Whenever my parents made the brilliant decision to stop homeschooling my brothers and me, I was elated. I had this vision of public school based on my neighbor's exaggerated tales of her school, Harry Potter, and Nickelodeon shows where the characters spend about 4% of their time in a classroom because they're too busy solving mysteries or secretly being superheroes.
I was in for the biggest disappointment of my young life since the Christmas Eve I wandered into the living room to find my parents loading presents under the tree and my older brother carefully sprinkling baking soda around his shoes to create Santa's snowy footprints across the room. I always wondered why they never melted away like ours did. And where that snow came from. And why my parents didn't yell at him to take his darn boots off outside before walking all over the house for goodness sake.
We were moving from Asheboro to Lexington the summer I turned 13, to be closer to my dad's work. Don't ask what he does, I still don't really know. So when we started school, not only would it be a completely alien environment to us, but there was also a 0% chance we would see a single person we knew. But I didn't care - I was fabulous at making friends! I imagined myself passing notes in class, making everyone laugh at lunch, and effortlessly understanding everything taught in class.
First day of school. Also my birthday.
I wore highwater stretch jeans with tennis shoes and a shirt made of 97% glitter and 3% itchy elastic stuff. I know this because those were the only kinds of clothes I owned that magical year. Standing awkwardly next to a trashcan in the commons area before school started, holding the straps to my Powerpuff Girls backpack, I actually had the good fortune to be approached by a friendly girl who was also new. We talked about American Idol and her boyfriend. Of course she wasn't on my "team" of classes so the only time I would ever see her was before school. Her friendship was pointless but reassuring. Until she started hanging out with the cool children and pretending not to know me later that year... but that's a story for another time.
The bell rang and I easily found my homeroom class because I was one of the 3 students to attend orientation a couple weeks before. I found my seat and looked around expectantly through the cloud of glitter emitting from my stylish top. Everyone was talking and laughing and not wanting to make new friends since they had all known each other since elementary school and they didn't have time to get to know someone new. Especially if that someone had greasy hair and nervous pit stains.
Apparently there was a difference between homeschooled kids and public school kids that I hadn't counted on...
When the community of homeschool families got together, our objectives were:
1. Learn new things
2. Have fun
3. Love everybody
4. Make friends with other kids
Public school kids' objectives upon getting together seemed to be:
1. Avoid learning anything, ever
2. Have fun... at the expense of weird kids, teachers, defenseless animals, or parents
3. Hate everybody. We're teenagers now.
4. Alienate other kids
So I just looked around helplessly, smiling pleasantly so people would want to add me to their group of friends. Obviously that did not work on this particularly disturbed group of children.
I sat across from two "cool" girls at lunch. It was hard to differentiate who was supposed to be cool and who wasn't because nobody was particularly attractive or interesting. Even these alleged cool girls had braces, but one of them had not only cleavage, but shimmery lotion across that cleavage. It don't get no cooler than that. As it turns out, they were full of drama and gossip and STDs and anorexia.
I brought an off-brand lunchables pizza for lunch that day. When I eat lunchables pizzas now, which I do quite frequently, people think it's cute and nostalgic and I give them the Crunch bar that comes with it as a thank you for not spitting on me. However, bringing lunchables to eat on your first day of eighth grade does not get you respect or friends or anything but judgment. I made a mental note to request that my mom supply me with lunch money every day because yummy cafeteria hamburgers formed from crusty umbilical cords are more socially acceptable.
Here are some highlights from my day because I don't remember them in order.
I only got lost once, but when I realized my terrible mistake I turned around to go back the way I came and was nearly trampled by a mob of angry eighth grade ponytails.
I couldn't find my seat in social studies class and some genius said "duh" at me when the teacher showed me where it was. I snapped at him to shut up and everyone heard me and said "ooooooooh..." like I had just dropped an F bomb. Everyone should've told that kid to shut up, he was effing awful.
The social studies teacher scolded me in front of the whole class for bringing my backpack in, because it was supposed to stay in my locker. Which nobody bothered to tell me. That kid said "duh" at me again and I wondered if his parents would be angry or grateful if I stabbed a pencil down his throat.
A girl in gym class whose eyebrows had approximately 19 hairs each asked me if I'd ever waxed my eyebrows. Insecurity achieved. Then she was all, "you can stop staring at me now," when I said no and waited on her to say something else.
My English teacher told everybody I was homeschooled because she thought it was interesting. They did not share her interest but stared at me anyway and muttered to one another, probably glad they hadn't befriended me so I wouldn't have the chance to infect them with differentitis.
I put "reading" as a hobby on one of those "get to know me" information sheets classes always have on the first day. Apparently your answers aren't meant to be truthful, they're meant as an opportunity to promote your adolescent coolness. Nobody clued me in on that little secret. Everyone else's hobbies were things like, football, cheerleading, softball, dancing, partying, driving illegally, having sex, buying extravagently priced designer jeans... I can't even think of cool things middle school kids would do, but I know you were NOT supposed to list your nerdy hobbies or make yourself seem smart in any way. It seemed you could only keep from being a social outcast if you were a jock, stoner, or partier. What kinds of monsters were these 13-year-olds? Did they not watch Hey Arnold after school and read Babysitters Club books with a flashlight under their blankets at night?
When the longest day of my life finally ended at 3:00, I waited outside in a mob of strangers for my mom to pick me up. She had already been by the elementary school to get Thomas because I guess younger kids don't require as much torture time as us wicked teenagers. I pretended it hadn't been too bad and offered noncommital unenthusiastic responses to my mom's interrogation. It was my birthday and I just wanted to forget about my hugely undelightful middle school experience so I could be in a jolly-good-fellow sort of mood for my special dinner at Little Italy.
Thomas wasn't trying at all to conceal his contempt for school; he cried about being away from home for so long and other kids being smarter than him and not having time to finish his lunch. I didn't care because he was in the third grade and cried about everything that ever happened to him. It was my birthday so he needed to shut up and recognize.
We went to Little Italy when my dad got home from work. Apparently, earlier that summer he had told Thomas some reassuring lie about going back to homeschooling if he didn't like public school. So Thomas told him all the awful facts of elementary school life, since Daddy would obviously have to fix the situation by taking him out of school immediately. I stared sullenly around the restaurant, munching on my cheesestick and willing the conversation to turn to my brand new teenagerdom. Daddy listened sympathetically and slurped on his pizza so loudly we should have been asked to leave.
Poor Little Thomas: And then, we had to write our FULL NAMES down so everyone would know everyone's name. And plus also my crayon snapped so I had to use another color. I hated it.
Me: *Clearly not paying attention, won't even remember the exact reason he's so upset later*
Sympathetic Daddy: Well, son, it'll be better tomorrow, and as the year goes on and you get used to-
Poor Little Thomas: *Look of absolute horror, voicing my own dread* I have to go BACK?!
**We did have to go back, and it did get slightly better. I even made a few friends, but I still shudder when I'm forced to think of middle school.
**Thanks to the few kids who didn't care about my humongous eyebrows and homeschooled background, especially Kelly, Carly, and Stephanie. You are all angels.
**Everyone else: screw you, you made an innocent friendly kid miserable for no reason.