This Is the Message Nobody Asked For

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I will start by saying I received two disciplinary warnings in junior high.

The first one was for the unthinkable offense of chewing gum during sixth grade gym class. If there was a system I was invited to fight, I would still be fighting. If professional baseball players have done it for decades at bat, I should’ve been able to do it for twenty three minutes of outfield confusion.

The second disciplinary warning I received was for passing a note during my seventh grade Communications class.

The irony is not lost on me.

The note didn’t even make it halfway across the room before it was swiftly swiped by my teacher and read aloud to the class, a certain twinkle in her eye dimming when she realized there was very little gossip involved. I was not passing notes to seek romance or set a cool girl on fire; I was passing notes to ask my classmates to vote for Clay Aiken in the American Idol finale.

Don’t forget! Please keep showing up!

I had developed a campaign strategy by the time I was asked to keep my pop politics to myself. I’d made a list of everyone I knew who had their own cell phone and I sent handwritten reminders often, folded up in swans and footballs, essentially begging them to use their ten allotted text messages a day to practice their American duty. I hosted a season finale party. My mom made lemon chicken. Some of the attendees held pinkies and fell in love in the span of a single hour of unsupervised viewership. A handful admitted they’d forgotten to vote.

Clay Aiken did not win American Idol, not that I’m still bitter or anything. A win would’ve likely lessened the blow of the disciplinary report, but, in many ways, the loss makes the fickle art of note passing — sending messages nobody asked for — all the more perfect. It’s a rare moment in my adulthood that I get to practice that kind of misguided confidence.

I’ve wondered where that confidence has gone this year for junior high kids. I have to believe that even in an age of smart phones, kids still pass notes and relish the sweet breeze of easily destroyable evidence. How else do they ask a girl they’ve never spoken to out? How else do they show off their elevated bubble lettering? How else do they silently announce to everyone around them that they do, in fact, have a friend close enough to receive a message that could’ve easily waited until passing period or the end of time? The art of the note has never been rooted in necessity; the art of the note is rooted in the absolute charm of just how unnecessary it is.

Perhaps I’ve answered my own question about notes in the middle of a pandemic that strictly forbids hand-to-hand transfer of any kind. This is likely the worst year for note passing, and, in turn, one would think for unnecessary communication — but we’ve achieved something extraordinary by dividing the two. Yes, our paper remains in our planners and spirals and scrap bins, but this is the year of unnecessary communication.

I assumed it would taper off early on, but by July, a goat virtually attended three of my work meetings.

“It’s a goat!” our leaders would say, highlighting secret surprise with a phantom curser in our tactical agendas. “I know we are busy, but look, it’s a goat!” It was, in fact, a goat, all three times, and I, like my colleagues, was very pleased, all three times.

“What’s your name?” we’d all shout and the goat would, in fact, not answer. The farmhand at this point in all three calls would interrupt with a tender quip about the goat not having anything necessary to say.

“She just wanted to stop by and show off her new haircut!”

“He just wanted to stop by on his way to his grain bin!”

We would applaud. The goat would goat. Then we’d go our separate ways, some to grain bins, others to slide decks, and never again would we discuss or explain or rationalize what had happened. We’d just do it, for anyone who needed it, us included.

The same can be said of long phone calls about yeast complexities we’ve all recently taken, with old friends we’d forgotten we were even friends with, people we’d suddenly remembered to love, people we were guilty to lose sight of, people we now watch chess dramas and tiger sagas and virtual jellyfish livestreams with, describing colors we can both see and name on our own, together.

The same can be said of my silent landlord who has taken on a self-assigned hobby of hanging care packages on our doorknobs in slim plastic bags once used to spread the news. One week, four boiled eggs. Another, a sardine can and a pack of Lifesavers.

The same can be said of TikTok teens, bedazzling earrings and deconstructing slime and dancing in a style that I can only describe as reverse sign language, uploading premium content for nobody in particular except for themselves. And a few million strangers. And a nosebleed section of confused adults.

The same can be said of first responders, of teachers, of store managers, relaying their experiences over livestream from the center of cacophonies of pots and pans and cowbells, reading aloud to silent walls of static headshots, stenciling whiteboards of what remains in aisle six.

The same can be said of anyone, anywhere that has spent this year trying to find their way through a wordless chorus to offer meaning or comfort or companionship or “just stopping by to _____.” We have all burrowed our ways into each others lives by ripping out a page or two and scribbling something we hope somebody hears and feels and shares with the next in line.

Nobody asked for this message. In some ways, I’m still waiting to be reprimanded for just how unnecessary it is — but if not now, when, and if not for nobody and everybody, who? Consider this a note to pass, to say, for the thousandth time this year: don’t forget, please keep showing up.

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Writer, Reader, Animorph

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