In part one, Danelle was cast out of her clique and I began the sensitive process of carving a more permanent space for myself in same. Following this excerpt are my thoughts on the boys we worshipped, the existence of “frenemies” even before we had a word for them, and our late-1980s hairstyles.
I shamelessly present part two of the recently-unearthed memoir written by my fourteen-year-old self.
In every clique, Danelle made sure I didn’t get too close. She wasn’t stupid. If she wasn’t accepted, then she made sure I went with her. And this was when she was allowing me to take part. She made sure that no matter how much of an outcast she was, I was always on the sidelines to catch her when she fell.
Danelle also had a series of boyfriends in middle school. The first was a real jerk named Donnie, whom I proceeded to develop a tremendous crush on in the following year. Then was Zack, an even bigger jerk whom Beth proceeded to develop a tremendous crush on in the following year. Then was Sean, and then another Shawn, both completely undesirable. Last was Andy, to whom Danelle remained disgustingly devoted for the remainder of middle school.
But Zack was the worst. I can remember one Friday early in the school year, and there was a dance that night, for Halloween or something. Danelle was “going” with Zack, and the three of us were sitting at lunch talking about it when Danelle said, “Why don’t you get Annie a date?” Now this was a mistake to begin with, because Zack did not like me in the least. So, as a joke, he proceeded to walk up to every guy in the cafeteria, even ones he didn’t know, and ask them if they would take me to the dance. I begged him to stop. I begged Danelle to make him stop. But Zack kept right on as boy after boy said no and added some comical commentary. And Danelle just laughed and laughed at Zack as I tried not to cry.
I called Cindy that night after Christina went home. We talked for quite a while. It was fascinating. I had been sitting with them for months and here it was the first time I had spoken to one of them on the phone. But what was most fascinating was that Cindy actually had a brain in her head, and opinions and insights. She was like me, I guess, a slave to her master for so long that if she were offered freedom, she would probably turn it away. We talked about school, and clothes, but mostly about Danelle.
“I would bet anyting that she’ll sit down tomorrow and act like nothing happened. Either that or she just won’t come to school,” I said. Danelle dealth with social conflicts by not going to school for a week.
“She wouldn’t dare sit with us.”
“Of course she would! She would and she will. At least until she finds someplace else.”
“Maybe she’ll take your place in the library,” Cindy laughed.
“Now that I think about it, though, Christina probably wouldn’t let her sit with us. Christina would make her life hell,” I giggled.
“I know, right?”
Michelle called me later that night. “Is Christina there?” she snapped impatienty.
“No…” I answered. “Maybe you should try her house.”
“Well, she’s not there.”
“Then they’re probably at dinner.”
“Why didn’t you go with them?”
I knew she wanted me to say that I wasn’t invited. “I’m not allowed. I’m grounded.” I lied.
“Annie, you’re never grounded.”
“Well, now I am.”
“Because I haven’t cleaned my room.”
“Oh, sure. Well, don’t let me keep you.” I could hear the satisfaction in her voice and I hung up fast so that she would hear the click.
“Christina, you’re going to make us late. Again,” I complained from the edge of her bathtub. She stood at the sink fussing with her hair in the mirror. I was waiting for her to be ready so we could walk to the bus stop. It was 7:30 AM.
“Will you just relax? Michelle isn’t even here yet.”
“Michelle probably went ahead. If she’s not there by 7:20, we’re supposed to leave without her, remember?” I said, rather meekly.
“Well, if you don’t want to wait, then go on ahead. It’s fine with me,” she snapped convincingly. But I know otherwise. If I left, I would have to endure the silent treatment on the bus. So I shut up and waited.
Ten minutes later, we were sprinting across Marshall Road as bus began to pull away. Fortunately, Michelle saw us and told the bus driver to wait. I fell backward into a seat and sat wheezing for several minutes. Michelle glared at me. Only she would get jealous because I was late for the bus with Christina.
Danelle wasn’t at school. I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised, however, that she hadn’t called me last night to make sure I was still her friend. We talked about her at lunch. I was in line with Beth and Cindy. I was just saying that Danelle was probably planning on being absent for the rest of her life when Beth squealed, “Omigod! It’s Zack! He’s looking at me! He’s coming over here! Omigod! How does my hair look?”
“You look fine,” Cindy and I said at the same time.
“Hi,” Zack said, grinning. Donnie was with him. Donnie was not only Danelle’s ex-boyfriend, but Beth’s too. “Can we cut?”
“Sure!” Beth piped. As they got in front of us, Beth tossed he hair and smiled at Cindy and I. I noticed the triumphant look that Zack gave Donnie. It said, See? She thinks I’m God.
As we stood there, Zack and Donnie seemed to multiply. More of their friends wanted to cut, and then friends of the friends wanted to cut, and then friends of the friends of the friends wanted to cut, and so on. Eventually, we had been standing there for fifteen minutes and not moved an inch. I got out of line in favor of the salad bar.
Personally, I saw Zack as a manipulative airhead (if there is such a thing) who never spoke more than five words at a time. And even then, every word was monotone and monosyllabic. Of course, at this point, I NEVER in a million years would say anything less than favorable about him to anyone.
There was somebody I didn’t recognize sitting at our table. But then again, it had been a week since I had been to lunch. Brittany was sitting eating her lunch and Lara stood at the end of the table talking animatedly to them both. I sat down virtually unnoticed for five minutes.
“Oh, hi, Annie. When did you get here?” Brittany grinned at me.
“I’ve been here,” I said, but nobody was listening. The mystery girl looked very much at home, eating all the croutons out of her salad and listening avidly to Lara’s latest episode. From the conversation, I deduced that the girl’s first name was Kathy, she was new at the school, and that she had Mr. Greenberg for English. That was about it.
“You’ll like it here,” Lara told her. “The school kind of sucks, but the kids are mostly nice.”
I couldn’t help it, I laughed.
All of these things are true, but some of them do come back to me more vividly than others.
For example, the story of Zack asking boys to the dance on my behalf in the cafeteria. When I say above that he asked every boy, I literally mean every single one. The cafeteria was arranged in rows of long, long tables with attached benches, not unlike prison cafeterias in the movies. Zack began at the last table and methodically made his way through at least a third of the cafeteria, asking every single boy to take me to the dance. What amazes me today is that I wasn’t more destroyed by this experience. I guess kids are resilient.
Zack was a slight blue-eyed blonde, his hair stiffened into fragile-looking spikes with a generous application of hair gel. Donnie was a dumpy little brown-haired boy stuck in that unfortunate phase some boys experience, in which his face hadn’t seemed to come together yet. I had quite a crush on Donnie — one of the few people in this story whose real name I forget — until a terrible humiliation he foisted upon me on the playground after lunch one day, a humiliation which I’m relieved is not documented in the above story. Donnie had a nickname: “Stud.” I shit you not. This twelve-year-old pipsqueak called himself “Stud”, and somehow convinced others to do so as well. Donnie had a comeuppance toward the end of our seventh grade year that I cannot clearly recall, but I remember that afterward I no longer regarded him as a dashing, confident, and intimidating boy, and instead came to see him as pitiable and a little pathetic.
Christina and I grew up together; we lived on the same street, with one house between us, going back to kindergarten. Michelle lived around the corner from us both. We spent a huge amount of time together, the three of us, endless sleepovers, playing Nintendo, riding our bikes to the frozen-yogurt place we visited almost daily. We would go with Christina to her gymnastics classes; we would go out to dinner with Christina’s parents, who in retrospect seemed never to cook and instead ate at various inexpensive restaurants almost every night. Those are the memories that have stuck with me, and the cruelty described in this story seems to have happened to someone else, in another world. Though the word did not exist back then, Christina was the very definition of a frenemy. This will become more apparent as things unfold.
As a final note: our hair. There are two situations above in which hair is important enough to be noted. We cared deeply about our hair back then, because it wasn’t simply styled: it was a damn architectural production. I refer, of course, to the “Pouf”, a hairstyle that was the height of fashion at the time. A pouf was created from a set of bangs, in which the bangs further back on the head are teased, ironed, and/or hairsprayed to stand straight up, while the rest of the bangs were either spiked forward or curled down and frozen in place. Beth had the most perfect pouf of anyone I’d ever seen — it was perfectly round, as though someone had crafted a donut of hair and stuck it to her forehead. This is well documented in a yearbook photo, and if that yearbook were not in storage in my father’s house in Florida I would be scanning it to share with you all.
All of this is to say that hair was very important. I fully believed that the lion’s share of Beth’s and Christina’s popularity came from their success with their hair. My hair, on the other hand, was stubbornly curly and thus ill-suited to poufing, a fact for which I was secretly grateful because, even then, I thought that hair looked fucking ridiculous.
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