Thursday, February 24, 2011

Middle Schooling

Yikes!  I can't even believe I'm putting this
woebegone 8th grade pic out there.

Since I've been thinking about sleepaway camp and being 11-years-old and all, I automatically cannot stop myself from going to the dreaded next stage of life -- Junior High.  (Although here in Houston they call it Middle School -- is that what everyone calls it now?  I have no idea.)  To put it mildly, seventh and eighth grades were, for me, two of THE most awkward, ludicrous years of my life, but years that were crucial steps toward becoming a teenager, and, then, finally, of course, a grown-up (although, that, in itself, is highly debatable).

Anyway, I attended a school called Matilija Junior High...and, as I'm thinking about it, I'm realizing what a total trip it is to mentally go back there.  I guess I was age 12 in seventh grade and 13 in eighth -- seriously ungainly ages.  I had my hair fashioned into a short blunt bob, but with sky-high poufy bangs (seriously, could there be a worse hairdo?).  I also had that whole dreadful braces thing going for me, which I described in gory detail in my last post.  I was one of the shortest and scrawniest in my class, and also one of the biggest goody-two-shoes imaginable.  Total priss.  But very academic, and strangely fixated on making all "A"s.  I once remember getting a "C" on a paper from a particularly high-strung teacher named Mrs. Kell, and I think I cried for a week.  If only I knew then what I know now -- that grades, especially grades in junior high, just don't really matter in the great scheme of life.

To me, the best thing about junior high was going from zero flirtation beween girls and boys in sixth grade, to full-throttle obsession with one another in seventh and eighth.  All of a sudden, there were clear-cut boyfriends and girlfriends on campus, all of whom would get down and fully make out in the hallways after class.  It was crazy -- we were all so lusty and into it, but three things made this even more ridiculous: 1) we had no earthly idea what we were doing, 2) we were doing it because we thought it made us look cool (little did we know that we looked like madly passionate Oompa Loompas), and 3) we were doing it because we thought that's what we were supposed to be doing!  Sadly enough, my own experience with this was nothing short of pitiful.  My very first boyfriend was a sweet boy who was actually a year younger than me -- this, by junior high standards is practically a lifetime, but I had that whole low self-esteem thing going.   We both had braces, so our after-school makeout sessions were reduced to a lot of metal clanging against metal, interspersed with some heavy chin wiping.  (Thank God our braces never actually locked - although I'm now thinking that might just be an urban myth.)  I was determined to "go" with him an entire month, just so I could be like all the other girls with a real boyfriend and all, but after 20 days, I broke up with him.  The pressure was simply too overwhelming, and, besides, I was getting a rash on my chin.

Another significant experience I had with the whole junior high dating scene was shortly after my breakup with boyfriend-number-one, and with this nice boy named Ted.  I was at my locker, heaving out my Social Studies book (why was this even a class?  I still don't know what we actually studied), and he stopped right in front of me, leaned his arm against the adjacent locker, and asked me point-blank if I would be his girlfriend.  I was shocked!  I mean, no one had hinted to me that Ted liked me.  Ted had never shown interest before.  This was all so out of the blue!  I, of course, did what my mother always told me to do in these kind of circumstances: buy time.  I stammered out, "Ummm, Ted, I need to think about it, okay?"  That night I tossed and turned as I mulled the situation over, but eventually came to the conclusion that I wasn't ready for another boyfriend quite yet -- I still needed time to heal.

The next morning when Ted approached me, I felt the blood rush to my face in nervousness.  "Ted," I said, "I just don't think I'm ready for another boyfriend yet.  It's too much, too soon."  (Seriously, could I have been any more dramatic?!)  Ted was very sweet as he answered kindly, "I understand, Sarah.  If you ever change your mind, let me know."  Two weeks later, Ted was riding his bike home from swim practice when a car ran over and killed him.

This experience has always haunted me in the recesses of my mind.  If I had said yes to Ted, would he not have gotten hit by that car?  Would we have had plans that night so he would have skipped swim practice?  I'll never know, but I have thought about Ted periodically throughout my life, and wondered about about different outcomes that might or might not have taken place.  A few months ago my mother asked me if I had named my son, Teddy, for Ted from junior high.  Truthfully, I had never corresponded the two together, but when she asked me this the hairs stood completely up on the back of my neck.  So maybe I partially did name Teddy, which is, in essence, an unusual name, for Ted, after all.

When I think of Junior High, I think of slow-dancing in the gym to melodramatic ballads like "Penny Lover" and "Purple Rain."  During these soirees, girls were supposed to put their hands on the guy's shoulders, while boys were supposed to put their hands on the girl's waist.  Where these "rules" came from, I honestly have no clue.  I also think of the silly yet serious Truth or Dare games on my friend, Amy's, back lawn.  We would sit in a large circle and try not to make eye-contact with the boy/girl across the way that we actually liked.  For some reason, I never got to kiss that person, and always was dared to do something bizarre with the foreign exchange student with acne who didn't speak English.  "Sarah, I dare you to make out with Pierre's left eyebrow."  Ugh.  I never was very lucky when it came to party games.

Junior High was a period of time that none of us really stop and think about all that much.  While we were living it, it was like we were just biding our time until the real deal, high school, came along.  And looking back, it seems like such a blip in time, and one that barely mattered.  But, in actuality, it was the first chance we had to leave the safe enclave of childhood, and really sow our oats.  As I've written this post, I've enjoyed thinking about this preposterous yet endearing stage of life, and now I've come to realize just how extraordinary it really was.

Well, minus the hair, perhaps.