Middle school. The pinnacle of body odor and awkwardness. I was the new girl at the beginning of 7th grade year. I found the majority of my peers to be surprisingly kind. They were initially curious about me, and I didn’t have trouble finding continuity in who to sit with at lunch.
When my own kids started middle school, I felt a sense of empathy for them, or maybe it was sympathy. I remember the feelings associated with the awkward age. Primarily embarrassment; of everything. I was little, I looked at least two years younger than I actually was. I wanted so badly to fit in, but I was sure I didn’t. The opposite sex terrified me. I was overly conscious of my shortcomings, which I thought outnumbered everyone else’s. It hadn’t occurred to me for a moment that anyone else could have felt the same.
One fateful autumn Saturday, I’d arranged to meet up with another girl in my class. We’d planned it all week, maybe longer. She would meet me at my house at a designated time (we didn’t have a phone yet). Her mother would meet my mother, and she and I would go back to her house, where I’d stay the night. My mother, however, had different plans that weekend. We had to go back to New Mexico that weekend, where my father still lived at our family home (this was the beginning of a new twist in their marriage that continued for most of the next 30 years: still married, but rarely living in the same space for extended periods). I begged and pleaded about being back that Saturday afternoon, and it was agreed that we could be. Except that we weren’t. Well, not on time, anyway. Once we did get there, my hands were tied. I didn’t have a phone number to call, or a phone to call on if I’d had one. I was devastated, particularly since this event was rather close to my 13th birthday, and I suspected that the invite had been one to my own surprise birthday party. I moped for the rest of the weekend, adding a greater shame to my complex of being a total social dork.
Monday finally came, and I went to school. My fears were confirmed. I missed my surprise birthday party. The girl that had hosted the event had been terribly disappointed as well, but I don’t think she ever told me that. I’d heard it from someone else. She’d been so gracious about it all. I don’t know if I had the wherewithal to apologize then, but I was very sorry.
Much to my own surprise, it hadn’t been a complete social suicide. I was sure it would be, as it was really the first time I’d been invited to do anything with my new peers. There were plenty of other slumber parties and events over the course of the next couple of years. To commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, a particularly charismatic teacher had the idea of reenacting the event for the school. We had a brick wall that surrounded the school yard, in preparation of its fall, we were allowed to spray paint it. It was a school wide event the day it came down. 6th, 7th, and 8th graders came together in solidarity and cheered as it crumbled! We were allowed to keep a piece of the wall if we wished, and the pieces that had our graffitti on them were in high demand. One boy took it upon himself to distribute these coveted pieces to all the pretty girls that wanted one. I was nonplussed by the interaction, he’d said I was pretty, I’d never considered it. I’d kept that small piece of wall for many years.
The sleepovers were unique in that I had the opportunity to see how other people lived, I liked it. Secrets and ambitions were shared while spread out in sleeping bags on the floors. There was the class camping trip at the end of the 8th grade year in a picturesque setting in the mountains. Concerts for choir, tryouts for show choir, trips to the principal’s office (I was a little lippy with my Spanish teacher), faux pas, experiences shared, friends made . I managed to have a bit of a social life despite having to go back to New Mexico almost every weekend. Despite my complex of awkwardness and increasing notion that my mother didn’t like me, I survived middle school.