Ninth grade was a time of transition. I never have been good at transition. In middle school – sixth through eight grades – I was profoundly awkward. Now, every supermodel and high functioning grown-up will insist that she was a gawky tween, and I’m sure this is true in their hearts. But I really was an adolescent mess: Sally Jesse glasses. A bad perm, which is just redundant. Sprayed up bangs. Pimples. Too smart to be cool, and too self-conscious to be completely invested in schoolwork. In my seventh grade class photo, I wore a paisley vest from J.C. Penny over a puffy white shirt. Sometimes, classmates would leave dog treats under my chair and throw things at me on the bus. I had a lot of stomach aches those years.
But I also was a dancer and cheerleader and made my friends crack up with silly impressions and the ability to coin new words. I discovered a wicked gift for mean girlishness, because I could suss out exactly what was odd about our rivals. I was the one who ghost wrote the notes and drafted the petitions we circulated. I spread gossip and exaggerated the truth. It was self-preservation, I rationalized. We were all just trying to survive. The boys I liked never noticed me. I cheered for them from the basketball sidelines and slow danced all seventy-four minutes of Stairway to Heaven with the kid who lived in the motel next to Stop ‘n Shop because I felt sorry for him. And when the lights came up in the gymnasium, he walked back to his friends and made barking noises as I slipped into my turquoise windbreaker and went out to look for my mom’s Caravan.
The fall of ’92 arrived, and so did I. Taller and well-proportioned, with better skin and contact lenses. A classic ugly duckling story. But I didn’t feel like fitting in. I couldn’t understand why the older boys who used to tease me suddenly wanted to take me out. Cliques were torn apart, as classes were stratified by level. We sorted and resorted our social alliances, and started reading Dante in English. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” was written over my homeroom door. Freshman year was circles of Hell even more confusing than the purgatory of terrible middle school. I took my lunch alone in the last rows of the auditorium, where I could think and cry and read. Every day I had a bottle of water, because I was on a diet, and a package of three crispy chocolate chip cookies, because I was sad. Such is the logic of a 13-year-old.
Fall always makes me think of that period of flux, when innocence to experience happened overnight. It’s been twenty years since I was that crying girl. I wish I could time travel back and give her a hug and these homemade cookies, instead of the crummy ones I bought from the school cafeteria. I’d tell her that transition never gets any easier, but never to give up hope, which is an infinite resource that never diminishes, like the Hanukkah oil or Everlasting Gobstoppers. Gah, what a bummer of a story for a Friday. Sorry.Yay weekend! Make cookies! These are awesome and packed full of chunks and chocolate and oatmeal and nuts and are so, so good with coffee.