(The following post is a creative non-fiction essay assignment I had to do for my creative writing class. I haven’t turned it in yet, but I wanted to share it with you anyway. We were assigned to write about a past experience to answer a central question.)
Why can I remember my middle school locker combinations when I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner last night?
I can clearly recall the numbers of both combination locks I used as a middle schooler. I can clearly remember running to my locker to retrieve forgotten binders and misplaced books in the 5 minute passing periods they gave us. The five minutes that gave us the opportunity to test out our Olympic sprinting that we had been training for our whole life. As I glance up at the clock, a ringing bell sounds throughout the room, signaling the start of the five minute race. Bags are zipped, papers are crumpled, feet are out the door. Our training is being put to the ultimate test every day.
I can clearly recall successfully making it to the girls’ locker room just before the bell signaled the end of the race. I can clearly remember finding my row and maneuvering my way around dropped papers, scattered backpacks and dirty gym clothes. In addition to the five minute race across the middle school campus, we’re given another five to change into our gym clothes, yet another feat worthy of Olympic medal status.
Every day the routine was repeated. Bell rings, backpack is zipped, out the door, to the locker, down the stairs, next class. Repeat. I kept the same combinations for those three years of middle school and I haven’t forgotten them since. I don’t know what it is about those 6 numbers, carefully organized in a combination to keep my personal belongings from being taken by a up-to-no-good 12-year-old 7th grader, but I remember them like it was yesterday — when in reality is was 7 years ago. I can clearly remember these numbers, and yet I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last night.
Maybe it’s because I used the combinations every day. Maybe a part of me wishes I was still in the most inept time period of my life. Maybe I long for the day when I can use a lock again.
Maybe it’s because we, as a society, crave nostalgia. We crave the years past and dwell on the things we have or have not done. Unknowingly, we desire the things that we can never get back.
Now, I know. I don’t understand why my innermost self craves the days of clashing colors, failed hairstyles, terrible attempts at makeup, and sweaty pubescent bodies. Why would I want to relive the years from 11 to 13, where boys were still icky but we giggled when they talked to us? Why would I want to visit the days where physical education was still a requirement and people didn’t wear deodorant because they didn’t think they needed it?
The longer I live, the more things I get to experience and it’s amazing, however, those preteen years is this brilliant, unexplainable, gawky moment in everyone’s life that, in a way, unites us. No matter who you are, you had to go through that really uncomfortable stage of life, where you just didn’t fit in, you didn’t know what to do and you didn’t really know anything at all. These years between our childhood and teenage years, though strange and uninviting, are somewhat comforting.
It makes me cringe and twitch when I recall those crayon-inspired outfits and slicked back ponytail days, but you can’t escape the fact that we’ve all been through it. We grow up, we learn, we mature (well, some of us do), we experience our own lives, we make our own choices, but — much like crayons — we can’t erase those years. It unites us as one. It unites us as human beings. When we reminisce on those days, everyone can contribute their own stories and anecdotes without fear of disgust or hatred because we have all done it. We have all lived it.
I remember my locker combinations because I remember middle school. I remember awkward encounters and failed tests. I remember the way I felt when I it was the end of the world, when actuality, there was, and still is, so much more. I remember the desire to grow up, to be in high school, to be doing something with my life. I remember the days before the threat of SAT scores and college admissions. I remember the days where no one honestly cared what they looked like, we said we did and we thought we did — but we really didn’t. I remember the days before life really started happening.
Everyone desires the past. Nostalgia is inevitable and I feel that I have my locker combinations engraved into my memory because of it. I find that the things that we remember seem trivial and insignificant, mostly because they are, and yet we can find meaning in them. We search for the “why” and when we do, we find why it’s even just slightly important.
That is why I can remember my locker combinations. That is why when I pick up a lock, I instinctively put in 4-26-4 before realizing that I’m not 13, I don’t have tube socks on, this isn’t my lock and the combination won’t work.
This is why I think I might have had leftovers last night, but, quite honestly, I’m not even sure I’m correct.