Friday, March 11, 2005

Folded notes ... a lost art, a teenage hallmark, or a feather that tips the scales of fragility? aka "The Yellow Shoe Box"

Remember those cute folded notes we used to get in school? The ones with the little tab that said "Pull here" ... the ones that were covered with TLF, TLA, and lipstick .. the ones sprayed with half a bottle of perfume or cologne? The ones that the girls threw together in seconds with the perfection and attention to detail of a fine origami hummingbird ... the ones that guys gave up on folding once the note started to look like paper mache? The ones that included checkboxes to convey whether you liked someone a little, a lot, or not at all? The ones that carried messages of love, of jealousy, of rumors, of break-ups, of things that meant the world at any given moment in our childhood? Remember those notes?

If so, keep those memories floating just above your gaze while you take a stroll through this story ...

Last weekend, I took a trip down memory lane ... back to 1986, which for me was 8th grade. After my trip to Mexico City, I flew back to Atlanta via her not-so-close neighbor, Los Angeles. I put this layover together to drop by a good friend's 70th birthday party, and to make my cameo in Sean's mega road trip. I decided to look up a friend while I was in LA ... well, to be honest, an old girlfriend. Ok, ok ... I'm not in trouble. Becky knew about the visit -- she actually knew Kristin (oops, I used her name ... well, no harm done, I hope!). I had only seen the love of 14-year-old Jeff's life once in the past 15 years, but I knew that she lived in Los Angeles ... well, at least as a few years ago. A few days before the trip, I started my attempts to locate Kristin's number or email by searching Google. When that failed, I tried --- and finally, I tried ... you guessed it (well, maybe you didn't) her phone number from 1986. Sure enough -- I reached her mother, whom I hadn't spoken to since my voice sounded a good bit different and my pants looked quite a bit like leftover parachute material. I was surprised that her mom remembered me, shocked that she still had the same phone number that was scrolled in a bubbly font on notes I received in the mid-80s, and happy that she didn't hesitate to give me Kristin's phone number.

With Kristin's number in hand, I took a deep breath and made the first phone call of my adult life to a girl that I dated (I think we called it "went with", didn't we?) well before cell phones, voice mail, email, IM, Blackberries, Bluetooth, and myriad other communications gadgets that we have now were invented. I was still a little nervous when her voice mail picked up -- thinking that she'd find it too bizarre to hear from an old boyfriend asking to hang out with her for a day. Nervous? Yeah, kind of goofy, but thinking back to 8th grade brings pretty much nothing but goofiness, so I suppose it's not too surprising.

After a couple days of playing phone tag, we finally connected and set up plans to meet up with Sean in LA.

Following my short Mexico City trip, I landed in Los Angeles, where I was happy to see Sean and Kristin waiting at the airport for me. Twenty minutes later, I was hanging out with both my junior high best friend and junior high girlfriend -- trying to catch up on two decades of our lives. We chatted about the past, present, and future well into the night as she showed Sean and me a glimpse of her life in Venice Beach. We laughed, we celebrated, and we shared the high points and low points of our later teenage years, our 20s, and the present. Connecting with old friends is always such a treat, and more often than not, it feels that no time has passed. This was certainly the feeling as the three of us hopped around the pubs in Venice.

Kristin was a great host, showing us a great time in Venice Beach and introducing us to an outanding group of her closest friends. We crashed at 4 AM on Saturday, and somehow I found myself energized enough with a few hours of sleep to blog about my Mexico trip, eat breakfast graciously prepared by a surfer guy who was wearing only a sarong as a skirt, a t-shirt, a knit hat, and a scarf (of course, this only hints at a future blog of its own), and grab a beach run up to Santa Monica pier with Sean.

Mid-afternoon, I kicked up the reminiscing fun by surprising Kristin with the notes that she wrote me nearly 20 years ago. I can't say that I'm a pack rat, but I do value personal memorabilia, and Becky and I have a semi well-organized collection of artifacts and souvies set aside in trunks -- from images we colored as kids to bar coasters from last year's trip to Asia.

Before this trip, I dug through our collection of memorabilia, and pulled out a yellow shoe box full of notes that I had saved throughout junior high and high school. I can't remember why I started saving notes -- but for some reason, back in 7th grade, I started dropping any note I received into this yellow shoe box. Through my moves to college in Athens, to Atlanta, to Colorado, and back to Atlanta, that yellow shoe box managed to catch a ride. A few times, when old friends have visited, I've opened it and read through some of the notes. It had been quite some time though since I had read any, much less all of the notes in this box. The night before my Mexico/LA trip, I opened the box and pulled out all of my Kristin notes. I stuffed them in a folder and then laughed thinking of what a customs agent in the US or Mexico would think about my collection of teenage love notes if they searched my bags!

Saturday afternoon, Kris and I read through the notes -- laughing at how serious we took our love at the time, how silly we communicated, how flirty we were, how often we criticized our parents, teachers, and classes, and more. Remembering the days when your girlfriend wouldn't sit by you at lunch because your best friends were throwing food brought huge laughs -- especially since my best friend from back then was in the room with us and had just visited the other best friend a few days earlier in Texas!

As we opened dozens of love notes with "pull here" tabs and SWAK seals, I started thinking that this little ole 8th grade relationship actually brought me quite a bit of happiness and a huge amount of confidence during a time when a newly minted teenager needs it the most. And that got me to thinking how fragile we were back then -- how a series of nice notes boosted my confidence and set me off in a direction that led to success in school and building the foundation to a wonderful relationship with my wife. That also got me to thinking how those little notes could have just as easily set someone down the opposite path -- to insecurity and sadness during those critical teenage years. How easily the scales can tip at that age.

I'll walk this story to the door before it gets too caught up in ponderances and reflections, and simply say that I'm pretty darn grateful that I lucked into a great little ole 8th grade relationship -- a cute teenage coupling that played a fairly important role in the path I charted for myself in the coming years. Of course, I left out a few things in this story, namely that for all these years I had remembered the break-up as something she instigated -- only to be proven wrong last weekend by Kristin's memory and by the notes themselves. Well, what can you say? Could I possibly spin this in such a way that it's her fault I remembered it wrong -- because she's the one who boosted my confidence so much back then? Nah. I'm just a guy with a yellow shoe box, a fuzzy memory, and the fortune to have sat by the right girl in 8th grade Civics class.
Thanks Kris! And Sean and Chris, if your food throwing ever again costs me a chance to sit by a pretty girl at lunch, I'm coming after you!

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