What sticks to our minds really is a curious thing. What is a throwaway line to one of us may be something the other person remembers thirty years later, for one reason or another.
This morning I posted a photo of the Finnish language exam we had in our high school finals. Basically, it’s a list of 14 topics we could choose to write an essay about. I don’t remember what I wrote about, although I could make an educated guess, knowing the frame of mind of the teenage me.
The topics ranged from literary analysis to why sports matters to rise and fall of an empire to what makes me me.
I know my Finnish teacher used to like my musings on life so I’m pretty sure I wrote about what makes me me, but it may not have been my best work, and since we wrote two essays, my official submission may have been something completely different and come from the second set of topics.
Anyway, I posted the photo in our school’s group, and a friend of mine said he’d written his essay about “a singer with a message” and that he had chosen to write about John Mellencamp.
Nothing unusual about that, but he also said that I had told him afterwards that he should’ve written it about Bruce Springsteen. I don’t remember that at all, so obviously, his choice of Mellencamp wasn’t a big enough shock to leave an imprint on my brain. I’ve never read his piece, and I still think the 18-year-old me was right, he should’ve written about Springsteen. Simply because he was my musical guru and knew (knows) everything about the Boss.
That winter and spring must have been a stressful time because first I studied for the finals a good six weeks, and right after that, I started to study for the business school entrance exams – but I don’t remember the stress anymore.
I guess I had high hopes and was looking forward to better days. I had reason to believe I’d do well because people were telling me I’d ace the finals, but I knew that sometimes you’re your own worst enemy.
I had studied every single peace treaty Finland had been a part of and the nation’s borders throughout the years, intending to focus on the questions on history, but ended up answering to questions on geology and biology and something else. The Swedish test went fine, and I remember I brought a lot of chocolate to that one. English I didn’t even worry about too much.
The biggest challenge was the math exam, and it was also the hardest one to prepare for, I thought. I was ready to sit in the gym for the full six hours, I was in it for the long haul, so I brought even more chocolate with me to the math exam.
My seat was way back on the left in the gymnasium, and as soon we were told to turn over the papers, I went through all ten questions. They were in a ascending order of difficulty so that the first one was supposed to be the easiest, and the tenth one the hardest.
A quick glance told me that at the very least, I was in the right ballpark. I knew that I could solve the problems, or that we had gone over similar ones in classroom, and that I could at least score a couple of points (out of six) off most of them.
The next five hours is a blur, probably because the first problem was shockingly difficult but I also remember how happy I was when I figured out how to solve number ten. And then I ate my chocolate, and went through everything again, making sure I hadn’t made any silly mistakes.
We had started at nine, and I was exhausted. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was ten past two. There was nothing more I could do, so I put down my pen and pencil, stacked up the papers and got up to leave them on the teacher’s desk in the front.
As I got up, I tried to find how my buddy on the other side of the gym was doing. He sat way in the back as well. I looked back and raised my eyebrows as one does to send that silent question across a big room, and my buddy – having heard my getting up and leaving – looked up, ran his hand through his hair, and the slowly shook his head. Then he turned his attention back to his paper and just stared at it.
That’s an image I will never forget. And it’s all mine.