A while ago, I wrote an autobiographical piece which I submitted to a writing contest. I just heard back from them and I was not picked as a finalist, so I am now allowed to post the piece to my blog. Half-yay! *apathetic kazoo toot*
This piece is based on personal experiences that I have had during my time in middle school. Everything is based on true events from my life! Just wanted to put that out there. None of this is made up. Even though I wish some of it was. Sigh. Anyhoo, enjoy my account of what it’s really like to be a middle school student.
“I’m Not Your (Stereo)type” by Lillian Maggio (a.k.a. PenPrin)
Since I’m going into high school soon, I figured I might as well make my contribution to the “Life of a Middle School Student” genre while I still can. Middle school isn’t at all what children’s books would lead you to believe. In my experience as a dorky teen girl, I’ve found that not all people who wear nice clothes are rude. Not all parents are idiots who do nothing but ruin your life. It’s impossible to actually keep a journal without forgetting about it in a few weeks, and there isn’t a perfect boy. Oh, and not every geek is this kind, accepting person. Don’t believe me? I have five prime examples of how life is not like a book.
Trust me, I love a good story. I just wish that someone had explained to me the difference between stories and truth before I was tossed headfirst into a pile of tall, stinky children who refused to be called children anymore.
Example number one: Just this year in science class I was paired up with two girls who my past self might have labeled “popular.” They both had long, blonde hair. Before I got to know them, I probably thought they looked exactly alike, but now I can easily tell them apart. I was dreading having to work with them because I assumed they would be total divas. But guess what? They were actually really cool and fun to hang out with. They were kind to me and loved to crack jokes. I felt included, not isolated by them. I learned that a girl’s IQ can be greater than the length of her ridiculously short shorts. That would have been good to know three years ago.
Example number two: I once tried to keep a diary. My parents and I were at a convenience store and I spotted a tiny spiral notebook with a golden retriever photo on the front. I begged like the puppy on the cover for them to let me get it, and they did. As soon as I got home, I got out a pen and wrote “NO SNOOPING” with ten exclamation marks on the inside cover. I even journaled in it almost every day for a little while. Most of it was just me talking about video games I really didn’t know that much about and gushing over boys. I would draw in it, too, although my “style” of art wasn’t much to look at. It was a combination of me attempting to mimic Japanese cartoons and then just giving up and drawing stick figures. Eventually, though, the entries consisted of less talk about my life and more random ideas I had jotted down in boredom. After a while, I tore out a bunch of the pages and stopped writing in it. Commitment is way harder than “realistic fiction” books make it seem!
Example number three: From the time I was born, my parents have been there for me. My mom and dad didn’t look like your typical reality TV show parents. They’ve been struggling with being overweight for as long as I have known them, and they tend to be older than a lot of my friends’ parents. My mom usually had blonde hair, and recently she shaved the sides of her head. I think it makes her look really cool. My dad has gray hair, a beard, a mustache, and thick eyebrows like mine. Even though they fought a lot sometimes, they never got separated or divorced. They always entertained my endless stream of what-if questions until I had depleted their energy with my curiosity. They were the first ones to teach me how to read, and they actually cared about my education instead of just waiting for the day they could send me off to preschool. Even now, they let me talk to them about my problems and struggles during the time when I’m outside of their reach. Most other kids, real and otherwise, seem to despise the people who brought them into the world. For me, though, they’re my best friends, and almost always have been.
Example number four: In the sixth and seventh grade, I had a nerdy boyfriend. I did have a boyfriend before him, but this is a story about middle school, so I won’t count my fifth grade “relationship.” Anyway, in case you don’t know, a boyfriend or girlfriend in the sixth and seventh grade just means somebody of the opposite gender with whom you’re obligated to see every movie. He had short, almost-black hair and a freckled face. I think he was taller than me, but not by very much. He wasn’t the Prince Charming that overdramatic books had taught me that I deserved, and his normalness confused me. I felt like even though we said that our relationship was special, we just acted like friends. I came to the realization that, despite what the diary of a fictional teenage girl told me, I didn’t need a boy to feel good about myself. I broke up with him, and I haven’t dated anyone since.
I’m sure that you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for my final example, and I promise not to disappoint. It’s packed full of powerful experiences, controversial opinions, and pessimistic sarcasm. Plus, it’s longer than my four other examples, so you know it has to be good. Prepare yourself for the one and only example number five.
I’ve rejected people and been rejected by people. I’m not exactly a perfect protagonist, but I’ve come up against my fair share of bad guys. Not in the form that I expected (makeup-wearing divas dishing out weak insults), but antagonistic nonetheless. One girl had long, dirty-blonde hair and glasses. She was always extremely tall. Her parents were bikers, and she wanted to be one, too. She was just as wrapped up in her fantasy world as I was in mine, and because of it we fell apart in reality. Another had straight, dark brown hair that she usually wore up in a ponytail. This girl also wore glasses. She constantly acted like she was better than everyone else, but in reality she wasn’t actually all that smart. She clung to me and made me feel special for half a year, then left me in the dust when a new girl came along. Most recently, I found myself attached to a girl so desperately confused that she thought to be happy, she had to confuse me, too. Only the last of these three ever wore makeup as long as I knew them, but they all hurt me equally as bad.
The confused girl was short—shorter than me, and I’m only five feet tall. She went through a variety of hair colors. When I met her, it was faded green. Then black. Then teal on the bottom with pink on the top. I thought it was so cool, so I did weird stuff with my hair, too. It started out brown, my natural color. I convinced my mom to help me dye it purple, but the bleach made it light and we didn’t have enough dye, so it became orange and pink. Then I dyed it bright red to cover up the mistake, but it faded quickly, going back to pink and orange in a matter of weeks. Then I cut it short. Then I shaved the sides and left the top long. Then I think I tried purple again, but that faded, too. Then I dyed it bright red again. Finally, after my friendship with the confused girl had ended, I went back to brown and tried to grow it out. That’s where I am today, in the awkward trying-to-grow-it-out stage.
One day, after only a short time of us knowing each other, she told me that she was bisexual. Later in the year, she said that she was a lesbian and not bisexual. I didn’t question her at the time, but now I wonder why she had told a near-complete stranger such a personal thing about her as her sexuality. Maybe I’m just a massive prude and everyone else wears their sexuality on their sleeve, but I never thought it was the kind of thing you brought up in casual conversation with someone you just met. To me, sexuality is private; a personal thing. I wouldn’t go up to someone and proclaim my straightness at full voice. But maybe I don’t have to because people assume I’m straight. Just to be clear, I completely support people being whoever and whatever they are. It’s not that I don’t like people who are bisexual! I’m just uncomfortable that the confused girl was sharing such personal deets with me.
She asked me what I was, and I told her that I was straight, but didn’t like anyone at the time.
“So you’re asexual?”
“No!” I swear to God, confused girl!
Later in the year, sexuality came up again. This time, another girl was part of the conversation. She was tall, wore glasses, and had a whiny voice. Fun fact: tall girl is the same person my previous best friend left me for. I was trying not to hold a grudge, but it was hard because she’s kinda mean.
The friend-stealer walked up to the confused girl and me. “Hey, I heard you talking about being a lesbian,” she said to Confused. (By now, Confused was a lesbian and not bisexual anymore. I know, it’s hard to keep up.) “It’s okay, I’m bisexual.” (Seriously. Is everyone bisexual now and I just didn’t get the memo? How long has this been going on?) She looked at me. “Um, what are you?”
Now, I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I responded with the most politically-correct sentence I believe I have ever uttered. “Personally, I’m heterosexual and cisgendered, but I respect everyone whose preferences are different.”
“Then just say you’re straight. Otherwise you sound like a jerk.”
I’d like to reiterate that I’m totally okay with whatever anyone is, gender- or sexuality-wise. I just don’t want other people to make me feel like a bigot for being who I am, and that’s what the tall, friend-stealing girl was doing.
Anyway, the thing that confused me most about Confused wasn’t that she was almost-bisexual. It was that the things she liked changed on an almost-biweekly basis. At the beginning of the year, we bonded over a popular simulator game where you played as a Japanese schoolgirl murdering other Japanese schoolgirls. Then she introduced me to a game where, instead of defeating monsters, your goal was to befriend them. After that, I quickly lost track of what things she was infatuated with. I’m pretty sure that the list contained a relatively-old movie, a TV show about boys on a swim team in love, and a creepy-as-heck video game or two. I couldn’t keep up, and at the end of the year when I still liked the friendly monster game, she had probably been through at least ten other obsessions which she tried to force upon me.
After the school year had ended, Confused moved back to her home state, and I haven’t seen or talked to her since. She took me—an outgoing, innocent teen girl—and introduced me to things like yaoi (stories about guys in love), Tumblr (the website where teen girls post stories about guys in love), and ruining my hair beyond all recognition to attract people who liked the same things. Through the course of our friendship, I learned to shun everyone who didn’t act like me, including “jocks” and “popular girls.” The hardest part about being her friend was un-learning everything she had taught me once she was gone.
The world today usually doesn’t match up with the tropes and stereotypes of modern literature. The big problem is the people who think it does, and live their life as if they’re the main character in the story. Truthfully, we’re all supporting characters, and this story is about something much bigger than any one of us. Most of the time, you don’t actually get the “happily ever after” you’re expecting.