Trying to distinguish which was the worst year in my twenty-five is a tough process. There was the year my father died of cancer. The next year when my mom moved us across the country. Or the year in college when my family went bankrupt. It all pretty much sucked; however, in my deliberation over the worst year of my life, it goes without a doubt to the year that I spent in seventh grade.
I was pretty cool in 1997. And by pretty cool, I mean a total loser.
All of my clothes consisted of what I wore to soccer practice. Which meant I wore windpants or Umbro shorts to school every day. I usually paired them with a t-shirt that was horse or cat related.
I refused to think of myself as a loser, and I would sit at the “cool table” at lunch forcefully. Only to face mocking ridicule by every person at the table. It was like a terrible scene out of Mean Girls. Somehow, by God’s grace, I wore those kids down. I sat at the table so many times they literally gave in to my awkward friendship. And some of the girls who were most committed to my daily degradation ended up being my close friends the following summer. Well, you can’t say I wasn’t persistent.
These budding friendships actually evolved as my wardrobe began to substantially change. I started becoming a little more observant towards the current trends, which in Worthington, Ohio, consisted of pastel polos and jeans from the Gap. I remember my first pair, as well as my first polo. And my mom’s clear resistance to buying me anything that was cool, because cool was expensive. Windpants were pretty cheap in the mid-nineties, I guess.
My crush at the time was this kid, Josh. We’d gone to elementary school together and were best buds in only the way that the class tomboy and class clown can be in the early years of life. My locker neighbor had caught wind of this crush, and she told Josh at recess that I liked him.
Note: Serious catastrophe for any unattached seventh grader.
After lunch, Josh pulls me aside, me in my windpants with my crazy curly hair. He tells me that I am “one of his best friends” and that he “really likes me” but that he only dates blue-eyed, blonde cheerleaders. AHH! THE ULTIMATE DISASTER for this brunette, brown-eyed non-cheerleader.
Consider this equation. What is the only part that I have any control over? Yep. The cheerleader part. So what did I do? I tried out for eighth grade cheerleading.
This was at the time that the cool girls still despised me for ruining their lunch-time dynamic. So they refused to be my try-out partner. I got paired with Carol. The only other girl without a partner. Carol was a super nice girl, but she was also like 5’11 and at least three hundo on a pound scale. I was screwed from the beginning. But I learned all the jumps. I had the dance to Coolio’s “1, 2, 3, 4 (sumpin’ new)” down pat. I screamed the cheers with such a creepily fierce intensity that I was banned from practicing at home. My confused parents definitely had no clue what was going on with their demented, previously tomboyish daughter.
Tryouts came. And I KILLED it. I don’t mean that in a positive way. Yet, in my naïve young mind, I was totally convinced that my number would be on at least one list. There were like four squads over the eighth grade year. I checked those lists probably twenty times looking for my number. It was nowhere to be found. I was back to being a brunette, brown-eyed non-cheerleader. My life was ruined. And I would have to face the cool lunch table the next day, knowing that nearly all of them would be wearing the cute cheerleader uniforms as well as standing at least one more qualification towards dating Josh than I ever would.
Ugh. The horror. The absolute misery. I secretly cried myself to sleep the majority of that year.
With this in mind, I’m making a proposal for education reform: No more seventh grade.
It might not solve the reading crisis. Or the math crisis. Or whatever other educational crisis is affront this week. But perhaps it would give our children an opportunity that I never had.
A respite from the hell that is seventh grade.