Can I Sit with You?

Karen Morley

I hated Karen Morley in year 8. She had naturally blonde hair so light it was nearly white. Her no-makeup skin revealed the colourless spots beneath to the world. When she laughed her small teeth were yellow against the red of her too-large gums; and she laughed a lot. Her clothes were boring and old fashioned, as if her gran had chosen them. She had no friends. Despite all of that, the boys seemed to love her. They flocked around her like seagulls around fish! And she had a boyfriend called Colin.

But she was so boring! She never said anything. She just laughed. She laughed at their jokes, she laughed when they teased her, she even laughed they asked her questions instead of giving an answer. But still they flocked.

Tania and I often stood frowning, arms folded, watching in disbelief. Now Tania and I – we were interesting, clever and funny. We could joke back, tease them with attitude and hold our own in any debate. We knew about football, politics, psychology and Marc Bolan. We also spent a lot of time on our clothes, hair and makeup. So why were they hanging around with her? She couldn’t even crack a joke and she had yellow teeth for goodness sake!

I can’t recall much about what we did to Karen Morley that year. I do remember Colin kicking Tania really hard in the playground for calling Karen names. I don’t remember the names that we called her but I expect being boring and yellow teeth were mentioned. We were outraged at his reaction. We had just wanted the boys to see what we saw. They were supposed to turn against her, not us.

Three years later Karen Morley and I sat together in the Form room only a couple of months away from leaving school. All animosities had long ceased. We chatted and laughed about teenage girly stuff. Then suddenly she told me that Tania and I had made her life Hell in year 8. She said we had sent her a card on her birthday and when she’d opened it “We all hate you” was written inside. I was devastated. I saw all the pain of that year in her face.

Karen Morley was a nice, pretty, not particularly clever person. She had never done anything to hurt me, but I had really hurt her. I remember that I said I was sorry and did not know what else to say. I wish now that I’d told her what pretty hair she had, how attractive her laugh was, and how destructive and powerful jealousy can be.


Ella Enchanted

Suzanne LaFetra

Age 12 at the time

Jorge strummed his blonde wood guitar in the hotel patio. He swaggered right up to the table where I sat crunching a taquito de pollo drizzled with cream, flanked by my parents. I leaned toward him, his tight silver-spangled pants and mustard-colored mariachi suit bright in the Mexican sun. He looked me straight in the face, and launched into a song that seemed to be breaking his heart. Yo soy un hombre sincero…

I was twelve, and enchanted. It was Holy Week in Puerta Vallarta. California was still groggy from winter, but Mexico was wide awake, fragrant and rioting in color. Scarlet and magenta bougainvillea comingled, dripping over gleaming black balconies of twisted iron. Thick white-washed walls hid interior courtyards, filled with cooing birds and cooling palms.

I watched bright parachutes soar over the Pacific. I ate clams for the first time and crunchy curls of fried cheese dipped in smoky salsa. I devoured Gone With The Wind, perched poolside in a black bikini, legs slick with baby oil.

Back home, the foxiest boy in the 6th grade was Tim Morelli. If I did the right thing, acted the right way, maybe he would invite me to his fort, clasp his St. Christopher medal around my throat, ask me to go steady. A couple of weeks before our trip, Tim invited me to meet him after school at the bluffs, a hideout under the eucalyptus trees. I pushed my bike up the craggy, crusty hill and waited in the shade under tangy leaves, my heart thumping. When he arrived, Tim jammed his grimy hand into my underpants and wormed it around. I squeezed my eyes shut, lips pressed together. The going steady would come next. A ring, maybe. I waited. Footsteps crunched through the leaves and he pulled out his hand. His two friends, Wally and Dave elbowed each other, and Tim grinned.

I pedaled my lime green Schwinn home as fast as I could, thighs on fire, tears streaming into my ears. No medal, no gentle kiss. After that, Wally and Dave regularly ambushed me in the janitor’s closet. They wrestled me to the ground, then groped and grabbed at me. “Gusto,” they shrieked, mimicking a popular beer ad, and twisted the tender tips of my breasts. “Go for the gusto!” Each time, my nipples were purple for days.

But in Mexico, there were wide grins, low bows, a door swept open. And what does the señorita desire this evening? While Jorge strummed, I sipped my virgin strawberry daiquiri and imagined his mouth clamped over mine, what it might feel like to have that black mustache prickle my lips.

I was safe, high on my vacationer pedestal, a moat of chlorinated water, Hawaiian Tropic Cocoa Butter and my mother’s close eye keeping me from harm.

At home, though, the border between child and woman was dangerous. On weekends at my dad’s house, my older step-brother regularly terrorized me in the middle of the night, fondling my breasts with his dry hands, jacking off in the dark while I scrunched into a ball. Another guy started out as a babysitter, and we jumped Parcheesi pieces around a board, but after dark, the game changed; a slobbery kiss, a teenage hand cold on my belly, reaching, pushing.

“Don’t tell,” they all said, and I was ashamed, so I kept quiet. I figured I deserved it; that’s what happens to girls with breasts already as big as their mother’s, who dream of kissing mustached mouths, who are desperate to wear Tim Morelli’s cheap ring.

The lipglossy clear-eyed girls in magazines, the Susan Deys and Marsha Bradys swung their hair and grinned. They didn’t look scared. They wore gleaming white swim suits, slim bodies just right; no scraggly wiry hairs sprouting, no purple stretch marks, no Oxy 10 in their medicine cabinets, no worn copies of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret under their pillows. They were cool, possessed, sure, un-slouching, un-needing. Unlike me.

A couple of months before our trip to Mexico, I discovered a saddle-colored stain in my underwear. I was the first girl in the class to get my period, but I had seen the film strips, I knew that it was just men-stroo-ay-shun. I snuck into my mom’s bathroom and pushed in a tampon. It felt foreign inside me, uncomfortable; I didn’t feel like horseback riding or swimming, like the smiling Kathy Rigby had promised in the TV ads.

That afternoon, I hid in my room, record player blaring, furious at my body’s betrayal. I knew what was lurking across the border; more bruised nipples and slimy tongues, more grabbing and jerking.

My mom came in, asked how my day was, and the tears dripped off my jawline.

“Oh, honey, whatever it is, we can fix it,” she kept saying, stroking my hair.

“You can’t,” I cried, hanging my head. “Nobody can.”

After a few minutes, she spied my balled-up underpants in the corner and understood. She straightened me up, looked into my face, gently. “You’re becoming a woman.”

On our last day in Mexico, Jorge again came to our table. He sang a lovely lilting song, closing his eyes, chin tilted skyward during the best parts. “In your mouth, you will carry the flavor of me…” Then he took off his hat, and asked my parents’ permission to leave a small gift. “So that you have warm memories of my country,” he said in perfect English. It was a cheap, too-big necklace, a slab of marbled stone hanging from a cord. I was awed. It was the same mustard color of his mariachi uniform.

A tiny ballerina danced every time I cracked my jewelry box open to look at Jorge’s gift. I fingered the cool stone cradled in red velvet. But I never wore the necklace, didn’t want to feel the weight of it around my neck, the press of stone between my breasts. I just liked knowing it was there, waiting for me.

Calling for Friends

Kari Dahlen
Age 12 at the time

The summer before the seventh grade, I received an unexpected phone call.

“Kari! It is Trisha! You remember me, right?”

The voice was friendly but the name was not familiar. I probably uttered a noncommittal, “Um… hi!”

“You mean you don’t remember me?” she asked, her voice a bit sharper. She didn’t wait for an answer, “We were, like, best friends in the third grade.” Her voice sweetened, “You remember… right?”

I refused to say “yes.” My best friend in the second grade had taught me not to lie. And in the third grade she told me music was of the Devil and as third-graders we had to be “mature.” Of course, we also had the Crazy Club in the third grade, and that wasn’t particularly “mature,” nor was being crazy particularly God-approved. I didn’t remember a “Trisha” in that mix.

I couldn’t say “yes,” but I also didn’t want to admit not remembering her if she could be a potential friend.

That best friend from the second grade moved on to a Christian junior high while I went through several public junior high rites-of-passage such as having a seagull take a shit on my head during lunch, being accused of stuffing my bra, and having my locker broken into: the shelves my dad had built for me were doused with graffiti and the cheerful pink striped wrapping paper I used as wallpaper now had, “Kari is a Pig-Nose” written between the lines.

(The Pig-Nose thing was pretty unoriginal, but that didn’t stop me from crying when a group of teenagers with their noses taped up high entered the frozen yogurt place where I worked a few years later. They specifically asked for me to serve their yogurt.)

In the sixth grade I ate lunch with a Chinese woman who wore her old school uniform, a shy Polish immigrant, a girl whose mullet stuck up in the front revealing heavy forehead acne, and a fickle, spacey seventh-grader who repeated the seventh grade. Eventually, Mullet Girl decided she was too cool for me, so I stuck with the folks who didn’t speak English.

If “Trisha” was real, maybe I would have a shot at a friend who was cooler than those others.

“Um, well, we must have been in different classes,” I finally said to the voice on the phone.

“Nope!” Again, the voice was super-cheery and expectant. “Look… I am moving back into the area, and I wanted to see if you would show me around.”

“Um, sure!” Finally I could answer in the affirmative. I could be bouncy, helpful, and friendly.

“Why don’t you meet me on the steps on the first day of school!”

“Sure, absolutely!”

“You better remember me by then,” she cautioned, and then laughed, “Bye!” Was that a giggle and snort I heard in the background?

I was skeptical and worried. If “Trisha” was pretty, she’d be snapped up by the “popular kids.” And if she wasn’t… well, then she’d be yet another person that I ate with because nobody else would.

The first day of seventh grade, I waited on the steps close to the location where eight months later I would overhear the football team telling their coach that if I made cheerleader they would all quit the team. I had made finals; they were panicking. I didn’t make cheerleader.

I waited for Trisha.

And waited.

Perhaps there were giggles. Perhaps there were people hiding alongside a building, peeking out. But I didn’t notice them.

After the second bell, I ran to class. Of course I was late, but I hadn’t wanted to miss a potential friend. I didn’t want her to think I had stood her up.

That evening, she called, “Um, sorry. I couldn’t make it this morning.”

I promised to wait for her again the next morning.

Of course, nobody came.

The call that evening was, “Where were you? I waited for you!”

I knew she hadn’t arrived, had she?

I half-apologized, half-accused, “Well, sorry if you are real, but if you aren’t, stop bugging me.” I hung up without waiting for her response.

Fed up with public school life, I ended up at a private high school. But “Trisha” hadn’t forgotten me the way I had apparently forgotten her. That familiar voice phoned me shortly after my sixteenth birthday to inform me of a new dating service in the area. She didn’t identify herself as “Trisha,” but I am pretty sure it was the same person.

“No thanks, I have a boyfriend,” I shrugged.

The shock in her voice was noticeable, “Well keep us in mind for when he dumps you!” I heard plenty of snickers in the background.

Two years later, the phone rang. “We are from the premier dance academy in the country. We saw your most recent performance and are interested in having you apply to our school. To where should we send the admissions materials?”

This was a joke, right? Still, I couldn’t be sure, and I wanted to be polite, even if I had no intention of attending their school. I gave the voice my postal address.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again, “Oh, so sorry…” and then I heard a huge guffaw. The voice composed herself and shushed the peanut gallery, “It turns out that you are not the dancer we are interested in. There are many better than you. Best of luck with your college applications.”

“Actually, I’ve already been admitted to Brown University. But thanks for your well-wishes,” I responded. I knew their call was a joke, but my statement wasn’t a lie.

They called during the holiday break after my first semester of college to taunt me again with the fictional dating service. Fortunately, I was able to respond that their services were not necessary.

The next holiday break, the only calls were from my boyfriend.

I met a real “Trisha” years later. She is a gorgeous, thin, multi-talented woman. But she is also someone with a heart.

Mullet Girl is now quite beautiful and holds degrees in law and genetics. We are long-distance friends via holiday cards with occasional phone calls where I know the voice comes from a real person.

Christian Girl returned to the fold of our Crazy Club and we are now Crazy Mothers together.

All’s Fair In Love and Mucus
October 31, 2007, 7:01 am
Filed under: crush, junior high school, math, middle school, mucus

by SJ Alexander
Age 12 at the time

I grew up in a small town outside of Chicago where the summers were so hot it felt like your skin was about to melt off and you would be happy because you suspected you would be cooler that way, and the winters were so cold your freshly-washed hair would freeze solid at the bus stop.

This was the end of the eighties, during the last gasp of the big poodle hair craze. In the eighth grade I had my crazy tangle out front teased up until it could ensnare low-flying bats. I was so proud of it! This, combined with my tendency to carelessly leave the house with the back of my hair still wet, and my fetching gigantic hoop earrings that could double as a belt in a pinch, meant I wasn’t one to wear a wooly hat. So, I was sick all the time, all winter long, and I tend to think that there was a relationship between my constant sickness and my habits.

Despite being smart overall (other than the hat thing), I was in the Math Facts for Complete Morons that year, which felt like torture to me. There was not a bone in my body or a dusty, forgotten corner of my brain that could make me retain math, I’m sorry to say. Even in college when I was required to take algebra and I did every extra assignment, studied hard, and stayed after to get help from the teacher, I barely squeaked by with a B. Now I’m pretty good with “practical” math, such as grocery store deals and restaurant tipping, but I was hopeless in those days. So there I was for the 4,000th time, studying basic math facts again.

Fact: I was deeply, deeply bored.

Fortunately, I had something else to focus on: I was completely in love with the boy who was across the room from me. I could stare at him for the whole hour, because our desks were broken up into two groups of rows that faced each other, with a big aisle down the middle. I was almost right across from him, but one row over, so lucky for me no one was blocking the view of his utter handsomeness.

Rather than fussing with fractions, I studied this boy. I noticed how many times in a week he wore his favorite sweater (orange with a snowflake pattern) and if he had gotten is hair cut (bowl cut to shorter bowl cut). Once he was out sick for three days, leaving me alone to twist and fidget in my seat as if I was being burned at the math stake.

Yearly, usually in January, the whole school would be hit by that coughy-phlegmy plague that lingers for weeks. I had an unsympathetic mother who would pretty much only let me stay home if there was good, solid evidence I was currently bleeding from a major artery or nonstop rocket-style vomiting. So there I was in my math class, at that stage of the cold where you feel like you need to sneeze constantly.

Fact: Middle school girls often find normal bodily functions embarrassing.

The whole class sat quietly, working on some math problems that were assigned in-class. I had the most tortuous tickle — it was as if the entire contents of my head were trying to escape. If only I was at home and could sneeze and blow until I felt better. But no. If I did that in class that would mean my classmates would know I was human, and did disgusting things like sneeze. If I couldn’t even sneeze, then noseblowing was ABSOLUTELY out of the question.

I kept holding my sneezes in, making pathetic little “Eep! Eep!” noises as I held them back, feeling more and more as if my head would pop. I would not be caught dead carrying something as practical and grandma-like as tissues, so even as I began to wish I had some, I continued suffering in squeaky near-silence. Some people, bored to death of their basic math facts, leaned over to whisper, “Bless you.” My math teacher had even thoughtfully provided a box of tissues on the corner of his desk for student use, but there was no way I was going to parade across the room in front of the boy I liked and fire up the schnozz trumpet.

Desperately, I began to consider my options. Could I make it up to the front and whisper for permission to go to the bathroom? I didn’t think so. My eyes were so watery that the math problems on the paper in front of me were beginning to blur and swim. I was going to … OH NO.

Fact: I was totally hosed.

“WHAA-CHOOOOO!” I lost it, breaking the heavy mathy silence that blanketed the classroom. I clapped my hand, covered with the too-long sleeve of my sweatshirt, over my upper lip, mouth, and chin which were all now densely covered with a shiny snot goatee.

I froze where I was, and glanced around furtively. A couple more “Bless yous” were tossed my way. No one seemed to be paying attention. Even the teacher was busy marking our pop quizzes from that morning. With trepidation, I looked across the room. There was the object of my secret love, brows knitted, working away at his math problem. Whew. Sleeve still in place, I hunched down over my work and tried to figure out what to do next as my face burned. At least I could see my paper again.

I scraped off a little bit of the snot goatee at a time. To this day, I think it was probably the most fluid that has come out of my head, ever. I thought, could I hide under my hands and ask for permission to go to the bathroom now? No. Even more embarrassing now that my face had exploded. I kept working away at it a little bit at a time. To my horror and deepening panic, the part of the sleeve I was working on became totally saturated and I had to roll the snot up inside my sleeve. I turned to the other sleeve, lamenting the fact that it was my favorite sweatshirt (I thought it was hilarious: “I think, therefore, I party,” plus it was big, warm, and comfortable). Would this ruin it? I still kept glancing up at the boy I was crushed out on across the way, who, as usual, did not notice I existed.

Finally, my face was dry again and my sleeves were rolled up almost all the way to my elbows. I was saved! I didn’t think there was anything left on my face, but I touched it repeatedly to make sure. I congratulated myself on my cleverness.

Then, setting his pencil down, my crush nonchalantly slid his chair back and stood up from his desk. He strolled across the room and took a tissue out of the box on the teacher’s desk and quietly blew his nose with his back to the class.

Oh, DISGUSTING. How could he get up and blow his nose in front of the whole room like that? It was at that moment that I noticed he had kind of a funny-shaped head and … was that a boil next to his nose? I, the girl with her own snot ensconced inside not one but both sleeves, discovered that I did not love this boy as much as I thought. Love is fickle that way, I guess.

The Survey
October 26, 2007, 7:01 am
Filed under: bully, junior high school, middle school, name-calling, new kid, self esteem

by Alison Weiss
Age 12 at the time

It’s 1975 in Southern California, and I have entered junior high. “Love Will Keep Us Together” blasts from every car stereo, and it never really gets cold enough to wear a coat. I begin to understand what the Beach Boys mean by endless summer, even though I’m not the kind of beach babe the Beach Boys sing about. At age twelve, I’m thin with pale skin, straight black hair, and wire-framed glasses that are perpetually bent and sliding down my nose.

My family and I have landed in this beach town after stunning bad luck. My parents’ dream to run an alcoholism treatment center has failed utterly after less than a year. In short order, they have lost everything they own and are living in a rental house with me and my four sisters. My father is gone every weekend to make money. My mother works full time as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. During our first six weeks in L.A., my youngest sister gets hit by a car and spends all summer in a body cast and then a wheel chair.

There is no money for clothes. My grandmother has learned to sew and specializes in quick-and-easy polyester. Each girl is given a huge bag of my grandmother’s creations. I start 7th grade in a powder blue polyester pantsuit. People ask me so many times that first day who made my outfit that by the time the last bell rings, I’ve taken to lying that I bought it at Orbach’s department store.

It’s hard enough to learn to navigate through Oceanview Junior High’s long halls, but I’m doing it alone. I want something that is out of my reach: a friend. Not a group of friends, that’s way beyond hope, but I’ll take a friend. It doesn’t even have to be a best friend, just a friend to save me a seat in class. I can’t impress people with my athletic skills because I’m terrible at sports, and I’m already out of the running with my homemade wardrobe. The only thing I think I have is that I’m smart. So, I do the unthinkable, I actually show my intelligence. I write ten-page reports for Science class. In English, the teacher chooses my poem to read out loud. For a while, my academic success carries me — and then it takes me straight to hell.

It starts out as an ordinary day. In social studies, I raise my hand too often, answering a question correctly that Christy gets wrong — Christy, who is the leader of a gaggle of girls, and who doesn’t like to be embarrassed. She gets perky, sporty Jax, her second lieutenant, to take me down. Without catching the attention of our teacher (who has tired hair and always reeks of cigarettes) Jax starts passing around a note, some kind of survey. It makes its surreptitious way around the classroom, and there is lots of giggling. It doesn’t reach me before the bell rings.

The next period is math. I slide into my seat, and Jax walks by, casually slipping the survey onto my desk. It’s my turn, I think, to see what everyone was laughing about. There is only one question on the survey: Who thinks Alison is a geek? My eyes slide down the paper, and I see that all my classmates have signed it with cruel embellishments, “She’s the geekiest.” “She stinks.” “She’s greasy.” My stomach drops and I almost stop breathing. I dig my nails into my palm to stop from crying, but it doesn’t work. I have never felt more alone. There is not one safe person in the room.

And the worst part of this story? I will keep that survey rolled up in my nightstand drawer to take out and re-read. I will not lose my sense of utter loneliness for years.

Lose and Win
October 17, 2007, 7:01 am
Filed under: crush, junior high school, marching band

by Jackie Davis-Martin
Age 13 at the time

The last parade of the summer carried me on highs and lows like those of the giant Ferris wheel dominating Kennywood Park, the magical scene of our annual marching band competition. It was 1955 and I was thirteen years old, equally preoccupied with garnering another victory for our junior high band, and trying to get a boy I really liked to pay attention to me.

As we scrambled off the buses the evening of the competition, the roller coasters undulated seductively around the parking lot where we were assigned to line up. I tried to concentrate on the parade route that Mr. Girotta, our director, was explaining to me, while keeping track of the boy I liked, Beanie. I was hoping to go on the rides with him afterward, my heart pounding already at the possibility of being buckled in next to him, of our being thrust with force against each other rounding the roller coaster curves, our arms shooting skyward in simultaneous joy.

Mr. Girotta followed my gaze and smiled. “Yeah, that’s what I want to talk to you about. Beanie’s on bass drum tonight.”

Our regular drummer was sick, he told me, frowning. Mr. Girotta had been teaching and drilling us kids since fourth grade and took us everywhere to compete. I was the drum major (or “-ette” as we added back then), sort of his right-hand girl, a position of both honor and isolation. As “major of the drum,” my job was to cue in the bass drum at times of playing opportunities, for instance while passing a judges’ stand. I got to wear a skirted costume with gold braid, a furry hat and tasseled boots, and carry a big fancy baton. I would hold that baton high and blow my whistle. Then, the drums’ rat-a-tatting would shift to the bass drum’s BOOM-boom! BOOM-boom! BOOOOM, BOOM-boom! The band would play! I knew that the worst thing that could happen to a school band was to march in muted cadence past the judges’ stand, instruments smartly and uselessly tucked under armpits.

Mr. Girotta stressed that the problem was to bring the band around the wide arc of the merry-go-round just before the judges’ stand. He left to collect our free tickets, and I crossed the dusty lot to Beanie who, although he made my heart flutter, was a wild card in the reliability department.

Beanie was tall and skinny and didn’t take much seriously. He had just moved here at the end of seventh grade, and everyone liked him. His spaghetti-like arms would wave above the snares or the triangles, or even, occasionally, on the cymbals. At our spring concert, before the curtain went up, he actually dropped a cymbal, sending of us into muffled paroxysms of laughter. When the cymbal had circled upon itself in resounding layers of clamor, Beanie scrunched up his eyes in a wincing apology.

“Hi, Miss Boss Lady,” he greeted me. I cringed; I wanted then to be a cute third clarinetist, in pants, with no concerns. “Mr. G. told me about the stand and all. I know what to do.”

“Oh! Good!” It was all I could gasp. Then, ever Mr. Girotta’s emissary, I couldn’t resist, “Beanie, your top button isn’t buttoned. Your jacket.”

He gaped at me. “My what? My button? Oh, well, pardon me!” He buttoned it up with elaborate gestures, his skinny elbows jutting wide. “Aha!” (He took a step back.) “What do I see here?” (He glanced at my white boots.) “Dust! Your boots have dust on them, Miss Perfect.”

I almost started to cry. “I’m not that at all,” I said. Did all this mean he liked me, or he didn’t? “You’ll watch me, won’t you? You know the signal?” I waved my clunky wand in the air, demonstrating.

He leaned forward, close enough to kiss. “I won’t take my eyes off you!” he said, smiling, then straightened to buckle on his drum.

I sort of auditioned Beanie early on. Our band was arranged in seven rows of seven, the percussion in the fourth row, bass drum in the middle. The first time I signaled, he boomed the roll-off, the band played its rousing Thunderer march. I felt on top of the world. I signaled near Kiddieland, then the Ferris wheel, and twice more. We were a team, Beanie and I! I strutted confidently toward the merry-go-round, pumping the baton.

But suddenly, the cadence grew fainter, and then got lost in the calliope music. I blew the whistle hard, and flourished the baton. Nothing happened. I did it again. Again, nothing. I turned around to realize with the worst of sensations that I had lost most of the band! Still with me were two rows of clarinets and flutes, looking over their shoulders nervously, and then there was a separation — a big space — that stretched around the merry-go-round into some unknown hell I didn’t want to think about. The piccolo pointed beyond me, and I glanced over my shoulder to see that I was also losing our connection to the rest of the parade.

I pranced through the space to the lost rows blowing my whistle hysterically. Nothing! I stopped and screamed “Roll Off! Take the Roll Off!” This was so far beyond protocol that even now I cringe at what I did.

BOOM-boom! BOOM-boom! BO-O-O-O-M, BOOM-boom! Finally. I ran in high phony marches back to where I was supposed to be, to the strains of The Thunderer, but it was too late. I was now in front of the judges who had watched our — my — humiliating show.

Afterward I sought the edge of the bus lot and crouched on a log until Mr. Girotta came and got me.

“I’m sorry!” I sobbed. He nodded and patted me on the shoulder. “Look, there’s someone here,” he said, producing Beanie from the shadows.

“I couldn’t see you!” Beanie said, in anguish. “I told Mr. G. I couldn’t. I didn’t hear the whistle, either. Those flanks took so long to go around — I had to wait for them, didn’t I? I just couldn’t leave those rows behind, could I? Then, I didn’t know where you went, until you came running through!”

“Don’t!” I put my face in my hands.

“You didn’t even ride,” Beanie said. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“We lost.” I said, crying.

“Yeah,” he said, “ I know we did. I guess we did it together.” He lifted my hat from my lap. ”Anyway, I was wondering. I mean after all this, would you — would you sit with me on the bus ride home?”

I turned to him in wonder. What did a trophy matter? Beanie liked me! I took his hand, and let him lead me back to the bus.

Political Ambitions
October 16, 2007, 7:01 am
Filed under: cheerleading, junior high school, peer pressure, student elections, trendy

By Linda Saslow
Junior High

In elementary school and Junior High School, I was never a popular child. I was the smart kid. I was the wise cracker in MGM who everyone resented because academics came easily to me. Perhaps I raised my hand too much. Knowing too many answers was never a character trait that the other children liked. Plus, I was horrible at sports.

In sixth grade –- the year was about 1980 as I recall — I wrote an essay about how I wanted to be the first woman president. This is a reality that seems I will not achieve now that it is 2007, I am 37 and there is a viable female candidate for the top office of the land. The essay was printed in the school yearbook. I got some sort of prize at an assembly. My parents and teachers liked the essay, my peers did not.

In seventh grade, I decided to take the bull by the horns and run for student council. I wanted to be vice president. My father thought this was a grand idea. The problem was that I was not one of the popular children. My mother bought me gingham dresses and I willingly wore them to school. I was still smart, but my friends were few. I was in no way cool. I didn’t have the right clothes and I did not listen to the right music. My hair was hopeless. My mother would only take me to her friend for cuts and she would never do the short fashionable styles I desired.

My father helped me make posters to hang at Goddard Junior High School in Glendora, California. The signs were cute with hand-drawn cartoon characters. I wrote some sort of speech and was incredibly nervous when I had to deliver it to the entire student body at a podium in the gym.

I did not win.

I was bummed about my defeat for a while, but then I realized I was still one of the smart kids, even if I could not win a popularity contest. There were places for me to fit in.

In eighth grade I became the editor of the Junior High newspaper which was still run off on an archaic mimeograph machine. Even a photocopier was too high tech for the newspaper office in 1982. I was a good writer before becoming editor of the paper, but I really started to shine once I had acknowledgement for my work. And, I had a staff and some of the kids were popular and they had to kiss up to me to get their stories printed. This I liked. I had the power that I craved. But I had been appointed by teachers, not put up to a popular vote.

For my 13th birthday my mother let me have a large party in the back yard. It was a co-party with a friend who was a bit more popular, so I had hopes that some of the cool kids would come. My friend’s mom made a cake and my mother bought one of those really long sub sandwiches.

Everyone came. I was amazed. I was suddenly not a pariah. Eighth grade proved to be much better socially for me. I had lunch friends. I was on an AYSO soccer team. I discarded the gingham dresses for jeans and corduroy pants. My mother finally relented to let me pick out my own clothes. I got my ears pierced.

The final insult cam at the end of eighth grade when I decided to try out for cheerleader. I was nervous during the audition and I was not picked to be a freshman cheerleader. It seemed that true popularity would always elude me.

At the end of my thirteenth year I moved to another city. The new city was hours away. I had to find my way in a whole new social environment. I was never especially popular in high school, but I managed to make newspaper editor again and had a small circle of genuine friends.

Having just watched my oldest child wade through Junior High, I became acutely aware again how twelve- and thirteen-year-olds are especially cruel. The competition to be thin, have good hair, and trendy clothes has not changed a bit. I doubt it ever will.