It was Sarah Means who brought it to Jeannie’s attention that she was going to be all over that year’s Prism. Sarah didn’t tell her directly, because Sarah no longer talked to Jeannie, but she’d heard Sarah and her friends complaining that the yearbook was going to suck this year because it was already February and the nerds with the cameras hadn’t come to any of the cool events. Sarah said she hadn’t had her picture taken all year, other than group shots of the cheerleaders. This was a surprise to Jeannie, who had already smiled a few dozen times for Marcus Healey, one of the yearbook photographers. Up to then, she thought he was taking pictures of everyone.
Jeannie didn’t want to be in the Prism. She knew the lifespan of a yearbook. She often heard her parents talking about so-and-so from high school, and it usually wasn’t long before the yearbook would come off the shelf to prove one or the other’s point. “See? I knew he played basketball,” or “she’s definitely got a different nose now.” As her parents’ memory weakened, their yearbook gained power. They mistakenly thought the book became more truthful every year, forgetting that it was actually a lie from the moment it was handed to them in their high school cafeteria 30 years ago.
It was a lie because of the bias. Sure, some faculty adviser urged the yearbook staffers to be inclusive, to make sure to get everyone, but the photographers were only human. It was easy to point at a crowd of kids and shift just a few degrees to crop out the asshole who liked to flip books out of people’s hands, or to hold off on hitting the shutter until the gossip girl was stuffing a hot dog in her mouth. It was easy to claim they were just random pictures of a big crowd, as Marcus Healey surely would, and there was no way to prove otherwise.
She knew what would happen. In 30 years, her classmates won’t remember that the yearbook photographer adored her. They’ll flip through the book and see Jeannie everywhere and think she was a popular girl, which she used to be. Something won’t quite jibe with their recollections, but by then, they’ll trust their yearbook more than their memory. They’ll see her sitting in the bleachers with all of the other kids and won’t remember they’d spread awful rumors about her a month after the photo was taken. Was she was the drunken girl who took turns with three football players at that keg party at the lake? They won’t feel certain, even though they’re certain now. They’ll have forgotten that she stopped going to dances because boys would grope her as she passed and ask when it would be their turn, then laugh to each other as she ran off. They’ll have forgotten that someone wrote slut on her locker. Even Lance Hardy won’t remember he wrote it. Nothing they see will match their memory, so they’ll change their memories to match what they see.
Jeannie wondered if Marcus was trying to do her a favor. Maybe he understood the enduring power of the Prism, and he’d conceived a long-term plan to clean up her future reputation, something she’d been unable to do herself this year. She’d told at least thirty people that she never went to that keg party, that Lance made up the story because he tried, very hard, to kiss her at a different party and she’d kneed him in the balls. Two weeks after she did, she was the biggest slut in the school, and had been ever since. Maybe Marcus heard her version and believed it. Or maybe he just liked taking pictures of her.
Either way, Jeannie wasn’t interested in changing how the future versions of her classmates viewed her. She didn’t want to absolve these assholes of their sins by making the lie fade into obscurity. She hated everyone who hid the word whore in their coughs as they passed. She hated everyone who worshiped at the altar of Lance, happy to spread the lie to get into his good graces. She didn’t want anyone else to forget because she would never have that luxury herself. She wanted Sarah Means to feel a twinge of shame every time she opened that book, and that wasn’t going to happen if Jeannie looked like just one of the gang.
Marcus looked nervous when Jeannie flopped into the seat next to him in Wilson’s chemistry class. She usually sat in the back so people couldn’t talk behind her back. Before the class began, Jeannie asked Marcus if he would meet her after school, and could he bring his camera. They agreed on a spot and a time, then turned to the front and started learning about volatile compounds. Marcus would discover later that the notes he took that day were absolutely no help when he was studying for the test. He spent most of the class worried she would talk to him again.
They met near the math department at 3:15, the hallway already deserted. Jeannie thanked him asked if he would take a particular picture for the yearbook. Of course he would. He nervously took off the lens cap, dropping it twice, then adjusted the f-stop to get a good exposure for an indoor shot. When he said he was ready, she unfurled a piece paper she’d been holding in her hands and held it in front of her. She didn’t smile for this photo.
Marcus lowered the camera. “I…..I can’t, Jeannie.” Written across the paper in large, black letters was the word slut.
“Sure you can. It’s the little button on the top.”
Marcus shook his head. “I’m sorry. I really can’t.”
“Please, Marcus? I want people to remember.”
His head never stopped shaking. “Ms. Fleming gets all the editorial say anyway. She’d never let it in. But…it’s not just her. I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Jeannie hadn’t thought about Ms. Fleming. She rolled the paper back into a tube, radiating disappointment. “I never did any of the stuff they say, Marcus.”
“I never thought you did.” He knew in the movie version, he’d walk to her and give her a hug, but he was paralyzed in place. “It isn’t what I’ll remember about you.”
Jeannie smiled, just a little. “Thanks Marcus.”
She walked off toward her locker. Marcus still couldn’t move.
© 2016 WPReagan. This is one story in the 2016 series, Everyday Stories: 30 Tales in 30 Days Inspired by 30 Stranger’s Photographs.