Burning Photographs

I got glasses and braces at virtually the same time: just a few days into my first year at Conestoga High School.

The glasses were big ole’ tortoise shell horn rimmed things. They were big. Like, each lens was as wide as a pint glass. I loved ’em. I wore ’em all through high school. Looking back at photographs, though, well, they were pretty unfortunate.

The braces were even more so. My broken jaw notwithstanding, I’d had years of orthodontia by high school: pulled teeth, retainers, the works. So I’m new at this big high school, and I’ve got two silver braces on my two front teeth and a wire spanning the gap of missing teeth on either side. I didn’t smile much, and when I laughed, I covered my mouth.

Most of my memories from high school itself take place in the cafeteria. And in every scene that plays in my mind, I’m at a different table with different people. And in none of ’em am I really comfortable. And none of ’em do I really feel at home.

A former colleague of mine from my brief time at Rolling Stone wrote a profile on Eddy Vedder years and years ago for which Eddy refused to do an interview. The piece basically torpedoed Eddy’s claims that he was a high school oddball, misfit, and castaway. Instead, through interviews with friends, the piece suggested that Eddy was popular, involved in student council, musical theater, bands, the works. The piece called his shoe gazing an act.

If anyone cared to ask someone other than me whether I was well-adjusted, involved, and/or popular in high school, I’m sure the answer would border on the affirmative. I’m sure no one would remember the ridiculous glasses, the awful braces, or my attempts to conceal it all with my hands. And yet, looking back — even still, today — I don’t feel well-adjusted, involved, and/or popular. That’s not what my life looks like from behind these contact lenses and dental implants.

So … which is it?

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