Two things have prompted this post: one, Darcy's daughter, Babs, starting middle school last week. (She's attending Hamilton, a classic brick pile that, as luck would have it, my mom likewise attended some years past. I told Babs this, to which she exclaimed "God, how old IS it?" which of course I immediately repeated to Mom with some amusement. Heh.) And two, over Labor Day weekend, finding and sorting through a random sack of old photos I'd taken, with my first crappy Kodak DISC camera, during my own middle-school years.
This was the early 80s, so sartorial and tonsorial missteps abound; apparently I once owned a Pac-Man t-shirt. However, my greasy hair stubbornly resisted all my attempts to reset it into the feathered helmet only the salon professional could achieve. I blithely chucked the worst examples, the pictures of classmates I no longer recognized and step-relations I no longer cared to. But the essence of "junior high" has lingered in my mind, this week.
I remember not liking the building--finding its sterile, bureaucratic 1960s architecture dumpy, after the comparatively new charms of my then-modern, modular, colorful elementary school. And I had fears: of changing for gym; of the complexities of combination locks; of the multitude of little thugs and thugettes who picked on me. (And in hindsight, I wonder: how many of my tormentors are dead? Jailed? Parents of kids older now than we were then? I feel a lot of pity, now, for kids who petrified me at the time.)
I loved things, too, though: changing classes, a stack of excitingly varied textbooks. It was like a dry run at High School, at teenhood. In sixth grade, I began to give a shit about fashion, about my cherished lavender "Mr. Rags" pullover hoodie and the right novelty laces to put through my (absolutely REQUIRED) Nikes. I discovered nail polish. I met Holly.
I had yet to be a cynic. So I was invested in school antics; I roller-skated in the gym and made mocking song dedications of syrupy pop hits ("The Girl is Mine," anyone?), on Activity Days. I also remember standing around in cafeteria dances, while two or three of the boldest kids breakdanced--ha! I'd dress up for thematic spirit days, in sixth grade; I remember sporting a huge purple clown wig, even, for one "school colors" event.
The pictures show some of this: me and my pals, clowning and shrieking in the cafeteria, basic anarchic horseplay on the days when this or that teacher (or all of them) gave up for an hour. There was a set of pics from "Fifties Day"--girls in poodle skirts and saddle shoes, chiffon scarves drooping around our ponytails. I remember well: I didn't have a skirt. So I cuffed my jeans, over bobby sox and Keds, wore a men's white shirt and the obligatory ponytail...and a set of Beatle buttons. I claimed I was "ahead of my time." I remember this so well; I truly thought I was clever, not to mention hot shit. There was a by-homeroom contest for best outfit, and I thought I was IT...and of course lost out to blonde, tiny, popular Marci Cook, who had a perfect poodle skirt, pearls, a matching cardigan, like some freaking Teen Angel. An important lesson learned, actually: for the next seven years, the Marci Cooks are going to win, every single time. Hang in there, little brainiac nerd-girl, "ahead of your time." It gets a lot better, in 20 years.
So. By high school, I'd learned this lesson enough times that I didn't care; I read books during pep assemblies, deliberately, MEANINGFULLY bored, or skipped out of them when I could. Spirit was LLLAAAAAAAAME and I was counting the days.
But I still do remember that first pep assembly, the lone annual one they treated us to in middle school, back when district budget cuts meant we didn't even have sports teams to root for. In sixth grade, I didn't know that they had the EXACT SAME assembly every year...and so I was thrilled, stunned, amazed--jumping around in the stands, probably wearing my purple wig--and I was purely AWESTRUCK when the multiple double-doors on the south side of the gym burst open, and the Garfield High marching band and cheerleaders from up the street came pouring in. This--THIS!--was what teenagers did; THIS was how it was going to be! The band seemed glamourous to me in their purple uniforms, white plastic spats and feathered toques. They played "Tequila," which I'd never heard; I had to catch up with my savvier classmates, shrieking the one-word refrain (did I know what tequila WAS? so very sheltered). The cheerleaders led us in the "two bits" cheer, and for that moment I was utterly invested.
I really like her, now, that funny, dorky little girl, that 11-year-old naif; it's taken me a long time to get back to her, back to the point where I run around in a flowered wool hat the minute it's cold enough; where I have more Halloween and Christmas decorations than a grown person should; where there is in fact room in my life for both the eye-rolling cynic and the besotted, giddy fangirl. I feel very generous towards her, lately--towards me and all my selves, jockeying for position in front of a cheap camera and in my expansive life. Check me out--I contain multitudes.