Monday, April 23, 2012

My Life Story: Initiation


Who can say middle school was a good time?

I started with high hopes, fresh from the sunshine of a sheltered elementary school experience, I was placed in a gifted-and-talented program which required reading and thinking. I ran successfully for student council. I rode the bus each morning with seats full of my friends and cousins, a ride that took us from the foothills of our comfortable homes through the well-kept, flowering roads of BYU campus, where we watched young married students walking to class with protruding backpacks holding hands and secrets of impending pregnancies, down towards the smoke stacks to the part of town where pawn shops replaced steepled churches, spots of neighborhood I'd never seen on our family drives throughout town on Sunday nights, houses that looked like they would collapse at any hint of wind, to the front doors of the old brick, two story middle school where kids would show up shellacked with hair spray, smelling of teen-pushed cologne, cigarette smoke and self-consciousness. And every morning, as we bused through town, anxious to know what social experiment the day had in store for us, our bus driver would listen to The ZOO on the radio, deep voices telling jokes I didn't get and playing a clip from Batman;

"This town needs an enema!"

Over and over every day I heard that clip in my ears as we passed through the ombre shades of my town with my unsuspecting friends and cousins.

"This town needs an enema!"

We were called snobby for our lifestyles, and our protected lives, we didn't speak the same language in the hallways, words flew in the air like foreign insults, words I didn't know: anorexic, bulimic, suicide, abuse, goth, a slew of sex act terms I didn't even begin to understand. An 8th grader who tried to put his tongue in my mouth one night at a backyard party took to calling me a "ho" and when my confused looks didn't give him the reaction he wanted, he called me "Jigglers" instead, encouraging his amused friends to do it too. I didn't know what a "ho" was, I didn't know what "Jigglers" meant, I didn't even know what an enema was.

The teachers were almost as puzzling. A couple of my woman teachers looked more like men and lived as roommates with the other teachers who looked like men (but weren't). My PE teacher was a phenom: remarkable puffy lips, tanned skin that remained brown in the coldest days of winter, a deep chestnut head of immense hair, and a chest that never moved, even when she lead us in rigorous aerobics to the sounds of Sheena Easton.

Girls would laugh in the locker room, "She's all fake!" they'd say.

Fake?

One teacher in particular, speech-and-drama, was really nice to me and my friends. He was always volunteering to be the adviser for our after school clubs and teams. He was our powder puff coach, intramural basket ball coach, after-school dance chaperone and he'd let us hang out in his classroom until our parents could pick us up in the early evenings. We were scared of the neighborhood after hours, sometimes there was screaming coming from the houses across the street, open windows releasing "swear words" and gray puffs of smoke.

We would sometimes fight about who our speech-and-drama teacher liked best, but I knew it was me the day he asked if he could visit my birthday sleep-over party and bring me treats. My parents weren't home that evening, though they left my older brother Andrew to check in on us (a job he loathed). Thirteen girls, clad in awkward pajamas answered the door when our teacher showed up. He came in for a moment, made us laugh, delivered red ropes of licorice. I could see Andrew and his friends watching from the window outside. When our teacher left, Andrew burst in asking me all sorts of questions about the man who had appeared in our front room. He was our teacher, he was so nice, he just wanted to bring us treats. One of Andrew's friends wanted to chase him down, a suggestion I rebuffed, but made me feel like perhaps something was going on I didn't understand, something that made me feel guilty, something I hoped--anxiously--that Andrew wouldn't tell my parents.

In eighth grade there was a suggestion from the boy's football team that they wanted cheerleaders. A list was made of suggested girls and we were called one by one by a volunteer coach. One of the boy's father put up the money for the squad and by early August we were staying late after school practicing our cheers and pyramids. We inherited old cheer outfits from former high school cheerleaders, our coach explained that they would need to get a top in a bigger size for me.

"I think I know at least one cheerleader with boobs like yours who could probably loan you her top."

Boobs. Everything in middle school was about boobs and bodies and sex and all sorts of things that confused me. The boys had the "Sweet Ass Club" and the "Sweet Boobs Club" and the "Cottage Cheese Club" and they'd call out your membership as you walked by their hangout in front of the school office. Equally as important were the brands you clothed your body with, Guess being the most important of all. This lesson I learned by accident, showing up to school with the red-and-white Guess triangle on the back pocket of my denim skirt and became a subject of unintended envy,

"You think you are so much better than everyone else."

But all of this confusion, this frustrating foray into a world I wasn't prepared for came to an emotional blood bath for me one day while cheering at a home game. A new kid at school, a thick, loud-mouthed, dark and handsome 8th grader, fresh out of the school system in Hawaii showed up to watch. I could feel his eyes on me the entire game but it wasn't until the fourth quarter when some of his friends showed up that he decided to make it vocal.

"Hey you."

"Hey sexy!"

"Look at those thighs."

"Hey you, with the big boobs."

"You wanna come over here?"

Then someone told him my name.

"Courtney, hey, sexy. You know what I want to do with you?"

All of my vulnerability, all of it, was ripped right open that day.

That day I was in a neighborhood that made me nervous, with my friends who still looked like little girls, at a school that didn't speak my language, in an outfit that hugged my body, with a boy who I knew wasn't calling me sexy because he thought I was pretty, but because he thought I was disgusting.

That day he continued to call after me loudly from the make-shift stands holding crowds of students and parents, everyone hearing exactly, seeing exactly, the entire spectacle for as long as the game continued, each call becoming more and more vulgar, my friends too scared to say something back.

That day I thought I would throw up in front of everyone if I didn't keep breathing, knowing I couldn't tell my mom about this, even though we had a relationship where I could tell her almost everything, because she would be disappointed in me for being the daughter she so desperately didn't want me to be--the girl who boys made fun of at school for being fat.

That day I knew what it felt like to earnestly pray to God that I could disappear and not exist ever again, to never know another day where I lived in this body of catcalls and "clubs" that jiggled and seemingly begged for harassment every where it went.

That day my sheltered life of after-school sitcoms and endless family parties, friends with political parents and boys who were just as naive as they were polite didn't save me. When I look back at that fourth quarter, on the yellow football field, with a voice calling my name over and over I don't see anything of safety or sweetness, Guess skirts or rides in noisy school buses blaring out of muffled speakers clips about enemas (WHATEVER THEY WERE) instead I look back and watch the slow, sick, graceless end of my childhood.