Memories are strange things. They can be fleeting. They’re often spotty. They are what we remember, not necessarily the exact series of events that occurred. They are our truths.
Memories often return when they’re least expected, carried by waves of a familiar smell or sound. They are the threads of our lives, intricately woven within our souls.
How peculiar they are.
The writers of Hire a Writer were challenged to write about a particularly pivotal memory of their youth. The task was inspired by our recent book club read, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott–a book that I am convinced every writer should read.
I sat down to think… what could I possibly write about…
I thought about the “acceptable” topics… the things we anticipate hearing when someone is asked to share about a life-changing moment. A job, an accident, a mentor, a parent, a birthday perhaps.
But that all didn’t feel quite right.
I closed my eyes, leaned back in my desk chair, and rested my hands neatly in my lap. I let my mind wander through the aisles of memories and swirls of faces. I swatted away the incessant reminder to write a shopping list, not now, shhhh. Back to intentionally mindless wandering. Full immersion.
It began to come to me. My fingers on the keys, ready.
I wrote this entire memory with my eyes closed. Piece by piece, word by word, and solely by the way it made me feel.
I’m not entirely sure if there is a “right” way to document a past memory. As I wrote about my childhood memory, I hoped that whoever read it would be able to feel the way I felt. That the reader would be able to relate somehow to the weight of being 16, even if their circumstances were entirely different than mine. To understand that an unpredictable change in course had just occurred, one that would move me thousands of miles away from that small town where nothing happened and no one left.
And to think… all I was asked to do was share my English notes.
What a beautiful gift our memories are.
When I Was 16
16 was hard.
16 was weird.
16 was wildly uncomfortable.
But, 16… it was magic.
When I was 16, life was quiet. I lived outside a small, rural town named Hastings, with one stop light and a bridge that always had way too much traffic on it. Hastings was home to two very influential families, the Crowleys and the Klompmakers. One controlled thousands of acres and a master breeder dairy herd, the other had the primary contract for the Swiss Chalet chicken supply (that’s a big deal). Dozens of kids between the two families. You’d done something right if you could couple off with one of them (sorry to disappoint, Dad). If you weren’t part of one of those two families, you practically didn’t exist, especially as a high schooler.
The Trent Severn Waterway ran through the middle of the town, effectively dividing its teenagers into “the Norwood side” and “the other side”. I’m pretty sure no one on the other side called it that… They probably just called in Camplbellford. My parents will never understand how thankful I am for having lived on the north side of the divide.
I went to Norwood High School, about 25 minutes up county road 45… nearly an hour by public school bus. Old Joe Crowley used to brag he’d only get the bus snowed into the ditch once a winter, but the year I turned 16, he finally invested in tire chains. Things were lookin’ good.
250 kids went to that high school, from 8th to 12th grade, but only if everyone showed up. Half that if it was hunting or hay season. Half that if it was calving season. You get the idea.
Nothing ever changed in these small towns, only the seasons. And I loved it. It was easy. I was as carefree as you could be. Had no interest in boys, internet, or anything to do with the big city. All I wanted to do was do my homework, and get to the barn with my friends.
We spent years of our lives hanging out at a local riding barn. One of my friends lived on the property with her neurotic mother and two brothers. My parents said she was a bad influence (they weren’t wrong) but she had access to the barn and all the horses in it. It was paradise.
I went to English class on a pretty typical Tuesday in early October. Ms. Anderson was fresh out of teachers' college. A bob haircut, mousy brown hair, the sweetest tiniest voice, long hand-sewn denim skirts, and super flustered by the 19-year-olds who never passed 10th grade English… it was pretty entertaining.
On this particular Tuesday, she asked me if I would lend my notes to one of the new kids in class. Probably because no one else took notes, not because mine were worthy of applause. We had a local hockey team pick up some “foreigners”–her words, not mine–and the league required they went to school if they were of age.
Sure, I guess.
A bunch of knuckleheads roll into class late. Hats covered in snow. Pants soaked up to the knees from walking to school. They sit down and cause the most obnoxious disruption. I was annoyed. I had learning to do.
“Kaitlin, would you give your notes to Tyler? He’s seated behind you.”
I turned around.
And I fell in love.
He didn’t know it yet, but he was mine forever.
Ah, to be 16 again.