Tag Archives: middle school struggles

Middle school boys with too many girls to dance with inside dark cafeterias were not meant to feel like Less Than Enough.

With a hair flip and a sideways smile, he captures all the girls in the seventh grade.

His younger brother rattles off the list of middle-schoolers swooning over the college boy in a twelve-year-old’s body. Hollister hoodie sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Ray-Ban sunglasses shield his eyes inside the living room.

“Five out of six girls respond to the look,” the younger one says. He darts his head dramatically to the side, chin to shoulder, his sixty-pound four-feet-tall body not having quite the same effect.

He says he won’t date any of them. The southern mothers wouldn’t want that. Would rather their daughters wait a few years to find themselves standing in the foyer, some sweet talker’s hand around their waists as the father looks onward from the living room couch.

Weeks later, in the comfort of my own living room, four states away, I learn that he has forgotten the art of loving himself. The boy with too many girls to ask to dance. The boy with the football arm and hot-sauce-lined lips. The middle of the Oreo, the creamy gooey goodness we are first to reach for, has forgotten his place between the Tall and Lanky and the Small and Slim.

He has turned husky into a curse. Swapped strong for weak. Twisted thick into a something he does not want to be.

Instead, he’s taken to skipping out on sandwiches. Pining for afternoon walks around the entire metropolitan area. Fifteen miles of feet padding across foreign sidewalks. Fifteen miles to shed the ounces of him that glue together the Small and Slim boy to the Tall and Lanky.

I do not have an answer for this boy, hovering between sucking in his insides and scarfing down every last morsel of meat on the baby back ribs.

I only know that middle school boys with too many girls to dance with inside dark cafeterias were not meant to feel like Less Than Enough. They were not meant to take solitary laps around the neighborhood until all the damage of yesterday and the day before fall off them in beads of sweat around their necklines.

They were meant to play basketball beneath hanging nets. To finger piano keys in auditoriums. To scribble football predictions on portable white boards.

They were meant to be nothing but themselves, to love with strong hearts, to glue together the wild and crazy older and younger ones.

They were meant for so much more than wishing themselves away.

And girl, you're going so far.

Just to be clear, I am 16 or 17 here. Not 13. I may've burned all those photos.

Dear thirteen-year-old Me,

Thursday night I knocked on Brooke’s door and just started crying. And not the wiping-a-few-stray-tears-away kind, either. I’m talking full-on can’t speak crying.

Some things, my dear, will never change.

Brooke told me something pretty radical, something I still don’t quite believe, to make me feel better. She said I’d been through a lot more than most of the girls in this town. Like the two standing outside my neighbor’s house Saturday night, shrieking, the green strobe lights pulsating into our street.

She told me that and I shook my head, because of course it wasn’t true. The more I see of the world, the more the scale tips toward heartbreak. There’s just a sea full of brokenness rolling between Us and Them.

Kellie’s challenge made me think of the thirteen-year-old girl locked deep inside of me, still reeling from the pain she put herself through.

I know you’re awkward. And I mean, everyone says that when they’re thirteen, but it’s about sixteen times truer for you. I don’t know how you got out of bed at six in the morning and watched Fresh Prince reruns with syrup-drowned waffles and didn’t just want to go comatose.

By then, though, you’d already sworn off school for once. You figured you might as well go back again. I know. I understand.

You lied about a lot of things. I know you didn’t want to, but you felt like you had to. And that’s true for a lot of us, but sooner or later the truth has to free you. I think, eventually, you learned that. You lied about things that, seven years later, you cannot even dare to speak out loud. That’s how ashamed you are.

You lied about things you’re unable to write about; and that’s a big deal, because let me tell you that all your little stunts, all your little mishaps will find themselves again on the page. Even the ones that ended you in hospital beds. Even the ones that threatened, at times, to yank your bedcovers off you and take you right from this earth.

Don’t lie so much for so long, OK?

It’ll be eight years in December, but I can still see you standing barefoot on that cold blue tile floor, sure that something bad was about to happen. You didn’t know it already happened. You didn’t know that it could take three days to find the right kind of tears for a funeral you never anticipated. You didn’t know how to heal.

And so you gave up. It wasn’t your first funeral, nor was it your last, but you had seen enough.

Now, you look at death and see it backwards, each person falling closer and closer to birth. 57, 40, 17. You pray it starts going back up again. You pray your next funeral might not be for a 3-year-old, but a 98-year-old.

Mostly, you pray life at thirteen is more complicated than life at twenty-two. Guess what? It’s not.

But you’re fine. Obviously, you’re more than fine. You still laugh nine out of ten days and you still look more or less the same. You still know how to hold your chin up, even if those other girls in town don’t.

And girl, you’re going so far. You don’t even know it yet, but you are.

This world, your life, your mind is a magical place.

Your future self