graduation photo in the paper. I got out the
yearbook then, too. Have you ever looked at the freshman yearbook photo
of someone who was shot at 18 and then realized just how often you
might have walked past that person in the hallway?
I was in third year when Mark died.
was my age, in my grade, and good friends with just about everyone I
knew. He was friends with everyone. You didn't not
like Mark; you could try, but he had a smile that could crack anyone's
facade. The monologue of mine that I mentioned earlier required a
fake southern accent. He was at the show and good-naturedly told me
it was convincing afterwards. He moved away in the twelfth grade, back
to his native United States, but came to our
prom. I took a photo of him and one of my friends that night.
randomly remembered the monologue and Mark's sense of humour one day
while walking through a grocery store with my boyfriend. That night,
I happened to log on to Livejournal to
see that my friend had posted the photo I'd taken of her and Mark at
prom, three years earlier. Underneath it, she'd written "only the good
Car accident. On his way home from spring break.
Drunk driver. 21 years old. Word started to spread slowly at first,
then it was like wildfire and we were all sending our condolences
through the funeral home website and joining a memorial Facebook
group and secretly hoping that they'd find the bastard who took that
smile away and lock him or her away forever. The last I'd heard, they'd
found him and he'd pleaded not guilty. And we all, in the midst of
incomprehensible grief for someone some of us knew well and some of us
didn't, dusted off our yearbooks and tried to remember him as he was
and as we'd preserved him.
Tonight I dropped into the Facebook
group the valedictorian from my graduating class had created for our
year. I hadn't checked it out in a while, evidently, because there was
a posting informing the rest of us of the death of someone else from
He killed himself.
got out the yearbook. He'd been on track to graduate with us in 2003
-- his name was on the list of students who was scheduled to graduate
but didn't have a grad photo taken. I don't think he graduated until the next year, though. I never gave it much thought. He'd always been perceived as less
than agreeable; the more popular kids thought he was weird. Today, at
the same time I learned of his death, I also learned he'd had
It's occurred to me that, when things of
this nature happen, other people probably get out their yearbooks as
well. Then I realized that, having helped put three of them together, I
unknowingly handpicked some of the pictures people are remembered by
after they're gone. No one ever tells you that you're not only producing a time capsule, a record of the year, but feasibly contributing to everyone's obituary.
It's not a responsibility I wanted.
Since posting this writeup, a young woman who was a year older than me -- I was in a class with her in my "senior" year -- was killed alongside her sister in a car accident
. Everyone I went to high school with seemed to be joining memorial Facebook
groups and I felt bad because I didn't recognize their names.
So I got out my yearbooks, and suddenly I knew who she was. I hope it stops. They were all too young.
June 2, 2009: I just learned another student from my year died of cancer last year. Speechless.
2011: Another student, who was two (I think) grades ahead of me, recently took his own life.