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There is a tenth circle of hell. It’s called “middle school,” and last Friday I went straight back into the depths of hell when I chaperoned a middle school dance.
I want it to be clear that I did not readily volunteer for this torture. I was asked to fill in by another coworker who “wasn’t feeling well,” and I have a really hard time saying no to favors. (By the way, Janet, you’re fucking welcome.) I don’t teach the grade that the dance was for, but I had some of the kids in class when they were younger. At the time, I knew it would not be a great night, but really, how bad could it be?
Pretty fucking bad, actually. Three hours of shrieking and screaming are still ringing in my head a week later, and my eyesight and hearing haven’t yet gotten back to their normal functioning. I believe I’m currently suffering from a type of exposure to pre-pubescent PTSD, but then again, I’m not a doctor so I can’t be too sure. I have to tell you, I think that I aged drastically in the three hours of my life that I gave up on Friday night. It has certainly led to a lot of reflection.
When I went to a dance in middle school, I would spend an hour getting ready with some blue eyeliner and clear lip gloss only to show up at the dance and hang out on one side with all of the other girls until some brave souls broke the invisible gender divide. I remember spending the first half of the night with the other girls on one side of the gym, wondering if any of the boys that I liked would even look my way. My only dream, when I was thirteen, was that a boy would ask me to slow dance, which could fade right into a Sisqo track we could grind on. The struggle was ever so real.
But Friday? The kids were texting each other to see if they wanted to dance. No risk, no chances being taken. The kids literally were not looking into the face of rejection, they were looking into the iPhone of rejection. I spent most of my night following a few girls who were crying hysterically into the bathroom. These girls were so distraught that they could only hold up their phone in between gasping for air and sobs to show the text from Grayson/Liam/Lucas/Jayden that “No” he does not want to dance with her. I knew my words meant nothing to them, but I told them to forget the boy, have fun with their friends, and that they looked stunning. Which most of the girls did, and I was in awe as I had flashbacks to my own middle school appearance.
I had unruly hair, that when I actually wore it down, it resembled a freaking trapezoid. I was stick-thin with absolutely no shape whatsoever — I’ve been a card-carrying member of the Itty-Bitty-Titty-Committee for my entire life. Zits dotted my wide nose and five-head. The glasses that I wore look like I stole them from the Harry Potter movie set. Somehow the fates let me escape braces, even though the dentist recommended them for my overbite. While I might have gotten out of braces, none of my friends did. God, we were all so awkward, but we were all awkward together.
And the guys “back in the day?” Well, they all were a bunch of aces, too. I can clearly recall one of the boys that I had a crush on in middle school was a good four inches shorter than me and even scrawnier, except for the baby chub on his chin. He had gel encrusted frosted tips, wore popped collars, a Puka shell necklace, and he reeked of Tommy Boy cologne. The absolute epitome of early 2000s cool. But add 15 or so years and many things have changed: there are hair straighteners. A billion acne creams to choose from. Invisalign and contact lenses. Not a Samba shoe or pair of JNCO jeans in sight. The girls look like their names should start with a K and have a last name of Jenner. The boys are on HGH and somehow have mini muscles, only to be topped off with pomade and the ever-so-trendy fuckboy haircut. It seems like all of these little shitheads are skipping the awkward-looking stage.
I came home that night and headed straight for a wine bottle (not that unusual, but I usually take my coat off first). As I drowned my own nostalgia in the bottom of a Pinot, it really dawned on me that I don’t want those “glory” days back. The only thing I want back is the feeling that what’s happening on your Friday night is the biggest problem in the world.
Everything’s the same, but everything is different, too. These kids today don’t know what it’s like to have to rely on their intelligence or wit or sense of humor because they have crustaches and pimples and greasy bangs. They think they have it all together because they look like they have it all together. They look like they’re already adults, but deep down they’re all still kids. Kids who are trying to process the ups and downs of everything in their hormonal tween lives, and can’t see past today’s tragedy.
Friday night, there were still multiple girls crying in the bathroom, two boys threatening to fight each other, kids trying to make out and possibly cop a feel, and there was certainly the beginning stages of grinding. Same shit, different decade: middle school still sucks. The biggest difference between us and them is that these kids look better doing it..