I'm kicking off NaBloPoMo with a really different kind of post, for me...brought to you by This American Life (one of my very favorite podcasts) and my blog-friend Zoanna, who requested memoir writing this month. This week's TAL episode was "Middle School," and listening to it this morning took me right back to the nightmare that was junior high. So, I have no idea where this will end up, but here goes a little stream-of-consciousness reminiscing about my middle school years...
Sixth, seventh and eighth grades were among the worst years of my life thus far. Can I get an amen? It began with drama, drama, drama among my little group of friends (we were often referred to as the "preps"--though I never could get anyone to explain to me what that meant exactly). My BFF since second or third grade suddenly decided she really didn't like me or most of the other girls in our group anymore, so there was this huge split, with her and a couple of girls who made the cut on one side, and me and the others left bewildered, wondering what we'd done or why she found us so unbearable. OY, the drama.
Slumber parties were a big source of entertainment and drama in these years...I have vivid memories of "slam books" and fights and people getting their feelings hurt, of trying and failing to stay up all night long, of Truth or Dare and freezing each other's underwear, of scaring ourselves silly doing things we had no business doing...
Things on the girlfriends front kind of calmed down through seventh grade, as far as I can remember. Then in eighth grade I experienced a whole new level of betrayal: I'd patched things up with my BFF (it seemed we were always on-again, off-again, and it was always her who was pulling back--maybe I was smothering?), and I'd also gotten close to a new girl over the summer who was a year younger but lived in my neighborhood and played on my softball team. During volleyball season that fall--one particular bus ride home stands out in my memory--the two of them suddenly decided that *they* were best friends. And I was OUT. I never did understand what happened or why, but the pain of that loneliness went deep.
Oh, the awkwardness...the angst-y journal entries...the self-absorption...it is a wonder any of us come through junior high unscathed. Thankfully for me, high school was a MAJOR turning point. Life changed significantly for the better once I got to choose my friends more and hang out with kids in other (older) grades. Everyone kind of settled down, grew up, and spread out in high school, and though there was still plenty of awkwardness and angst, I have many happy memories of high school. (And, I'm glad to say, though my elementary and middle school BFF and I sort of drifted apart peacefully through high school, we ended up reconnecting in a really fun creative writing class during our senior year, and saying goodbye on a sweet note.)
I had a random but enlightening realization about all the junior high dating stuff just recently: It occurred to me that the two girls from my class who were always the most popular with the boys, the ones whom every guy in our class liked, the ones who hopped from "relationship" to "relationship" (because what does "we're going out" really mean when you're twelve?!) all through middle school--they are the only two girls who aren't married now, at (almost) 30. Don't get me wrong--they have both been successful and have fulfilling, even exciting lives. I'm not at all implying that they should be pitied or that they're sitting around wishing they were married. But I find it highly ironic nonetheless.
My identity throughout middle school was so wrapped up in all the boy-girl stuff. None of the boys ever liked me, except a couple whose attentions I found embarrassing or appalling (I am sure I did my share of *being* the cruel kid, so anxious to be popular and not ostracized that I was willing to do the ostracizing at times). I was frequently teased about my acne; I towered over all the pre-pubescent boys; I was too smart for my own good. So although I mostly maintained a position (if somewhat precarious) in the popular crowd, it was not a popularity with the opposite sex. My love life was a crash-and-burn disaster before it ever got off the ground. I harbored secret crushes on various boys and felt so much self-hatred, equal parts "why don't any of the boys like me?" and "it's obvious why none of the boys would ever want to go with me."
So I sit here at 29, married to the handsomest guy from our class, who is also incredibly smart and successful and awesome (and who was, incidentally, also a pretty big nerd with no love life in middle school)...and I just want shout to every boy-crazy, self-loathing, anxious junior high girl I've ever met: Your self worth does not depend on whether these stupid tween boys want to "date" you! None of this drama, none of your singleness now, has any bearing on your future happiness or your chances for love! In fact you are much better off being spared the heartache and potential life-changing snares of getting wrapped up in relationships at this stage of your life!
The junior high kids were my favorite age the two summers I was a camp counselor--I vastly preferred them to the too-cool high school girls--and I tried to tell them these things. Their boy-craziness drove *me* crazy. I don't think they really heard me.
Anyway. It's past my bedtime and I've rambled long enough about junior high. I'm not sure this will be interesting to anyone but Zo, but for lack of anything else to post tonight and a desire for sleep, there you have it :) Maybe for your enjoyment later this month, I will dig up some embarrassing photos and/or post some circa-1994 journal excerpts, a la Cringe.