Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Back in the Day

When I was a freshman in high school, I took algebra with Mrs. Alley. I really hated that woman. I hated her as much as I hated algebra. Math just isn't my strong suit. Homework isn't either. Anyway, I took algebra with a girl named Stephanie G. I didn't know most of the kids in my freshman class because I went to a private middle school, but I really wanted to be popular.

Homecoming was quickly approaching and I knew that the fastest route to popularity outside of a tattoo or addiction to Marlboro reds, was to take Stephanie G. to the dance. Let me set the scene for you here: I was wearing these above-the-knee denim shorts and blue and orange striped knit tee that my mom had gotten me (forced me to wear) from the GAP. This was before the GAP was cool and then uncool again. I think the GAP might be cyclical, like disco (even people who like it don't admit it). Anyway, there I was, all ninety pounds of me (50 of those ninety pounds were in my nose), with my hair gelled into submission. I waited all through class, enduring the embarrassment of having to put my name on the board (again) for not completing my homework, not listening to a single word Mrs. Alley said. Solving for X or Y were not going to make opening my mouth and asking out Stephanie G. any easier.

When the bell rang, I grabbed my books and ran after her in my girl's sneakers (my mom always tried to convince me that girl's sneakers were JUST like boys...but with flair!), and called for her to wait. I summoned all my courage (and very nearly my breakfast of frozen waffles) and said, "Hey. So. Yeah. I was just wondering if you wanted to go to homecoming with me?" I was stunned that the words had even managed to leave my lips. That my vocal chords had produced the sounds. In front of a girl. A live girl. A popular live girl who was suddenly six feet taller than me and staring at me like she was hungry and I was made of sausages.

She stared at me, and she wasn't the only one. See, I hadn't done the smart thing and waited until she'd separated from the herd, I'd put her on the spot in front of EVERYONE. If she eviscerated me, I wouldn't be able to slink off into the shadows and lick my wounds, I'd be forced to endure public and enduring agony. In front of my peers. Who were judging every move I made. It was a tactical error, but I was a Spartan, rushing off to battle dressed in nothing but my girl's shoes and shield!

After about ten seconds (ten long, agonizing, painful seconds) she said, "Do you have a car?"

Do I have a car? What kind of stupid question was that? Same class, same grade, same age. How could she think I had car? On what planet was it possible that a fourteen year-old would have a car? Of course, it's not like I was after her for her brains or anything. At that age, I wasn't actually sure WHAT I was after, but I was sure that brains weren't terribly important. In no part of the popularity equation were brains a factor to be factored.

Okay, to be absolutely, one hundred percent honest, the only thing going through my brain at that exact moment, while Stephanie G. and thirty of my peers (and likely Mrs. Alley) waited for my answer was: BREATHE!

My "No," rolled out of my mouth like a marble and hit the cold floor with a hard splat. I waited for her to laugh, to tell me she wasn't interested, to tell me it as all right because she had an older sibling and/or guardian who could take us. Stephanie G. did none of those things. She didn't answer at all. At least, not in words. Stephanie G.'s look of curiosity turned to horror. I was no longer a skinny, pale boy in bad clothes asking her to the first dance of both our high school careers, the dance that would likely set in stone our social standing for the next four years of our poor delicate lives, I was a plague. I was ebola. I was blood oozing from every available orifice. Just being near big-beaked-pale-boy-with-no-car was enough to catch my disease. So she flipped her wavy brown hair and walked away like the entire incident never happened. Except it did happen. And it continued to happen over and over and over again.

I didn't go to homecoming that year. Or any year. Instead of Stephanie G. my first girlfriend was an overweight, sixteen year-old Salvation Army bell-ringer with a preoccupation for sticking her tongue down my throat during Disney movies. I was still fourteen at the time, and I still can't watch Aladdin without needing to brush my teeth.

Back then, those things seemed to end my world. Every slight real or imagined. Every event. All larger than life. The fact that I remember them all. That I can laugh at my teenage self. That I can still sympathize with my teenage self all while knowing that not only do things get better but that they get great. So much more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Those are the reasons that I think I'm a good (or just okay, whatever) YA writer.

Well, that and because I have a wish-granting coffee mug, but don't tell anyone.

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