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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Wednesday
Mar212012

The best of school, the worst of school 

For the next two weeks, I'm participating in the DonorsChoose Blogger Challenge. See the end of this post for details!

I know, I KNOW, I missed yesterday. My work got out of control. Also a lemur attacked me. Just like that! On the streets of Park Slope! Who knew there were lemurs lurking in the trees? Or even just that one?

Lemurs, by the way, go for the face.

Today, as penance, I will cover sixth AND seventh grade. Which is just as well. Because Seventh Grade Me makes me sad, and I wouldn't want to leave her alone in a post all by herself.

First up: sixth grade.

sixth

Many teeth removed! Retainer in! Braces: coming up! Oh, mouth.

Sixth grade was my best year ever. My teacher was Mr. Reilly. I loved him. LOVED. He was kind, he was smart, he encouraged me to write and I wrote all the time. I have boxes of writing from that year. Weird-ass stories about death and drunk people (and sometimes people drinking themselves to death), and he never once asked me to rein it in.

Mr. Reilly made one mistake, which was to let me pursue independent study. (Sound familiar?) In an effort to encourage me in both art and writing, he had me embark on an ambitious project wherein I would create an animated short about a wacky character who, I don't know, did things. Fell a lot. I don't remember what the short was going to be about. Because I DIDN'T DO IT.

I don't really know how I would have done it, as I had no idea how to animate, but somehow I conned Mr. Reilly into thinking I had it all under control. He sent me to the library every day to continue my Secret Project. This might have only gone on for a few weeks but in my mind it was the whole year. After checking out some initial drawings and the basic storyline, he left me alone. Left alone, I opted to 1) read books, and 2) read more books.

When he discovered what happened, he didn't penalize me. I think he realized it was his mistake, and also I probably got more out of all the books I read than anything I could have created.

Mr. Reilly showed me that I was a writer. He will always have a special place in my heart.

And then I went to seventh grade, where my heart shriveled and died! (Only for a while.) (My heart came back to life.) (I have a zombie heart, is what I'm trying to tell you.)

Before I show you my class photo, which I guarantee you is one of the saddest sights you will ever see in your life, let me tell you a little bit about this year.

In sixth grade, I was among the oldest group of kids in a relatively small school. In seventh grade, I was at the bottom rung at a junior/senior high school that combined the school population from two different towns, so even my own grade was filled with strangers. The school I attended went from 7th grade to 12th. This covers a wide range of ages. My first day on the bus to the high school, I sat next to a guy who had a beard. He told me a story about shooting at a dog who had been rooting through his trash.

This was not a public bus, mind you. He was a fellow student. A bearded fellow student. Whose car had broken down so he was forced to take the bus. Where he claimed he owned a gun. If he was to be believed, which he probably was not, but I didn't know that, because I was fucking TWELVE.

My first day at the giant school of terror did not get any easier. Oh: my grandfather had suffered a massive heart attack the night before my first day of school. So my parents were preoccupied, and we were all sleep-deprived. And then I made a bearded friend.

We had lockers, at this school, and somehow I was overlooked when they were distributing those, so I carried around all my books on the first day. Period after period, I accrued more and more books, challenging my balancing skills well past their limits. This didn't sit well with the general school population. The next day I asked my mom for a bag, and she handed me a paper bag. I can only assume she didn't understand the request, because guess what happens when you carry a shit-ton of books in a paper bag? The bottom of my bag falling out in the hall did not make me look any cooler than the day before.

Nothing got easier in the following days and months, even after I was given a locker. I was frequently accosted by my peers who were trying to be "nice" and offer advice on how I could make my face less weird. Then there were other girls who suddenly, out of nowhere, wanted to beat me up. I don't know when they passed out the memo that seventh grade was the grade for Girl Fights, but everyone else seemed to know it. Or my face just filled with them with fury and the need to yank some hair.

(I never did get beaten up. I always talked my way out of it. The closest I got to brutality was a group of girls ganging up on me out in front of the school, grabbing my LeSportSac and mocking its contents. I had a stupid brand of light-blue eyeliner, which they smeared against the brick wall. Also: a Snoopy pencil case, which they regarded with derision, and then returned to me.)

Okay, so here's the face you get when you combine all of these things.

seventh

I look like I had just come off a three-day crying jag. I probably had.

Seriously, school photographer? Could you have tried a little bit, even a little, to help me out? Maybe encourage me to pull my shoulders back? Coax the merest hint of a smile? I look like I've just been pulled from airplane wreckage.

As hard as this picture is to look at, at least I have an accurate record of my emotional state that year. Is it any surprise this is the year my anxiety disorder showed itself? I just want to wrap this kid up in a blanket and get her out of there.

Share your true tales of awkwardness and beat-uppery. I'll be over here, drunk-dialing my therapist.

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Reader Comments (38)

Mad hugs to 7th grade Alice.
In 6th grade I remember being added to the cool group of kids, but I was not a bitch or bully by any means. I also remember begging my mom to let me shave my legs for the first time because we were going on a field trip (to visit the Math and Science Academy if memory serves me right) and I wanted to wear my stone-washed jean skirt. She let me use her battery operated razor to shave my legs.
In 7th grade I remember using some of my money to put a sweater (colorful with shoulder pads) on layaway because I wanted it so badly and my mom said it was too expensive. I also had my bedroom walls plastered with pictures of Corey Haim. In the coming years, they'd be plastered with Hard Rock/Heavy Metal bands.
Wow everyone! How did all of us manage to get through any of this without being able to text our BFFs every 5 seconds??!! Snort.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Fifth grade was the hell year, for me. Sixth grade meant moving to Jr. High (my school district had three elementary schools that all funnelled into one Jr. High School for grades 6-8 -- so, a fair number of new people/strangers then -- and, later, three Jr. High Schools that funnelled into one large High School, in 9th grade). That was the first time I had any real experiences that involved being mixed into activities with non-adults who were older than I was (doing extra-curricular nerdy/arty activities with 8th graders) and therefore the first time I was ever able to have any legitimate-ish conversations with people who were even close to being in my "peer group". I also remember 6th grade as being the year that I actively stopped giving a fuck. I mean, I never had, really, before -- I knew I didn't fit in and I wasn't about to change anything in order to fit in better -- but once I got to Jr. High, I actively gave no shits at all. That was when I really started dressing funny and doing lots of weird shit that nobody really got/cared about (ummm...Shakepearian theatre company, for example -- very popular activity for an 11-year-old girl, right?) and just generally being actively really bizarre. So a lot more people actively disliked me (but people were also kind of afraid of me, I suspect, so I was never bullied or hassled, really, which is kind of shocking now that I think back on it, because if anyone should have been, I should have been) but the few people who liked me, liked me really hard. This is something that continued for a lot of years -- it isn't until I got into my mid-20s that I stopped running so extremely hot-or-cold with people. (And sometimes I still do, but not like when I was younger.) Sixth grade was also the year I got my first pair of clompy combat boots, and wore them every day with long skirts, and got relentlessly made fun of for both things. (I didn't own a pair of pants between the ages of 10 and 25, I think, and I still don't really ever wear pants unless I'm doing some super dirty chore or something -- I own two pairs of jeans, that get worn probably...12 times per year. Hmmmm.) I was super pissed when, upon beginning the 9th grade at the big High School, I discovered that all the cool girls were suddenly wearing Doc Martens and long floral skirts and dresses from, like, The Limited or wherever -- when I had been wearing real combat boots and thrifted long skirts for several years and been made fun of continuously for it. (This still pisses me off, apparently. Sheesh.) Also, sixth grade was the first year you were able to take a foreign language elective, so that is when I started taking French classes, and the summer after seventh grade was the first year I went to sleepaway camp (to a super nerdy language-immersion camp to study French -- no, I never got cooler, nope).

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiss B

Oh, poor Alice. Poor everyone who has ever had to attend 7th grade. It sucks.

6th grade was weird for me. I was desperate for friends. I would steal coins off of my father's dresser and stop at the little corner store I passed on the way to school to buy a bag full of penny candies (Yes, I am old. Yes, you could buy a twizzler or a little tootsie roll or a bazooka gum for a penny). At recess, the cool girls would gather around me and pretend to be my friends -- I'd share the candy and when it was gone the girls would be, too.

7th grade is barely memorable except for my breasts. The "girls" had come in early and by 7th grade I was already a c-cup. For some reason I thought these perky mounds on my chest meant I was fat and I tried to hide it. Most of the year I wore t-shirts with one of my older brother's button front shirts over it. Imagine my surprise on one hot day when I removed the over-shirt and had on a better fitting t-shirt than usual, and I was suddenly followed by a swarm of boys. Yeah, the cool girls really loved me then!

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

My first day of 6th grade, on the playground of my new school, I heard someone using the c word for the first time. My class was on a half-day schedule because the teachers were negotiating their contracts and would only work a certain number of hours a week and would not supervise after school activities. Since my school day didn't start until noon, I could stay up late watching Twin Peaks and the late-night talk shows. My "English teacher" was the detention supervisor.

Seventh grade was not much better. I was teased for getting good grades, but not harassed as badly as some of my classmates. My teachers loved me since I didn't cause trouble and was reasonably smart, but no one really took me under their wing. These were rough years for me! Things did not get better until 11th grade, but then they got A Lot Better.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersbpdx

Middle school really is a nightmare. I remember it being fairly awful when I was in it but then as a teacher I witnessed it from an objective point of view and came to the conclusion that yes it is very awful for most of the kids. I found myself being the protector of many of the kids who seemed to be targeted. I am so sorry you went through all of that and rather amazed you turned out so awesome in spite of the hellacious turmoil you had to endure!

I'm sorry 7th grade was so wretched for you.

I do love your 7th grade haircut, though. Seriously. Love.

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersnickollet

6th grade was okay - my homeroom and history teacher was a nice man who let us learn Spanish instead of Canadian history (this was in Southern CA). Our English teacher sent the boys out of the room so she could teach us girls the "right" way to pick up a pencil we had dropped. But I also started to see that to survive as a smart kid, I would also have to become a mean girl.

7th grade I switched schools to the gifted/talented school - jr high became the best school years of my life until I hit the last two years of college. I could be smart AND nice at my new school, and I was grateful for that. Plus, we had awesome field trips.

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermerie

Grade 6 we moved into the bright shiny new school our tiny community so badly needed. I remember the principal giving a speech on the first day (or somewhere near the beginning of the year) calling it "state of the art" and that seeming so odd as I had always thought of our school as not a good as others. One thing that was very exciting was we no longer had to be bused to other schools for gym, but had our vary own gymnasium complete with fancy new rubber floor (I seem to remember it being made out of old tires, but I may be remembering that wrong). It also had a baby grand piano in the rotunda (how friggen fancy is that?) and the piano teacher I had been seeing for years started teaching at school so I got to get out of class once a week for lessons.It was terrifying though, to have my lessons where anyone could walk by (it was pretty much directly outside the bathrooms).

I had the same teacher as in gr 5. I cried when, 3 days into the year restructuring moved me from the 6/7 class back to the 5/6 class. At least my best friend was moved along with me. We spent the year further alienating ourselves from the rest of the school, since the rest of the school didn't like me anyway. Gr 6 was also the year I commenced my hair dying addiction. I died my hair a lovely shade of red call paprika several times over the course of the year.

Gr 7 was horrible. Still mostly me and my best friend against the world. I also had, what I only very recently realized were my first bi thoughts. I had such a crush on the teacher we had for the first half of the year (ms. Lavery, she was filling in for Ms. Fields who had a baby during the summer). I was pretty much completely fixated on her DD chest.

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterD

I hated seventh grade so, so, so much. I refuse to believe anyone was having as terrible a time as me, because I was the class pariah. An all girls school. Hellish little vixens. To this day, if I met one of them, I would probably be very hostile. One of the best memories of my life is when, round about late eighth or early ninth grade, I finally turned on one of my tormentors. If only I'd done it sooner.

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

My school experience in a small town in Germany was quite different than yours but I very much love this series and I think I love you!

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUlrike

I actually think your 7th grade photo is pretty. Granted, you don't look happy but you definitely look pretty.

The 6th grade photo - now that's another story. I think the reason it struck such a chord with me is because it reminds me of my own 6th grade photo, hairstyle and all - except you weren't wearing a tweed blazer with elbow patches. That's right - I rocked a boyish blazer AND a short haircut. No wonder everyone thought I was a boy! The next year I decided to get a perm. But I had super-short hair. So I ended up looking more like Harpo Marx. Good Lord, it's amazing I don't have more issues!

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPetey

As I have said before, I love your readers nearly as much as I love your posts! The comments here are sad and funny and wonderful at the same time. Thank you to everyone else who shared your story. It does make me feel better to know I wasn't alone--and makes me want to lock up and homeschool my now 8-year-old girl from ages 11-14, just to be safe.

My 6th grade year brought my first boyfriend. On Friday nights we'd all meet at the roller rink and I lived for the slow songs, when they turned the lights down low and Grant and I got to skate holding hands. (Doesn't that sound straight out of the 50s or something? I grew up in a small town, and it was actually in the late 80s.) I was best friends with my neighbor, which earned me "cool" status by proxy. At least until a new girl moved to our school and Sara dumped me for her at the end of the year. Thus began my downward spiral into 7th grade.

It makes me feel better, and also a little angry for all of us, the 7th grade seems to universally be hell on earth, especially for girls. So not only was I now best friend-less and no longer cool by proxy, between 6th grade and 7th grade, I went from 90-120 pounds, got boobs and started my period--on the first day of school. Because life wasn't awkward enough already. Again, due to the friend situation, the only girl who was left to share a locker with me was very overweight and smelled a lot and was, not surprisingly, even less popular than I. Humiliation. My charm increased even more so when I got braces and tried (and failed daily) to curl and tease my own bangs into the poof that was popular back then. One of the many low points was finding one of my school pictures torn into little pieces and dumped in the water fountain by the office. I don't even know what this means, but I knew it was bad. Or maybe it is just because it was a horrible photo. Did I mention the braces and bad hair? You look like you should be on the cover of Teen magazine in comparison to my photo. I don't have one and if I find one at my parents' house, I will burn it. That isn't overreacting, right?

I honestly do not know what caused me to persevere--maybe good books, maybe the couple of teachers who encouraged my writing, maybe because I didn't know of any alternatives. Somehow I survived and by 8th grade I was back in the good graces of my neighbor/former best friend and thus back on the fringe of the cool crowd. And things were good again, until my sophomore year. But that is a story for another day...

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Oh, I want to cry.

You know we all know how much your mom loves you, and I cry for her that she didn't know enough to read between the lines and ask, "why do you ask for a bag?"

Ack, there is your dagger.....

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra/Empress

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