High school makes me laugh and shudder.

Lately I’ve become convinced that one’s life can be separated into wholly distinct segments, much like a DVD is divided into chapters. There are tons of vivid, action-packed sections of life, each a pivotal part of your plot line until preempted by the next big event.

I feel this way when I drive past my college campus every so often. I’m aware that I spent a solid four years there, full of chaos, learning and relationships, but I can’t actually place myself there among the classrooms and dorms. Instead I feel like I’m passing through a movie set of memories where things simultaneously seem eerily familiar and slightly artificial. It’s the same feeling I get looking at pictures of myself as an infant; I don’t remember the clothes I’m wearing or whatever I’m doing in the photos, but I know these things happened.

Tonight my best friend and I spent the better part of two hours reading aloud notes we’d written each other spanning from middle school through college. I found a 15-page document she gave me after an apparent heartbreak, full of advice, song lyrics and inspiring quotes, but I can’t for the life of me remember who caused me such grief. I was in a place so emotional that it warranted a 15-page typed correspondence from my best friend, yet I can’t remember why. It’s maddeningly hysterical. She read emails (AOL, of course) from boys we haven’t heard from in 15 years. Things that once really mattered are nothing but confusing memories.

Lately we’ve been sorting through notes chronicling some serious stuff we experienced during high school for a project she’s working on, only to realize things about ourselves and these events that never dawned on us before.

“Yeah, he really was a huge asshole.”

“I idolized her. I had no idea she was jealous of me.”

There’s also the great aspect of high school notes and year book descriptions of the honorary-yet-emotionally-fueled commitments. What if we were to redeem these offers in present-day, knocking on the doors of former classmates, demanding the offer was still valid?

“Hey, it’s Jess. Yeah, I know it’s been more than a decade since we spoke, but see–right here in this note from 1999–you said you’d always be there for me, and right now I could really use you.”

I shudder. I mean, I enjoy the option of occasionally sorting back through past chapters, reminiscing about what the most important things were at different stages, but it’s also a relief to be able to return to the present. It’s refreshing to know that no matter how intense these epochs appear to have been, we got through them. We persevered. And we made more good decisions than we thought.

No one should have to relive high school, but a periodic visit is a trip.