I was never cool in grade school, middle school, junior high or high school and it became apparent to me that I would never be part of the popular group when I was in the sixth grade.
I started the sixth grade with a new lease on life. THIS was going to be the year that people noticed me; they would finally see how clever, pretty and funny I was; they would finally see that I was just like them.
My mom forced me to get a boy’s haircut – it was super, super short and holy fuck, we basically looked the same now. Her hair stylist kept telling me it was all the rage and that I looked like Justine Bateman from Family Ties.
“You think?” I asked with a twinkle in my eye.
“Believe me. You look totally rad.” This coming from someone who rocked it out in five inch heels and who sported a purple mohawk sometimes. She should know.
My mom took me to Nordstrom for some new shoes. She wanted me to get these ugly Capezio shoes from the kids section, but I had something else in mind.
“Do you think I can go look in the juniors section for shoes this year?”
My mom looked at me like I was an alien, but she followed me down the escalator.
I settled on a grey pair of L.J. Simone loafers because the sales guy said all the girls were buying them that fall and the shoes were “hot, hot, hot!”
My mom glared at him and told him that we bought shoes that were comfortable and that would last a long time, but she gave in when she noticed I was almost in tears and refused to try on any other pair of shoes.
The next morning, the first day of sixth grade, I got up early for school to make sure that my hair was perfectly gelled in place. Overzealous, I put too much gel on and now my hair looked like a helmet. Oh well.
I put my uniform and my new shoes on, packed all my new school supplies into my new backpack and waited for my dad to come down stairs to take me to school. Of course, we were already running late. We lived almost 45 minutes away from my school and traffic was bad.
When we finally got to school, fear set in and now I wished I was back in my bed sleeping. Why had I been looking forward to school all summer? Had I completely forgotten how horrible every previous school year had been?
As classmates got out of their parents’ Mercedes stations wagons and Jaguar sedans, I slid lower and lower in the front seat of my dad’s bright blue Chevy Monza station wagon that made a strange knocking noise every time he accelerated.
When I got out of my dad’s big blue bomber, some eighth grader’s behind me laughed and asked who the new boy was. I wanted to run into the woods and never go back, but my dad was waiting, watching me as I walked to the school doors.
The hustle and bustle of school echoed in my ears and I suddenly felt sick. I got to my sixth grade classroom and it seemed foreign to me. A lot of the girls had similar haircuts like me, but they looked cuter and their hair actually moved. I was stuck in a goddamn Prell shampoo commercial.
The popular girls took one good look at me and giggled as they went back to their infamous huddles where they talked about who knows what. And then, there was my best friend sitting in that very huddle. What in the . . .?
She walked over to me and gave me a hug. “You know, you don’t have to do that. We just saw each other last weekend,” I said, still feeling her betrayal on my cheeks.
She smiled and said, “I was just telling these guys about so and so and our summer and. . . ” I stopped listening as she slowly backed into the huddle and got swallowed up. She was gone forever.
So I plopped into a seat and put all my supplies inside my desk. The girl next to me, part of the popular clique, took one look at my shoes and said in her best Valley girl voice, “you know that grey is totally out this year, right?”
“Nice hair.” I turned around. It was the most popular boy in the sixth grade. I tried to smile, but I think I snarled instead. He laughed as his group of friends stared back at me. They kept pointing at something. Was it my face? My hair? What?
I contemplated what I should do and then just ran from the room to the bathroom with the teacher yelling after me, “You can’t leave without a bathroom pass!”
In the safety of the bathroom, my personal refuge for too many years now, I cried.
I cried because when I looked in the mirror, I saw the gel was starting to flake in my hair and it looked like I had a fucked up case of dandruff all over my head.
I cried because I hated my stupid grey shoes that my parents spent a lot of money on.
I cried because my own hair made me feel terrible about myself.
I cried because even my best friend had abandoned me.
I cried because I felt all alone.
I cried because I was crying in the school bathroom.
I cried because it wasn’t even eight thirty in the morning yet and I still had nine more months of this hell to live through.
So I went back to the classroom with tears still in my eyes because I didn’t have anywhere else to go.