Junior High Yearbook

We were in French class together the first day of school. It was Mrs. Gilmore’s class at Cedarbrook Junior High School, and my name was Raoul. I had picked it because we’d had to pick a French name for the teacher to call us. Raoul sounded funny to me, and I wanted to be funny because funny got you noticed, at least by your peers, and before this I was hardly ever noticed. I’d worn a Morbid Angel t-shirt to school because I thought Morbid Angel was cool. I listened to death metal, but I didn’t like it much. I liked instead to imitate the gruff way they sang in regular conversations because it made people laugh. We were in the front right corner of the room near the windows, me and Lex and Elisa Goodman and Ada Yoon. Outside the window was a hill that led to woods that a creek ran through, but this was off limits to students without teacher supervision. I stared out the window and turned back to class. We’d been handed the textbook and told to engage in a dialogue outlined in the first pages.


“Bonjour! Ça va?” 

“Ça va bein, et tu?”

“Pas mal.”

Elisa was pretty. She had soft features. Crystalline eyes. Sandy hair. I made her laugh doing the death metal grunt. Lex was laughing too. I was practicing with Lex while Ada practiced with Elisa. We’d turned our desks to face one another, and I was facing Lex and Ada. I didn’t think Ada was pretty or not pretty at the time. But fifteen years later I’d see her on the street and recognize her and think how beautiful she’d become. Then again, I’d followed a similar trajectory. Not that I was beautiful or handsome or anything remotely close to that. It was just I’d grown better looking as I became an adult. I’d started to fit a body that, on that first day in seventh grade, was largely out of proportion. My clothes were baggy, long limbs gangly. My head was too big for my frame, which led to my friend Drew’s cousin Tony P., who I guess was also my friend, calling me TV Head whenever he wished to make fun of me.

I was still looking to fit in, though I didn’t want to fit in with popular kids. For the first five years of school, they’d been cruel to me, and though this had stopped in fifth grade when they learned I could catch a football and sometimes needed to fill out numbers on each side during recess pickup games, I’d learned to distrust the herd. If I was going to find somewhere to fit, I wanted it to be on my terms. I wanted to find a place where I felt comfortable being who I was. I didn’t want to change too much just to be accepted, and yet, this was just what I’d done the year before. The year I’d turned to heavy metal and skateboarding and horror novels. The year I’d fallen under the sway of Elton Danvers.

Elton Danvers was the type of kid my mom would call a little shit, which wasn’t why I became his friend. I had no interest in adolescent rebellion. In fact, my mom let me do whatever I wanted as long as I told her first and it wasn’t illegal. Rather, I became friends with Elton because Jennifer Mills liked him, and I wanted her to like me. I’d spent the summer before sixth grade—the year Elton and I became friends—praying, although I wasn’t sure what praying was or if it worked or how it worked. At the end of the previous school year, the teachers had thrown the students a pool party. I’d spent most of the day with my friend Sam Lawson, and he’d introduced me to Jennifer, who was the most beautiful girl I’d seen. We’d spent the day, the three of us, playing in the pool. She was blonde haired and blue eyed, a fairly traditional type of American beauty. And after we left the pool, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I spent the bus ride home in a wistful mood (oh, if I had a dollar for every moment I spent on public transit in a wistful mood over a girl through the years), and I couldn’t wait until the school year began again so I’d get to see her. Still, there were three months between, three months to yearn and pine, three months to listen to sappy music and act like I’d lost her when I’d only ever seen her for a day.

Thus the prayer of my summer was, Please, let her be in my class. I’ll give anything. I’d lay in bed at night staring out my window. The sounds of insects came through the screen, the red and white blips of airplanes flashed by. I’d think, “A girl like that, she’d never want me.” I didn’t even know who I was talking to when I asked for this. I had no religious education owing to my mother’s rejection of it after Catholic school. And yet, I offered up this prayer, and it worked. The next year, she was in my class, but I should have been more specific, since I guess what I gave up was her. Although she sat a few rows over and I could stare at her all day, she never noticed me. She noticed Elton. We sat side-by-side, Elton and I. And she’d stopped me after class. “Could you talk to Elton for me?” she asked. And heartbroken but hoping to please, I told her I would.

Elton was a metalhead, and everything either sucked or was stupid. This was how he approached life, his worldview. I’d started listening to metal before I met him. My uncle Garret liked it, and I’d seen the video for “One” by Metallic and got …And Justice for All and Master of Puppets for Christmas or maybe my birthday. I’d even written my own song on guitar that mimicked the double kick drum rhythm Lars Ulrich used in the climax of “One.” It was one of my first efforts at songwriting or any kind of writing for that matter, derivative but invigorating. I was proud of it, but I didn’t know much about metal beyond this. I hadn’t heard their first two records, though in Elton’s opinion these were superior. Elton liked Slayer and Megadeth. I’d never heard of these bands, but my uncle was only six years older than me, and he had. He lived with my grandparents, and his cassette tape holder was in the dining room. My grandparents lived around the corner, and I went there and perused his collection.

My grandparents had a stereo unit in their dining room, one of those all in one jobs rather than the type with separate components, that included a turntable, a CD player, and a dual tape deck, and I sat there, amid my grandfathers’ knickknacks—old license plates from different states, classic glass Coca-Cola bottles—making copies. I’m managed to get my father to buy me a box of blank cassettes, the stereo unit had high speed dubbing, and I watched the wheels turn, methodically popping one tape out when it was done to insert another. I spent a great deal of time in that room, looking at liner notes and reading through the lyrics. On one wall was a bookcase filled with outdated encyclopedias I’d borrow whenever I had to do a report on something prior to 1960 (the encyclopedias didn’t even include reference to JFK), romance novels to which my grandmother was addiction, and a hardback copy of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist that I coveted (and now have). On the other side of the room was a china cabinet where my grandmother displayed her best dinnerware. The top was lined with photographs of her children, my aunts and uncles, from their high school photographs. My mother had given birth to me on the cusp of her nineteenth birthday. My grandmother—this being my dad’s mother—had had the last two of six—my uncle Garret and Aunt Desiree—in her late-thirties/early-forties, so we were close enough in age that they were more like older siblings. And like older siblings, they found me annoying but also indulged me, which was why Garret had granted me permission to dub his cassettes. The act suited me, dubbing, cataloguing, growing my own collection out of his. I was behind Elton, who knew more about metal than I did, and now I wanted to know it all, from Anthrax to Nuclear Assault to Suicidal Tendencies.

On the china closet, there was also a photograph of my dad. He must have been seventeen or eighteen. It might have been taken around the time I was born. In it, he has long wavy hair and wears a mustache, a look he’d also sport in my parents’ wedding photographs. He’d been a rocker. He’d liked Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. What had embarrassed me when I was very little, that he had long hair and other kids teased me by asking which one was my mom and which was my dad, I’d started to find cool. The year before, while cleaning out his parents’ attic, we’d found his old acoustic guitar and he gifted it to me. The action was high, the fingerboard warped, but the object contained an inherent magic. Making sound with an instrument was freeing. I could sit and play for hours on end without getting bored. I played cello in the school orchestra, but this was different. No one played a cello in a rock band. I bought a beginner’s book and taught myself to read music and play simple things like “Ode to Joy” and “Yankee Doodle.” Once I had that down, I’d wheedled an anthology of Black Sabbath sheet music out of my parents. My dad was a fan of theirs, and I’d learned to play “National Acrobat” and “Sweet Leaf” and “Iron Man.”

“I like One,” I’d told Elton not long after we first met.

“That’s the hit,” he said. “Everyone likes the hit, but it sucks. They sold out.”

Maybe they had, I conceded, even though I didn’t know what selling out was. It didn’t change the fact I liked the hits. I liked “Got the Time” by Anthrax. I liked “Peace Sells” by Megadeth. They had melodies. They weren’t just grunting over power chords and intensely technical solos that I feared I’d never be able to learn to play. Part of the problem was finger speed, but the other part was that because these solos had no melody, they were hard to remember. And still, I didn’t reveal this to Elton. I got the sense it was bad to like hits, good to like the more obscure tracks. Could I find Metallica’s Garage Days EP? Supposedly it was rare, but my uncle had it. And I liked the songs with melody there too. “Last Caress,” the Misfits cover. But no, even this wasn’t right. This was Garage Days Revisited. It wasn’t the original. Even as I absorbed my uncle’s collection, I couldn’t keep up with Elton.

At Elkins Park Middle School, Elton and I spent our lunch breaks in the library with Alan Temple, the only person Elton ever showed any deference to. Alan was smart, much smarter than Elton and smarter than me too, but dark and moody. He read Stephen King novels and HP Lovecraft and Clive Barker. I had this in common with him; at least the Stephen King part. I’d taken Cujo out of the library the summer before. I’d started to read It when the school year began. I loved his books. I’d tried Lovecraft, but he confused me. His language was too dense. I read Barker and liked him, but his fantasy worlds were opaque, confusing, untethered. I liked King because his working class reality mirrored that in which I lived. Alan would recommend books. “You should read The Stand,” he told me. “That’s his best.” Stephen King had released the uncut version early that year. Like It, the book was a tome. This made it alluring to me. I wanted to finish simply to say I’d done so. And though Elton paid lip service to reading these books, he didn’t. He was a slow reader and not a very good student, which would often be the case with my friends in years to come. He was interested in music and skateboarding and often became impatient when Alan and I talked books.

In addition to metal, Elton liked hip hop but only certain groups. Beastie Boys because they had punk credentials. Public Enemy because they did a song with Anthrax. License to Ill was among the first LPs I’d ever bought, but my parents hadn’t let me play it on their turntable. I’d had to make a cassette off the album and listen to it when they weren’t around. I told him this, but it didn’t seem to impress him. Elton was hard to keep up with. His opinions kept changing daily. I knew how to form my own. I liked what I liked, but I didn’t trust that I’d be able to defend them. Whenever I said I liked something that he didn’t like, I’d let the matter drop. There was no back and forth. I’d acquiesce. “I guess you’re right.” And I wouldn’t bring it up again. His greatest disdain was for posers, people who professed to like something but didn’t know the first thing about it. I worried he’d see me as a poser if I couldn’t argue my opinion, if I didn’t like the right things, so I kept it to myself and pretended to agree with him, which was ultimately a greater pose. I’d schooled myself with my uncle’s tapes. I could talk about music well if he weren’t always so combative. What did I think of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction? he might ask. It’s great. Sweet Child O’ Mine is awesome. No it isn’t, it sucks. Okay, it sucks. Meanwhile thinking, why are you so pissy all the time? I don’t remember laughing a lot with Elton or Alan unless it was laughing at how stupid other people were, and I didn’t find that fun. By the time sixth grade ended, Jennifer Mills had broken up with Elton, not that their relationship had amounted to much more than holding hands in the hallway, and I was exhausted. The irony of Elton’s contempt for posers was that this contempt was just as great a pretense. I couldn’t articulate it then, but I recognized it. In the interest of coming off as cool he couldn’t register anything but rage and contempt. He was constantly miserable. Hiding my opinions felt like hiding myself. It was too much work. I was done with it. I still had a crush on Jennifer Mills, but my love affair with metal was fading, and I didn’t talk to Elton over the summer. Rather I went skateboarding with kids in the neighborhood.

Elton did, however, turn me onto Headbanger’s Ball, a show that played heavy metal videos every Sunday night at midnight. I had a small TV set in my room, a hand-me-down from my grandmother with off-color grainy reception that an uncle had set up with a cable box. Although I was supposed to go to bed by ten or so, I’d pretend to sleep and stay up to watch. I heard a lot of new music there, and two months before the seventh grade started, two months after I’d laughed with Lex and Elisa and Ada in French class, I skated to the Cheltenham Mall with Jacob DeGeorges and purchased two cassettes. The first was the Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magic. “Give It Away” had been playing in heavy rotation on MTV. The song was funky and had a beat I liked. Plus they sang about sex, which I was interested in but knew little about. The other cassette was from a band I’d seen on Headbanger’s Ball the week before. The host Riki Rachtman had interviewed them. They had a new album out. The singer wore a yellow dress with a large ornate collar and had his hair dyed blue. I’d never seen a man in a dress. He was there with the band’s bassist who seemed weird even without a dress. They played their video. The album was Nevermind by Nirvana, and I was the first of my friends to have it. I played it over and over to anyone who’d listen, but mostly I listened with Lex. The day we’d laughed together in French, he decided he liked me. We’d had lunch together. We sat together on the bus ride home. Alex Hayes was interested in what I had to say. He didn’t make me feel stupid. Things didn’t suck. He listened. He liked that I made him laugh, and we laughed together all the time.

The other day when I woke, almost twenty-four years later, I lay in bed staring at my wife next to me. I thought of the night she and I had met. A mutual friend had asked me to go to a club. She’d also invited Justine. There was no instant attraction. I didn’t have an inkling of how important this woman would become to me. I thought of that night, and I laughed. “If I’d have told you that night that ten years down the line, we’d be married with two kids, you’d have laughed in my face.” The day in French class with Lex was like that. There was no portent of the effect Lex would have on my life, but no one until I met my wife would have as great an impact. If my relationship with my wife made me a man, my relationship with Lex was responsible for my becoming an writer.


Two weeks ago, I got a call from my friend Jim Lyons. That’s what got me to thinking about this, my past. I haven’t forgotten, but I don’t remember often. I’m usually facing forward, looking toward the future or living in the present. I like where I am. It’s just that back in the day, the days I’m talking about, I pictured things working out differently. Lex and I had aspired to be musicians. We’d seen this in our future, but it didn’t happen that way. We don’t even talk much anymore, Lex and I. Once every few years, we have a conversation. When Rick died we saw each other. He showed up unexpectedly when I was doing a reading for a story I published at the Bookcourt in Brooklyn. Then, he called me concerned about Jim. He worried that Jim was in trouble. Jim had lost his first nursing job when he’d made a mistake. Lex worried Jim was depressed, lonely, turning to drugs. He asked me to give Jim a call. But Lex didn’t need to worry. Whatever was going on was temporary. Jim has righted himself. He’s found another job, one he likes, and he’s getting married, which is why he called. He wanted to let me know the invitations are coming, wanted to give me the date so I could plan ahead, plan on being there.

Jim is the only friend from the circle Lex and I ran in as kids that I still talk to on a regular basis. And the truth was, when Lex called after Jim had lost his job, I was worried about him too. Over the years, Jim has struggled to find himself, trying out all sorts of ideas in conversation if not in actuality. Should I join the army, he asked me once. I’m thinking of joining the army. And then it was, I might move to Alaska. All of which, I met with, “Well, maybe, but have you considered this…” This being that he might get killed in combat. Or that he’d fall off that fishing boat he planned to work on in Alaska and drown. Which was a different tack than Lex would take, “No, that’s a bad idea, you shouldn’t do that and here are the reasons why.” Through the years this has remained a difference in our approach. Mine suggestive, his proscriptive. Lex was the older brother who knew better. I was the one who gave Jim the benefit of the doubt, but both Lex and I thought these were bad ideas.

In their early twenties, Lex and Jim had moved to New York with dreams of becoming artists, painters. They had wanted me to come too, but I was just getting through a period of depression and severe anxiety attacks. I worried a move to New York, a city with that much energy and high intensity, would throw me right back into it. I was hoping to become a writer anyway, so I could do it anywhere, and I chose to move to Philadelphia instead. It was this, in part, that led to the break in our friendship—Lex’s and mine. There were reasons beyond this, of course. It started earlier. There was some resentment on my part that Lex had written me off during my depression. He’d made comments to Jim, that I’d never get out of my parents’ house, that I’d live with them my whole life. He didn’t think I’d get past it, and when I did, he invited me to New York with them and didn’t like it that I said no.

“But we’re artists,” he argued. “We need to be where the art is, the energy, the inspiration.”

“You do,” I said. “You’re both painters and New York’s where the art world is. I get that. You need to be there. But I don’t. I can write wherever I have a notebook and a pen.”

To think of this makes me wince at our pretentiousness, but these are the types of conversations we had back then. I picture us having this argument again after the move was made and he’d returned to visit, Jim trailing along behind us as we walked over the bridge on Walnut Street. It was nighttime. The Schuylkill river was below us, the lights of 30th Street Station lighting the sky to our right. The headlights of cars rushed past on their way to West Philly where I shared an apartment with two women. We spoke as if it weren’t a done deal, as if we weren’t set in our ways, as if somehow the conversation would change one more time through.

To Lex, Philadelphia was provincial, too small. Or at least, it seemed that way to me, like he held it in contempt. But I think it was more than that. Lex had made mistakes in the past, mistakes that were inextricably linked to the Philly suburb in which we’d grown up, and he wanted to move forward, escape all that. He wanted to reinvent himself, which meant leaving and distancing himself from the possibility of running into anyone who’d known him in school, anyone who could remind him of things he preferred to forget. If I came to New York, I could be part of the reinvention, continue on in his life. If I didn’t, I was part of the past, though I didn’t recognize that this was what was happening. I only recognized his disdain for Philly. The few times he returned to visit, I became combative, trying to validate my decision to stay. I took him to parties, introduced him to the new friends I’d made. “See,” I was saying, “I made the right decision. I have friends, a life beyond our former social circle.” I took every opportunity to remind him of his past. I’d bring up embarrassing situations with his old girlfriends, events from high school, as if to say, you might think you can move on but you can’t. You can move to a different city, but you’ll always be the boy I knew. Now that I’m older, I’d be more sensitive. I’d recognize that it was necessary for his health to move away. In order to live any kind of contented life, he’d had to leave. These days I’d let it go. I’d acknowledge he’d made his decision and I’d made mine and accept it. But back then I was terrified. For ten years, since we’d met that day in French, I’d received validation in his eyes. When I succeeded, I wanted to share it with him, when I failed I tried hiding it. His were the eyes through which I judged myself. And I felt the New York him pulling away, rejecting me.

“The wedding’s the first Sunday in August,” Jim told me.

“Okay, I’ll save the date.”

“By the way, I had lunch with Lex and Sandra last week,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” I concealed the note of curiosity in my voice as best I could. “How was that?”

I said this as if it didn’t interest me. I did this whenever Lex came up, with varying degrees of success. And yet, I couldn’t deny I was always interested. I could refrain from asking about him, but if Jim mentioned him, I couldn’t resist asking him for details. I wondered if it would always be this way, if I ever wouldn’t care or would always just pretend I didn’t.

“Is he doing well?”

The New York/Philly contest wasn’t the first competition we’d engaged in. I looked up to Lex, and indeed, judged my worth for a long time against his opinions. But this didn’t mean I was wholly deferential. I retained a sense of self, and the competition between us in all things was fierce. Our first baseball game together, we played on the same team. I batted third and he was cleanup. I hit a triple, and he hit a home run. My next at bat I hit another triple, and he struck out trying to swing for the fences, and I was happy his performance hadn’t eclipsed mine. Two triples measured up pretty well against one home run. This never stopped. When I wrote a good song, he had to write one that was better. We played one-on-one basketball like we were engaged in gladiator battles, throwing elbows, knocking each other down. On multiple occasions, there had been shouting matches, and once we’d even come to blows. Jim and Lex had encountered their own problems with one another over the years, but they still saw each other more often than Lex and I did. They were competitive, but the roots of their competition didn’t stretch as far back. They’d never been in a band with each other either. Working together creatively had heightened our tension. There was no clear edge when it came to musicianship, song craft. This had made us push one another. It made us fight harder.

“They’re good,” Jim said. “They just bought a place upstate. They travel more than anyone I know.”

“Is he going to be at the wedding?” I asked.

Just as I didn’t ask about him, I didn’t seek him out. With two kids, I didn’t seek out a lot of old friends, and Lex lived in another state. But I looked forward to seeing him. I was pleased to hear he’d be there. I’m not sure how or when it happened, but the animosity created during the rift had faded away. We hadn’t become close again, but we had put it behind us. And whenever we did see each other, we slid easily back into old roles, conversation. Yet, I couldn’t help thinking, how do I measure up? Am I doing well? It was funny that these questions, which I otherwise wouldn’t ask, would come to mind. As if I couldn’t escape being twelve and wanting to impress him. Have I aged well? I’d stand in front of the mirror looking at my face, the lines etched there. You’re being ridiculous, I’d think. But I couldn’t help myself. We’d expected so much of each other, and both of us had veered from the path we’d planned on taking. Most people do though, right? Not everyone conquers the world.

After I got off the phone with Jim, I thought about this for a while. Why didn’t I ever write about it? Was it simply because I didn’t think about it that often? It was true that since I always feared becoming one of those people who live in the past and believe their best days are behind them, I’d gone the opposite direction. I put the past behind me and hoped the best days were yet to come. And yet, this time in my life, the time with Lex, was important. It was fundamental to who I became. Yet, how had it happened? I remembered a lot of what happened in my youth, but not the order in which it happened. Could I do it? Could I write about this time in my life? Should I do it? I was still living in the suburb where I’d grown up again. When my wife and I decided to have kids we’d moved here to be close to my family, to have help raising them, so that our kids would have a close relationship with their grandparents. To this end, Lex’s prediction that I wouldn’t leave had proven correct, and yet, escape was never important for my development. Still, beyond the occasional run, I didn’t go out in the neighborhood. I didn’t visit our old haunts. I didn’t hang out in front of 7-Eleven. I didn’t spend my days at the basketball courts at Renninger Park. At most the summer coming on made me remember baseball, little league and high school. But even these were vague.

I grabbed my phone and sent a text message to my mom.

“I don’t suppose you still have my report cards?”

“I do.”

“I’d like to borrow them for a writing project.”

“Do you want all of your report cards?”

“Seventh through twelfth.”

If I was going to reconstruct a chronology, I figured I’d begin there. What classes I had what year. Try to remember who was in them. Jot notes and memories around those classes. Trace the course of our friendship through that. It was where I’d begin. I didn’t want to lie or create a false narrative sequence. I knew that some memories were lost for good. I knew others I’d embellished so often in retelling them that the truth of what had happened was lost to me. But there were others I hadn’t accessed in a long time. Would it yield anything, going back there? And how would I deal with stories that were ancillary to mine but still important? Were these my stories to tell? The idea hit me that I would do it live, draft it up real time, post it on my site, invite comments from the people who were there if they cared to comment. I wasn’t sure that they would. But if they chose to, it might lead to a more interesting narrative. I kicked it around for a few days, and before I began I called Jim back. I explained what I planned to do.

“You think I should call Lex? Tell him?”

“No,” he said. “It’s your story to tell. Tell it however you want.”



on June 2, 2016, 11:49 am

Nice! Looking forward to more!



on June 2, 2016, 1:00 pm

Good stuff my man!!!!



on June 3, 2016, 1:39 am

Superb. Even though I’m not one of the characters, I have a feeling of who 2 of them are and I was instantly transported back in time feeling things I hadn’t felt in quite a while. I left Glenside against my wishes (parents decided to move) but looking back on it now, it was the universe giving me a chance to reinvent myself – a chance to find the real me. Now I can say I love who I have become and through all the hardships in life, the awkward stages, and the trying to identify with a group to feel “normal,” I guess I can say it was worth it to get to where I am now…I guess we can all say that to some extent. Thank you for this wonderful piece of nostalgia and I look forward to reading more.



on June 3, 2016, 8:03 am

Thanks, Ryan. I was actually thinking about you while writing it because we did spend a lot of time together in Cedarbrook. My clearest memory with you was trying out for the baseball team and not making the cut. Like many things in that school part of it was that I didn’t put in the effort to show any skill. Reviewing some of the report cards I received back then, I was surprised that my grades weren’t as good as I remembered. I mentioned this to my mom in passing and she said, “Your teachers back then always said you were bright but didn’t try very hard.” Now that I think back, I didn’t really pay much attention to grades until they handed us a card in homeroom in 10th grade giving us our class rank. I said, “What’s this?” They told me, “Your class rank.” I thought, “This is a competition?” And from that point on, I applied myself. In any case, what are your memories from Cedarbrook? Would you care to share any? Do you remember us going out for the baseball team?



on June 3, 2016, 9:56 am

I do remember going out for the 7th grade baseball team and being cut as well, although it’s more of a repressed memory. I identified most with the jocks, still do today, but back then I was very insecure and never believed in myself. That “No” set me back a while. I stood outside the 8th grade tryout registration room afraid to go inside thinking – what if everyone laughs at me for trying again, which was stupid bc I had made the 14 year old travel team as a 12 year old. My fear of failure got to me and I never went in. I actually ended up playing college baseball with many of those same guys (although it was a short time and my skills had diminished by then): Kyle Perry (he actually went pro – independent minor league – his uncle played in the majors), Carlos Gonzalez, Mark Suddell, and a few others that I can’t recall at this time…

My most vivid memories of Cedarbrook are the bus rides with you, Zak, and Emily. We made fun of Emily for dating Paul, which only lasted a day after Zak told her he didn’t shower whether that was true or not. I certainly spent too much of those years pining over Emily, who was clearly out of my league as I was a chubby pre-adolescent with braces and no self-esteem. Even though Zak and she developed a relationship, I always appreciated the way you and Zak stood up for me when it came to how I felt. Of course it was just young lust anyway but she was probably the first girl I had ever had those type of feelings for. I remember listening to The Cure albums in her basement, Zak breaking his nose with his skateboard, and you walking the streets with a Stephen King novel almost always in hand. Perhaps 2 of the most vivid memories I have from that time are you, Zak, and I at the 8th grade dance – you betting me a dollar that I wouldn’t ask Emily for a dance – I did, she said no (lol figures), and you didn’t believe me when I came back so I never got my dollar haha. Brian Adams’ song, “Everything you do” still makes me cringe to this day and I used to love that song. Kris Kross, “Jump” came on immediately after that though and for a moment, the pain was gone. The other is you selling me an EMF tape on the corner of Paxson And Glenside Ave for $5 by the pay phone as we listened to it on a boom box. Not sure who was with us but whenever I hear their hit song I smile and think of the neighborhood and all the great memories.

Cedarbrook was an interesting place. Lots of great things happened to me there but bc of my insecure/negative personality at the time, I failed to recognize the positives til years later. One of the positives was Spanish class. It was the first time that I understood things clearly and was above my classmates with A+ grades. I was too good however and easily bored due to the simplicity of it. I eventually got in trouble for interrupting class with jokes to escape the boredom but those jokes gave me a new sense of purpose. Like you mentioned in your writing – people accepted me more when I was funny and when I got in trouble for it in class – that seemingly gave me more street cred.

Funny how Elkins Park and Cedarbrook were only a grade off but they feel like 2 different worlds for me. It’s most likely due to the developmental age, if you will, as Elkins Park was middle school and still just for kids, but Cedarbrook was the big leagues – junior high – the beginning of adulthood. I could feel the pressure of that for sure.

As I said previously, my move gave me an opportunity to reinvent myself but that really didn’t come until college when I truly began to feel confident. Ironically I attended Temple as well and I swear I saw you in 2001 or 2002 (my junior/senior year). I was boarding a bus and I thought, “Is that Jason Jones?! It couldn’t be, could it?” And the bus pulled away before I could confirm it.



on June 3, 2016, 12:35 pm

Wait! Are you talking about me? I mean me, Emily? Whoah. My memories of this time are limited and colored by terribly low-self esteem, insecurity and anxiety. But I do have a few I can share. Jason, I’ve been lurkingly enjoying your post for some time now-so this is really fascinating/interesting to me both as a friend and writer. Do you want our memories/reactions/thoughts to be a kind of public discourse or can I PM you and Ryan etc?



on June 3, 2016, 12:51 pm

If you feel like sharing publicly in the comments, go for it and post memories here. If you’d like to message privately, I’m always up for that too. Feel free to indulge in both if you’d like. Quite honestly, my memory gets jogged as the words come out on the page, and if you want to talk, it might help with accessing other memories.

I hadn’t actually considered that although I changed the names in my text to protect people’s identities, as soon as I opened for comments, real names would come to the fore. Ultimately because memory is fallible, I was hoping that if people involved wanted to comment that might offer alternative perspectives to mine. And I’m pleased that people are actually interested (my biggest fear was people seeing my post and saying to themselves, “Now why would he think I’d be interested in that?”).

By and large I’m not setting out to embarrass anyone (I suppose in certain cases it’s unavoidable given how I talk about “Elton Danvers” above, but then, we were in sixth grade and this should bear no reflection on who he’s become since). Still, I don’t particularly mind that in doing this live I may also have to dance around certain events or leave things out to that might actually cause other chagrin. I don’t see that as inhibiting necessarily, but as forcing me to be more creative.

The era I’m discussing, I believe we were all insecure. Some people hid it better. But these years of our lives were often responsible for the people we later became, and overall, that’s what I’m interested in exploring here. Honestly, I’d love to hear from you either way.


on June 3, 2016, 1:07 pm

I probably should have kept the names in your story rather than using real names so I do apologize Emily. But yes, the Emily I was referring to was you – if you are the former Emily Cohen (assuming you are married now hence the different last name). As Jason said we were all so insecure back then and hid it in our own way. I don’t reflect negatively on the past in general or specifically with regards to my interactions with you. I hope I didn’t offend or make you feel bad. The memories I mentioned just came back as I read Jason’s post and I was immediately transported back in time. For whatever reason those memories were the first to emerge. You can certainly PM me if need be. Hope all is well with you and yours 🙂


on June 3, 2016, 1:26 pm

Great point about not wanting to embarrass anyone and I agree anyone’s memories should be no reflection on how that person is today. I know I was probably one of the assholes who picked on you as a youngster and we later became friends and now I admire you and your work. As far as I’m concerned if you write the truth, as you remember it, it is most likely pretty accurate. I’m sure those reading your words have matured enough over time to not be upset with any experiences you put down on paper. On a side note, I cannot tell you how excited I am for your next entry in this series. I don’t often, but when I do reflect on the past, I often wonder what others thought or experienced differently than me in the same situation. Very interesting and speaks to the psychology of humans.


on June 3, 2016, 9:29 am

Wow, great job, Jay. You took me right back to that summer when we all hung on Paxson.



on June 4, 2016, 2:03 am


I once asked one of my creative writing mentors from grad school (who had success publishing memoir and personal essays) how she dealt with the issue of writing about intimate relationships from her past—particularly very tricky ones. I’ve thought quite a bit about authors such as Augusten Burroughs and James Fray and the problematic nature of memory. I’ve struggled with it in my own writing because like you, I fear the “false narrative” or the weight of the story that I consciously or unconsciously want to be true. I even make it a point to discuss these issues with my own composition students (college freshmen).

My mentor looked up in thought for only an instant, “I write what I want and apologize later.”

What I really I love about what you are doing here is how you are confronting your retelling of the past, and all the nuances that go with it in real time. I am excited to read more.

All of that being said, I will say that I do not trust my own memory of the past for many reasons. Those reasons are the story I should be telling, I guess. But anyway, I need to preface my CB memories by admitting (like others) that EP was not a positive experience for me. Besides lovely relationships with Faith and Abby, I remember being made fun of relentlessly by several boys and several “popular” girls for what seemed like those entire two years (but was likely a very short time). I had terrible anxiety, and felt I didn’t fit in anywhere. I would have never described myself as desirable or attractive. I too was plagued by crushes that were never manifested or acknowledged. Although, I do think those emotional aches really benefitted me in the long run.

So a snippet that came up when I read your work:
I too remember bits and pieces of French class. I am pretty sure I shared a later period of French with Zack and ended up having to switch into another class because our teachers felt “Zack and I were a distraction to one another”. Which we were. After I switched classes, I remember taping folded notes under desks, and writing tiny coded messages on the chalk board for him to find later. I think a few friends even helped with that. One of those notes was even apprehended at some point. We both got in a good amount of trouble for it, and our parents were called.

I have no recollection of the dance, or going out with Paul for a day like Ryan mentioned. I will say I had a great deal of fear that people would pretend to ask me out (or ask me to dance) as a way to make fun me. So I can see myself refusing out of paranoia. Those fears plagued me and were carry over from EP.

I do remember riding the bus in vague montage-type memories. Morseso in highschool than CB.

I do remember discovering music on my own and with other’s fondly. Ryan’s memory of listening to The Cure makes me happy. I love your description of your journey with music in this chapter. I was never a metal-fan, but I do remember making mix tapes with and for Zack (he introduced me to a good amount of music). I’ve even kept some mix tapes from that time to this day. I have tapes with hand-written set lists and sweet notes that Faith, Lauren and Robin and others made me made me that I still treasure.

This isn’t related to this particular chapter, but I also remember refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag at CB and having to sit in the hallway during homeroom. I’d be curious if anyone else remembers that.

I will PM you some other thoughts. And I will add more to this comment section if/when things that seem appropriate pop-up for me. I will say I always remember you specifically–very fondly.

In many ways, I feel the person I am today is most strongly shaped by some major personal growth I had in my early twenties. Somewhere near the end of 8th grade, I really checked out. I discovered drugs, alcohol, and co-dependence and went in a pretty dark direction with a slow decline. I was very lucky to be able to find myself (or redefine myself) in my early twenties and become who I am now.


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