Part III- The Boys
Junior high rolled around and I still had no real idea how sex worked. However, I was required to read Dr. James Dobson’s book “Preparing for Adolescence” in my sixth grade class, along with all my peers. When we got to the exciting and embarrassing chapter on sex, our teachers demanded that we needed signed permission from our parents that they had read this part along with us. Of course we all forged…..and then promptly read that chapter together during recess, snickering and blushing and not fully grasping the mechanics but knowing, just knowing, that somehow it was so dirty!
This was about the time when “Purity Rings” were starting to get pretty popular in the world of Christian teens. It was a ring that your parents would buy you and you’d wear it on your ring finger as a pledge to them and to God that you’d wait to have sex until marriage. From what I knew about sex, I wasn’t about to have anything to do with that dirty thing until I was an adult, so of course I bought into this hook, line and sinker. Daddy bought me an actual real diamond purity ring and presented it to me during dinner on one of our “date nights”. Yes, Daddy took me on date nights, which, as his only daughter, was totally awesome. I got him to myself for a few hours and we basically just went out and did things that made me feel very grown up, like eating at fancy restaurants or going to the movies. So, purity ring: check. Promise to God to wait until marriage before I give away my “flower”: check. Let’s commence to junior high.
There was a boy in 7thor 8th grade who came new to our school and all the girls were in love, absolutely in love with him. Up until this point I had had a few crushes on a few boys and nothing ever came of it. I had Leonardo DiCaprio and Elijah Wood and “JTT” posters all over the walls of my bedroom (convinced I’d marry one of them), but never had any actual experience with a “real” boy. But when this new kid came to our tiny little Christian school, it was as if Leonardo himself had walked right down that hallway. He was not only adorably adorable, but hilariously funny, brilliant, confident, and a total rebel. He even had the popular Leo hair cut, circa Baz Luhrman’s “Romeo + Juliet”. He was basically the perfect package at 12 years old.
So, I was in drama class with this dreamboat (aka Rico Suave) and I had watched him closely enough to discover (for almost certainly a fact!) that he was using his “powers” to charm some of the girls in junior high into making out with him in the hallways during class. They’d plan to “go to the bathroom” around the same time, but not too close together so as not to raise suspicion. Except in those who watched Rico Suave’s every move. Like me. As disgusted as I was with this, I secretly wanted what every other girl who pretended to be disgusted wanted……to be one of those girls. But I unfortunately had this syndrome that affects about 99% of the pre-teen population: The Ugly Duckling Stage. I was not only painfully shy and awkward, but I had the poufy hair of an Italian man (like my Dad), the eyebrows of Frida Khalo (before that was en vogue) and the body shape of a 12 year old girl who ate too many Western Bacon Cheeseburgers. Boys were simply not interested, especially not the most popular boy in school. Rico Suave and I remained friends, though, and I remember being thankful that he even spoke to me or that one time he grabbed my arm playfully in the hallway. Man, I lived off that memory for months.
Come freshman year of high school, I shed some awkwardness (and some weight) and Mom finally let me wear a bit of makeup. I entered the hallways of school feeling totally unsure of myself, but an iota better because I had on some bitchin’ brown eyeliner and had plucked my eyebrows to look like Drew Barrymore. I mean, it was the 90’s. Somewhere in the first few months of the year, Rico Suave seemed to suddenly noticed me as more than a friend. This was confirmed when he cornered me in the woods during a homecoming float building meeting and kissed me. All my dreams had come true. It was sweet and magical and perfect and I everything I had ever wished for from the moment I first laid eyes on him. I couldn’t believe he had chosen me. Here’s how our conversation afterwards went down:
Me: So, does this mean we’re going out?
Rico: Um, no, let’s keep this our little secret. We can be kissing buddies.
Me: (dying inside) Oh…..okay. Great, I guess that’s cool.
Rico: Let’s not let this ruin our friendship.
Me: No, of course not! (dyyyyyyying inside)
I look back at this and think WHAAT? I was totally friend-zoned before there was a name for “friend-zoning”! What a pompous jerk (aka dumb teenage boy) he was and what a gullible little push over (aka dumb teenage girl) I was! But I couldn’t stop thinking about that kiss and my crush deepened even more when he pulled me behind the bleachers at homecoming to steal another kiss. I let it happen, fully knowing he was still playing the “bathroom excuse” game with multiple other girls in our high school. I didn’t care. I never had anyone pay attention to me like that before and I was taking what I could get because it made me feel so good.…so special…..so…..used, maybe?
Then, something insane happened to me Sophomore year of high school during the peak of my insecurity. I was voted as one of the candidates for Homecoming princess for the 10thgrade. If you’ve never heard of this worthless tradition, count yourself lucky. Not only is it merely a popularity contest, the girls who were typically nominated for Homecoming princess or queen were essentially only being chosen by their classmates based upon their attractiveness. While I completely disagree with the entire mindset behind these ridiculous traditions, at the time, at 16 years old, this was a dream come true. I knew what that nomination meant and I couldn’t believe that people thought this way about me.
This means they think I’m beautiful? My fellow classmates find me attractive? I didn’t even see myself that way, but somehow those around me did? It was a total “Sally Field receiving her Oscar” moment. I don’t know what changed from Freshman year of high school except that I grew 6 inches taller and lost about 10 more pounds of baby fat. If that’s enough to suddenly qualify me for Homecoming princess, then I can’t say I deserved it at all. Although, at my tiny little central California christian school, people were considered popular for more than just their appearance. Kindness, humor, friendliness, athletic ability and lack of arrogance were huge assets too. Thankfully, I had a few of these things in addition to my sudden physical bloom.
It was an incredible boost in my self-confidence and it changed the way I viewed myself completely. This was all at once a wonderful thing and a terrible thing. I finally felt my worth in the eyes of my peers and it mainly revolved around the fact that they had deemed me an attractive person. It was from this moment, in this realization, that began the trajectory of one of the deepest struggles engrained in the rest of my life. The opinions of others mattered. History shows us that people who hold power and aren’t yet equipped to use it often self-destruct. When I was 15, I learned that beauty meant popularity. Beauty meant that people liked me. Beauty meant power. I wish I could tell you I used it more wisely.