I hated junior high. Based on my unscientific survey, I believe that makes me part of approximately 99% of the American population. It’s such an awkward time…an in-between age, with none of the maturity or true independence that makes older ages more tolerable.
I have just two positive memories of junior high. We’d moved to a small Kansas farm town at the end of 4th grade. By the time I got to junior high two years later, my classmates, who’d been together since kindergarten, had decided this city girl didn’t fit in, and I’d gone from a confident leader in my old school to a withdrawn, fragile girl with only a couple of other social outcast friends. I did find my old self by the end of high school, even becoming class vice president that year, but that was still six long years away and a distant dream.
My two good memories were being in a play in 7th grade, a memory now badly tarnished by my adult perspective. The other was being in track in 8th grade. I have no idea why I joined the team (in a graduating class of 34, there are no tryouts). You see, I’m not athletic. At all. However, back then our league wonderfully had a C class for girls below 100 lbs, a criteria I met. Our coach put me in the maximum number of events each meet, each of which I was equally terrible at. I was a generalist, competing in any event which required no real skill (hurdles and pole vault were out of the question). My “specialties” were the long jump, shot put, and the mile. The last two were particularly ironic. I was literally the 98 lb weakling pitching the shot all of a few feet, and I was an asthmatic who usually had to walk the last third of the mile. I remember a classmate once asking me at the end of a race why I didn’t just run the rest of the way? I was too busy wheezing and gasping to answer her. Yet those were my glory days! You see, in our tiny 2A league, most teams put up few or no C class competitors. I took 1st or 2nd place in all of my events all year. We took first place in league that year, significantly helped by my performances (the league abruptly eliminated C class the next year). It was my first step back on my journey to finding myself.
But the bad memories vastly outnumber the good ones. Struggling to find someone to sit next to at lunch or on the bus. Being asked to exactly one dance at homecoming, by my best friend’s boyfriend—a pity dance. It didn’t go well. I tried to lead, not knowing that I was. And one day in English, taking a couple of minutes of kids laughing to realize they were laughing at me, and a couple of more minutes to figure out why: someone had put a “kick me” sign on my back. I never learned who.
I’ve come out on the other side. Within a few years, I realized that my own self-absorption of that time, which made me agonize over every “stupid” thing I’d said or done, was matched by equal self-absorption of the others, who forgot anything I’d done within minutes. And I met the love of my life who helped rebuild my confidence by loving me for who I am. I long ago forgave whoever taped that sign on my back. More importantly, I’ve forgiven me.
“And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?” —Unknown