I was driving down the highway the other day when "Let Her Cry" by Hootie and the Blowfish came on. (Nevermind there are no longer blowfish, and that "Hootie" is now a boot-wearing country crooner). I was immediately taken back to eighth grade. I could list all kinds of memories it evoked that would be meaningless to most (like basketball season, the purple trampoline we used to have, sleepovers with Lindsey, notes from Sara, dances, and crushes on boys I won't admit), but the main thing that came to my mind was the last day of eighth grade.
I came to school that day with my 35mm camera in tow. I wore a plaid, sleeveless, button-up shirt and my hair was permed (with poofy bangs, of course). I was ready to make the day memorable. It was, after all, my last day of eighth grade. The last day of junior-high. We were MOVING to the high school (which, if you don't know, is separated by nothing more than a double-door between the hallways). Beyond those double doors was a world I'd never known. I was going to be a freshman. Scum on a senior's shoe. It was the END of LIFE as I knew it!
I took all 24 pictures that day. I made sure to get shots of boys I would miss seeing over the summer, and made sure to get pictures of myself with all my friends. Because I might never see them again? I'm not sure what my forethought was, but I know it felt like the end of something huge.
Fast forward to August. New perm, new jeans, and poofier bangs. I was ready to go. I went into school early and pasted those cherished eighth grade pictures to my locker. As the halls filled up, though, I realized my entire eighth grade class was crammed into a few lockers in one hallway. The boys I had pictures of in my locker occupied the locker RIGHT NEXT TO MINE. I was suddenly better acquainted with them than I ever imagined to be. I let a couple of friendships go as we changed and grew, but more than anything I realized that day in late May hadn't been the end. We were all in it together. It was different, but it wasn't the end.
Fast forward again to May 1999. How many times we said, "THIS IS OUR LAST _________ (dance, prom, football game, pep assembly, Christmas break, snow day, Monday, Friday, day) of high school EVER!!!!" If you thought my eighth grade picture mania was bad, you should see the stack of pictures from my senior year. We tried to capture every second, every memory, and we forced some just to say we did. We thought we'd live by that year for the rest of our lives.
When graduation night came, I remember sitting quietly trying to FORCE tears, because I wasn't feeling anything, and all the laws of society and Dawson's Creek said this was the biggest day OF MY LIFE. It felt like any other long, boring school assembly to me.
After graduation we took pictures, we whined and cried to each other how much we'd miss each other, how nothing would ever be the same, and how we'd NEVER forget this year.
The next day I hung out with Lindsey as usual. I still talked to my friends on the phone, and went out on weekends. I saw classmates at Wal-Mart and Newman's, and really nothing changed. We stopped being forced to see each other daily at school, and had the luxury of choosing our friends. We moved on, we changed, we grew, but we kept going. All of us.
Now we are probably more connected than ever. I know more about what goes on in Christina Harder's and Jannie Williamson's daily lives than I ever did in high school. Facebook and e-mail have given us the choice to keep the ties we had in those formidable years.
In the end, it was never really the end. It's never over. We just have to learn how to let go of each phase of our lives and grow into the next. And whether they like it or not, the ones who matter will be along for the ride.