Although I’m not actually in this photograph, there’s something about it I just love. It’s a bunch of kids I attended Mahopac High School with waiting outside a house before our junior prom.

High school was/is a very funny time for me. I wasn’t especially popular (Three words: Chieftain sports editor), my pants were always too short (“Hey Pearl, where’s the flood?”), I never (literally, never) kissed a girl and most of my free time seemed to be spent alongside my closest pal, a kid named Jon Powell. I was a gawky, awkward geek who possessed little self-confidence and who, quite often, just wanted to disappear.

And yet here I am, 18 years later, obsessed with my high school days. Facebook has fed this addiction, whereas I spend waaaaay too much time tracking down the ToniAnn Bleeckers and John Booths of my yesteryear. I’ve given this much thought, and I believe the overwhelming factor is a pure longing for innocence. I miss not having a mortgage; not worrying about car payments; not having a book deadline. Would I go back? Absolutely not. But there’s something wonderful about the schoolboy crushes (though eternally unfulfilled) and track meets vs. Brewster. I miss selling cookies in the Jefferson Valley Mall, wondering whether Jen Perotta will be working in Service Merchandise that night. I miss watching Ray Mahoskey bowl over Carmel’s defensive line and caring—truly caring—whether we win. I miss the Volunteer Fire Dept. Fair; Scott Choy’s from-the-chest jumper in MSA basketball; Billy Phillips and Louie Hanner slinging yang in science class. Back in the hallways of MHS, I wasn’t “Jeff” or “Pearlman,” but simply, “Pearl.” I dug that—made me sound athletic, even without the, ahem, athleticism. I miss cross country practices, when Jeff Cascone would put us all to shame. I miss the big hair and cheesy music (our prom song was by the legendary band, “Ranger”) and endless stream of ITALIAN PRIDE T-shirts

Or maybe I just miss being young.

High school is hell. I recall that vividly—worried to death whether the low-cut Ponys I bought for the first day back were cool or pathetic. It’s a constant battle with insecurity, and usually the insecurity wins. Kids are mean, unsentimental, patronizing, hurtful. But, at the same time, the possibilities seem myriad and endless. I still recall everyone finding out where they would be going to college—Albany, Lehigh, Delaware, Westchester Community, Duke. Wherever. It was this big contest for future bragging rights, as if a strong SAT score and glistening acceptance letter guaranteed success.

So now, here we are, mid-30s, turning the corner toward wrinkles, fat, baldness, divorce, illness. Many of us have had very difficult lives. Others have glided along. There’s no rhyme or reason; no easy-to-figure patterns. We just exist—damned to look back and wonder, “Is this how I was meant to turn out?”