“Take a Spelling Test? Or Apply for a Promotion?”
You cannot think this was easy.
Yes, that’s me in the back there, sandwiched between future cheerleaders. (As long as we’re all here together, can we stop a moment to admire the costly and chic backdrop used in this photograph? Too bad it didn’t occur to the photographer to zoom in a little, thereby cutting the overhead lights out of the shot. Och, look at me going on about this, when perhaps the framing of the shot was a very intentional artistic statement about how illuminating young minds are…)
So there I am: Jocelyn the Redwood, Precociously Pubescent Sixth Grader–the one in the white Polyester ‘Z Me cowl-necked shirt…in the “born for square dancing” red skirt…sportin’ them “if I were Native-American, these would be flesh-toned” nylons…towering supremely in my platform wedges.
Even better, take a moment to admire my glasses. You could take the triplets sledding on those babies, couldn’t you? And my hair…a soft-serve artist at the Dairy Queen worked many hours coming up with the prototype for that ‘do (“Jes’ a little swirl here on the sides, and we’ll call it feathered!”).
And, honey? The boobies. Tacked there on the front? They don’t show up so well in that class photo without the use of your Stalker Magnifying Glass, but trust me, they had not only made a reservation but had been checked in and using room service for two years by the time this picture was taken. Bane of my angst-addled existence, they were. (I know, I know. I was wretched and ungrateful. Who knew then they’d come in so very handy thirty years later? I mean, nowadays I can prop a snack on them, carry it around for a couple of hours, and then dig in when I’m getting peckish. And when I’m doing laundry? I can just toss a folded towel or two on the old rack and then head up to the linen closet, hands-free. If only I could get them to answer the cell phone while I’m driving).
At any rate, I did, indeed, find myself locked in some serious hormonal havoc–light inches ahead of my peers–for four or five years there. In 4th grade, I reached my adult height; in 5th grade, I could buy booze without getting carded; and by the time this picture was taken in 6th grade, I was well able to stand in for our teacher, Mrs. Surwill, if ever she was suddenly struck down by The Epizudy and had to take the afternoon off. I could literally fill her shoes: after a quick scan of the lesson plan, I could, realizing it was music time, break out some hand drums and lead my classmates through a quick “ta-ta-ti-ti-ta” and then announce it was time for social studies and a review of cultural geography before having everyone work on their diaramas of the marketplaces of South America.
Finally, at the end of the day, I could carpool everyone home in my two-toned station wagon.
The truth is that, even though I could just sit on the bullies to make them shut up, these years of looking like the mother of three when I really just wanted to play H-O-R-S-E at the basketball hoop and whoop it up during flashlight tag…well, they sucked. Certainly, I had my group of friends, remained a “smiley people pleaser” (as my mother aptly described me), and earned good grades. But my insides often hurt in ways that even the boobies couldn’t cover.
I felt the freak.
All the other kids were in that stage of unofficial dating–the whole “will you go with me?” time of life, which basically entailed everyone else whispering things like “They’re going with each other, so it’s okay” when Darrin and Andrea sat together on the same seat in the back of the school bus. Every six days or so, the “going together” couples would break up, mix up, and emerge reconfigured, Darrin now with Deanne and Andrea now with John.
It was all so frickin’ glamorous.
But I, with my intimidating height of 5′ 6″ and shouldering the boobies as I did, was sidelined during these social machinations, an observer of them, a cataloguer of them, but never a participant. I’ll spare you the litany of the resultant self-esteem issues, but if you want to bandy about some words like “weight issues” and “would date anyone who seemed to like her, all three of ’em” and “shopped to fill a void” here, I’ll wait.
Tra-la-toodley-doo. “First, when there’s nothin’, but a slow, glowing dream/That your fears seemed to hide, deep insiiiiiiiide your mind…What a feelin’! I have rhythm now!”
Oh, huh, bwah? You back now? Are we ready to move on?
Okay, so my point was something about suckwadage–the cruelty of it all, the injustice of being “developed” when everyone else was still turning cartwheels in their Garanimals–some sort of blather like that, right?
In all truth, there was actually a deeper cruelty in my late elementary years, and it proved that my character had yet to catch up to my body’s maturity. You see, one day I had the chance to join The Club of the Going Togethers. And I froze. For so long, my greatest dream had been to be going with someone because, for the love of Dancing with the Stars, it was what everyone was doing. If only someone, anyone, would ask me to go steady, then all my long years of existence would be validated and take on new meaning.
On that day, out of the blue, geeky, pencil-necked Robert Clark (in the class photo: front row, middle, striped shirt) suddenly leaned over during math time and whispered furtively, “Do you want to go with me?”
And I tell you, I froze. There was no “Um, sure” at the ready, no “gosh, yea” to be squeaked out. Rather, my internal monologue went something like “Ah, cripes, not you, Robert Clark. When this whole going with someone deal has played out in my mind, it’s not you who’s doing the asking. It’s someone, you know, taller–someone who can match me at tetherball, even. At the very least, it’s someone who likes the Hardy Boys or has a ten-speed. It’s never been you.”
Paralyzed with shock and dismay, I tossed out the clever rejoinder of “Huh?” I may have even gestured toward my ear with the international “I can’t seem to hear right now” sign.
So the brave, kind lad asked again, a little louder.
At this point, I did a very eleven-year-old thing: I crudely seized the opportunity for power, to feel myself moved up a tier in the social hierarchy on someone else’s shoulders; I looked him in the eye, wrinkled my brow in disgust, and, smirking, shook my head, silently telegraphing a vehement “No way, loser” his direction.
Needless to say, he never asked again, even though that night I rethought my hasty reaction and prayed for the fabled Second Chance. Good for him: he didn’t give it. Nor did anyone else in the sixth grade–or the seventh, or eighth–give me even a first.
Even though I know better now, I still like to think they were just afeared of The Boobies.