My Chemical Adolescence

I know that once we reached high school, we all took an oath to never speak of our transitional duration of education, but today I am going to break that taboo for the sake of healing. Here it goes: middle school.

Wait wait wait–don’t turn away from this! It’s okay; this is a safe place. I’m just going to poke fun at my twelve-year-old self for about 1000 words and then you can move on with your day. I will not be sharing any photos or anecdotes about your tragic middle school experience, or exposing the embarrassments of your preteen existence.  It will be all about my hideous transgressions.

But why? Why do I need to go here? Why do I need to dig up the past? Let sleeping dogs lie already! Well, because to heal, sometimes you need to confront your issues so you can move on, and maybe my story will inspire others to finally begin the healing process from their middle school days as well. If at any point during this you feel uncomfortable or disturbed, just say the safe word “My Chemical Romance” and I’ll know I’ve gone too far.

Let me paint a picture of a girl: off-brand black Chucks, with the white tips doodled on with Sharpie images of hearts and stars. Red skinny jeans that were still baggy in all the wrong spots upon her lanky body. A tight black “Cute is What We Aim For” t-shirt that had a colorful cluster of bubbly images on it. An over-sized black “Avenged Sevenfold” zip-up hoodie. A necklace with a red bell on it (ball removed from it so it wouldn’t ring). A red cat collar “choker” necklace. Various rubber bracelets in an assortment of colors upon her skinny pale arms. Shoulder-length fried straight red hair, bangs side-parted and obscuring half her face. Dark brown eyeliner surrounding her eyes–eye liner and only eye liner. A blank look on her face, mouth in a small straight line.

This is only one of the many different looks I, as a middle schooler, boasted. But this is the portrait of a girl who was tragically deep in the clutches of middle school’s most insidious influences. She got too caught up in the awkwardness, the moodiness, the self-discovery of it all that she turned to mediocre music and Hot Topic wardrobes.

Oh, middle school. Everyone did it differently, because middle school’s evil powers disguises itself in a medley of cringe-worthy fashions, but the one over-arching theme is that it was painfully awkward.

So awkward! Hormones are rushing to the stage like Mayday Parade is performing. Suddenly everyone is trying to relearn how to socialize because they have become very aware of human bodies. Every minor event is inflated into an apocalyptic affair! Parents are now annoying and dorky (as if the young middle schooler is neither of those). Clicks are formed, as these preteens choose between wanting to be like everyone else and wanting to be like no one else. Voices crack!, breasts emerge!, facial hair appears!, emotions run rampant!–are you uncomfortable yet??

But those are just the facts of middle school. Because I wasn’t hot and because I was shy, I chose to be “like no one else,” which entailed being like everyone else who chose to be like no one else. Boys didn’t like me (except to be their friend) because I was ugly and too smart, and I didn’t know how to be anything but weird and awkward. My best friend was a lot like me, so when puberty hit, we started shopping at Hot Topic and listening to Bullet for my Valentine. We started writing poetry and reading manga. We succumbed to moodiness and loneliness. We wore fedoras, for a minute.

And something about that trend involved having incredibly straight hair. I used to straighten my hair every day. Multiple times a day! I’d run that straightener through my hair again and again even after it was already straight. But I always had little flyaway hairs looking like evaporation lines from my head because the straightener couldn’t kill the frizz, only fuel it. And so when my hair was satisfactorily straight enough, I would walk out to the bus stop–just to have my hair lose the straightness and begin to frizz and curl again,  because any presence of humidity obliterated all my efforts. I mean, my hair was pretty naturally ugly at the time, but I don’t think it was anything a good haircut couldn’t have fixed.

My best friend and I were also lame about boys. We each had our own crushes, and we made up code names for our crushes so that nobody would ever find out. My crush’s code name was Saturn, and my friend’s Mars, like we were discussing some NASA type matters. But we were so uncool about it, how middle schoolers are, and kept our crushes under top secret discretion, totally oblivious (I mean, excruciatingly unaware) of the possibility of just walking up and striking a conversation. No, we had to pine and agonize over how much we liked these planet-boys and how we only wanted to be with them, but how they would never even think to talk to us, much less like us. You know, typical preteen girl stuff, where we based our self-worth and happiness off of the opinions of our male counterparts, who in turn begin to view their own opinions of women as some sort of relevant dictation that women are supposed to adapt according to. (I’m so glad that this is something that totally in no way, shape, or form tragically endures as a social pressure throughout women’s entire lives as they come to internalize a constant consideration of seeking male approval; that would so totally suck!)

Naturally, I spent a lot of time alone in my room, too, as any middle schooler does. It’s hard to come off as being moody if you’re not locked in your room during all your free time, so I did that. I’d sit in there and read Ellen Hopkins books or draw anime characters or listen to Paramore’s Riot! album or take emo pictures of myself with my point-and-shoot digital camera, which is how we did selfies back in the day. And occasionally I would emerge from my cave to use the computer, our family computer which was located centrally in the dining room, so the cost of roleplaying or being on Tumblr was that I had to be in an open space around people (the horror!).

And nobody understood me. I was so misunderstood, that even I didn’t understand myself. No one in this entire world could relate to me–I was so alone! Me and my woeful privileged middle-class existence. Me and my sorrow-filled days with loving parents and a decent neighborhood. So unfortunate, so tragic.

But, I am a survivor. Middle school felt like it would never end, but it finally did. On the first day of high school, I took that oath to never speak of middle school and began the process of erasing it from my memory. I only bring it up now because I finally may have gotten enough distance from it to get over the bad hair, the bad outfits, the bad attitude– and that cat collar! (Bought from a dollar store!)

I’m a survivor, and you’re a survivor, too. I’ve stopped straightening my hair altogether, and I will never wear a “Cute is What We Aim For” shirt again. But more than anything though, today I’m proud to say that I’m eight years strong of not wearing cat collars.


One thought on “My Chemical Adolescence

  1. Wow, so evocative. I love your middle-school self, & I hope down the road you can look back & love her too. Even if you think she was a little goofy. She was finding her way, & we all make some wrong turns in the process . . .


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