Originally Published: September 4, 2003
On my bare feet, the cold, delightfully illicit feel of concrete . It is red concrete, with hairline cracks and years of waxy build-up. My skirt is long enough to hide my bare feet if I walk with a certain flick of my toes, which I am careful to do.
In the air, the greasy, beefy jet stream from the cafeteria, the muffled clatter of stainless steel and the hiss of hot water.
Around the corner, the funk of cigarette smoke from the shadowy bathrooms with their menace of big girls who slump against sinks, nail polish and furious eyes glittering in the dimness.
My locker beneath the music room windows shakes to discordant vibrations as wood, metal and gut struggle to unite, rattling the combination locks like seeds in a gourd. R26-L38-R42. Push up and swing open. Be ready to catch the things that will slither out – books, sweater, binder, brush.
Horrid navy-blue one-piece polyester double-knit gym uniform. Horrid, horrid thing. Would make a twig look fat. Would make a black girl look pasty. Would make a slut look sexless. Horrid, horrid horrid.
Lunch behind the cafeteria on the grass. Usually just an apple, then a light mooch off others. Too embarrassed to bring lunch. Too revealing, too mundane. Weird about food. Why is everyone always looking at me? What the hell is going on with all my clothes, anyway? Nothing fits like it used to. I am ugly most of the time, except occasionally at night in front of my mirror. Why can’t I look like that at school?
I feel like I have a huge tattoo on my forehead that says freak. The jock boys – always in twos and threes – snigger and cough out words like dog or some such pronouncement that indicates I am not in their crowd. I blush and pretend not to hear. I feel dog. I feel less. I feel leprous. I feel proud I am not one of them.
Just an average student. I am in no AP classes, though most of my friends are. They all talk endlessly -ruthlessly- about the cool things they do with their happy, motivated teachers. The jovial science teacher I adore gives me a tepid grade of average under the “attitude” column on my report card. Mr. Seitz has no opinion of me, positive or otherwise. Average is what a teacher gives who can’t quite place you.
Embarrassed all the time. I know I smell bad. I have bad breath. Something must be hanging out. I am short and graceless and insignificant. At least I have long beautiful hair. I can hide behind it, become famous for it. Love my hair, love me. Just don’t look at my face – I woke up with this huge zit.
Home sick today -“stomach ache”. Haven’t told my Mom my period started and she hasn’t noticed I’ve stayed home once a month for the last three. Maybe she does know. Maybe I’ll tell her the next time. For now I’ll just keep throwing away underwear secretly.
School is just a day thing. My interests are so much more sophisticated. I want to go away, go to Europe! I want to explore castle ruins and dream about things that are long dead! I want to wander for hours on foggy beaches and stare meaningfully into the sea-green depths letting the water reflect the exact color of my haunting eyes until someone notices! I want to bathe in melodrama and wallow in the glory of artistic detachment !
They think we don’t know anything, but we know about so much. Sex and venereal disease and pregnancy. Pot, grass, weed, hash, acid. Alcohol. What parties are for. How to kiss and flirt and hopefully how to extricate ourselves when the flirting gets out of hand, say, with a stranger – a man – who doesn’t know that we are full of shit, that we are just girls on the edge, hopeless still at all this, playing at being women.
So years go by. They go by and by, and we know a lot now – though really, we know nothing. When we flirt, we mean it, but we do it far less because we know what we mean and we mean what we say. Usually. We care less about what people think and for the most part we are happier. None of us passed through unscathed, but then, a person without scars is a person without history. Those who made it through young adolescence and the experience of middle school feel amazed and humbled because we know – or at least know of - the ones who didn’t.
Now my oldest son is beginning middle school . He’s younger than I was, a year closer to childhood, a year further from innocence. He still plays with toys, still feels good about himself. He is proud of his long hair, but doesn’t hide behind it. He is smarter than I was, or at least able to access more of his brain. I tell myself he is going to do fine, that he will remain himself, that he’ll gain insight and wisdom and confidence. That puberty will be kind to him, that all his knowledge of sex, drugs and truancy will be purely theoretical. That he’ll love me even through the mine field to come. That’s what I tell myself.