When I was a socially awkward eleven-year-old misfit, I had two friends. My BFF since kindergarten, was significantly more popular than me, and adjusting well to the wonderful world of middle school. Our friendship remained intact, although I really didn’t see too much of her until high school. Another friend, I think, took pity on me and welcomed me into her life. Both were childhood friends from the neighborhood and complete polar opposites.
Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of other children who were acquaintances or friends who went their separate ways with the segregated clique dynamic of middle class suburban middle schools. I just didn’t have a clue where I was or who I was or what I wanted…It took years to figure that out, and I’m still not quite sure I’ve gotten the hang of this thing called life.
I remember several things about sixth grade. The first is that I ate a lot of Edy’s Mint Chocolate Chip single serving containers for lunch. They were inexpensive and I had a tendency to hoard money, a habit that I wish I still had more control over. Long before cell phone bills, car insurance, and gas, I was holding onto money like Mr. Scrooge. As I was only eating a tiny container of ice cream most days for lunch, weighing myself every day to make sure I didn’t gain weight was a ridiculous habit. I never strayed from a 7 pound range that I would kill to be at right now (which still wasn’t “thin” by any stretch of the imagination).
The second thing I remember is while I was eating my Edy’s, I was typically eating it alone. In middle school, lunch seats were chosen the first week of school. They were then assigned for the duration of the year. There could be no more than six children to a table. Those were the rules. So, when the only friends I really had could not fit me at their tables, I accepted that with a dulled understanding.
Then of course, there was picture day. It was 1994, so vests were somewhat trendy, but the combination of my outfit would not have been cool in 1987, let alone when I wore it. A purple turtleneck, remnants of my junior cheerleading days, layered with a cream colored knit vest. I couldn’t find a pair of pants to match this great ensemble, so I matched it with a pair of black spandex running shorts. Oh yes, spandex. Which leads me to the next thing I remember about being eleven and awkward: my first pair of jeans in six years.
After the debacle with the painted jeans from kindergarten, in which I refused to wear jeans ever again (due to the travesty that was outgrowing my favorite pair of pants), I decided that it was time to start dressing a little more with the times. My mother took me to Von Maur, which had just opened in the mall, and we scavenged the racks until we found a pair of khakis and a few pairs of jeans to try on and eventually buy.
Soon after my wardrobe change, I was finally coming into my own and making a few more friends. I even had a little clique of girls that called themselves my friends. By the end of sixth grade, I was still socially awkward, but at least I wasn’t alone.
Settled in with a group of the “bad girls,” I came into some really amazing friends. Amanda (the friend who likely took pity on me) was certainly the ringleader of the group. In sixth grade, she called my Crispy in the most endearing way. She was the first to smoke a cigarette, steal booze, and lose her virginity; one would think that hanging out with her would have sent me on the path of least resistance pretty quickly. But it didn’t. I maintained a sweet and naive innocence that stayed with me for several more years.
I spent many a summer nights sleeping over at her house and vice-versa. At all of the slumber parties, the girls would sneak out at around 11, and I would stay tucked into my sleeping bag. Part of me wonders if it was the fear of getting caught or the desire to sleep that kept me in the house. Some of the other girls would try to get me to drink or smoke, and Am would just look at them, wise beyond her years, and tell the girls, “it’s refreshing that Crispy is as innocent as she is. Why would you want to change that?”
At some point in the midst of seventh grade, Am and Jenny (my two besties at the time) were sitting in Am’s kitchen with me discussing our group of friends.
“I’m so glad that we’re friends. Our group is pretty awesome” Amanda had said to us. Jenny, the quiet one, smiled and told us that we were the best friends that she had ever had.
I told them, “It’s going to be so sad when we get to high school. I think that Kate is probably going to end up leaving our circle. She seems like she doesn’t really like hanging out with us anymore.”
“You’re probably right. But high school is going to be so fun. We’re lucky to have each other. We’ll be best friends for life.” Amanda had said with perfect confidence.
As the years progressed on, I ended up being the first to leave the group, making the cheerleading team in 8th grade, and becoming friends with a new group of girls. Thanks to Facebook, Amanda and I are reconnected, and I’m so happy to see that things are going exceptionally well for her. We had a million great memories together from grade school through middle school. She will always be a childhood best friend.
I ran into Jenny once in the lunch room, and it was one of the most awkward moments of my high school career. She and I had shared a really brilliant summer of friendship between 7th and 8th grade, but when it came down to high school politics, we just weren’t friends anymore. There was nothing to talk about.
Our junior year of high school, an announcement was made that Jenny had passed away in a car accident. I’m not sure whether drugs or alcohol were involved, but I know that she lived a lot in her young life. My mom and I went to the wake, and I was wearing my letter-man’s jacket. The stares that I got from Jenny’s at-the-time friends could cut through a rock. But it didn’t matter. She was my best friend in seventh grade, and dammit I was going to pay my respects.
Those girls hold a special place in my heart. They made middle school just a little less traumatic. We were all misfits, but we were friends.