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Who will hold space for you?
Go back in time, to the early 2000’s. The September air feels antsy, anxiously awaiting the onset of the new school year. I’m a Slave 4 U has the world exploring choreography and sexuality, while Freak on a Leash has us on a waitlist for JNCO pants. My Christmas wish list is long, but on the top of my list are the Steve Madden sandals. I plan to ask my mom if I can rent Bring It On when we go to Blockbuster tonight. I chose bright blue for my braces at my orthodontist appointment this morning but as I’ll soon realize once school starts, silver or clear is what the cool kids choose.
As it turns out, the whole world is actually confined within a finite building. The moon sets and the sun rises in favor of this place and the happenings inside it. The water currents that manage our climate only perform for the sustainability of this educational hub that hosts teenagers everyday. The tectonic plates, the fire at the core of the planet that reshapes our landscapes, the well being of Earth as a whole, all happens so that this one sensitive, tiny entity can thrive: high school.
The night before the first day of school I call my friend Angela to let her know I’ve decided on wearing the green polo tomorrow. I go to a private school with a uniform that only allows for three different polo colors: white, green, and yellow. But I feel the pressure in making this choice. What could it mean to wear the wrong polo on the first day of school? The wrong color for the first day of school could result in something catastrophic. So the final choice was green; confident, bold, and setting oneself up for success.
“I’m also wearing green tomorrow,” Angela says, half-paying attention. “It’s the only shirt that’s clean.” Angela has a pink sidekick, drives a red Mercedes and has natural highlights. She’s the only girl I know with a flat iron. She’s had boyfriends since elementary school. Over the summer I learned what a B cup bra is and how she actually fills it out. Based on her physique and her parents' middle class wealth, she just knew things. When she speaks, people listen! Somehow though, she’s gained people’s attention and trust by not caring much about them at all.
On the morning of school, my stomach feels statick-y and the thought of food makes me nauseous. I put on my green polo and khaki dickie pants. My jansport backpack can’t be carried since it’s full of all the books I’ll need for the rest of the year so I drag it to the car. I get into the passenger seat to find my mom already blasting her favorite song.
“Are you excited for your first day?” She asks, so optimistically I cannot help but be bothered by it.
We stop at a McDonalds drive thru so she can get her typical american coffee with 2 equals and one creamer. I don't even know how to register what I’m feeling and how to verbalize it, and as a result, my vocabulary at this stage in my life is incredibly limited.
My mom, as I've stated before, is beautiful. For as long as I’ve been attending school I’ve gotten used to people of all walks of life staring at her; other moms, other dads, other boys, other girls. She has a radiance to her, something about her is so compelling to everyone other than me. Naturally, upon dropping me off right out front where everyone else is getting dropped off, I tell her to not even think about giving me a kiss and to keep driving. There’s something about today, I’m jittery and I find it hard to catch my breath, so I don't want her getting any extra attention. Just not today! Ok?
“Eres de madre, Stephanie,” I hear her say as I slam the door as she’s mid sentence.
Making my way into school, my group of friends are never hard to find. Things fall into place when we’re all together. But so far I feel so distracted and find it hard to be a part of the flowing conversations. I notice I'm starting to notice boys more, a lot more. Way more than I did last year. Why does it feel so good when one suddenly decides to speak more than two words to me? My stomach seems to drop and I tend to smile a toothy smile. I start to question if I should’ve gone with the yellow polo today. Suddenly, I am filled with self doubt and an unnecessary degree of self-awareness. I feel the heat of my own body coming from my armpits. Here, right now, in real time, unbeknownst to me, the world as I know it is flipping on its axis.
Boys are repressed and half stunted but I’m currently undergoing puberty, so my brain registers things a little differently. I hold them in a different perspective than when I was in middle school. They are mysterious creatures, and I can make them laugh very very easily. They are much simpler than me, but thanks to my age, I overthink and overcomplicate. I want them to overthink with me, and over analyze every scenario. I want to talk endlessly with them, but as I will soon learn, we are not made to talk endlessly with most heterosexual males.
Halfway through the day there’s a rumor going around that I had sex with a boy I’ve never said more than “Hi” to. If I remember correctly he was in my Social Studies class this morning and he picked up my pen from the floor and I gave him a smile of appreciation. Is this how rumors start? Just by smiling? What if my crush finds out about this rumor and believes it?
Subconsciously I monitor the progression of my peers' bodies: fuller chests, tighter shorts, longer hair. My crush seemingly likes to spend time with the girls that are more “filled” out. I am lean from top to bottom, shapeless, bony even. The bras at Victoria Secret would laugh at the sight of my chest and probably ban me from entering the store, a “lack of parts” likely being their explanation. I don't understand how to fix this issue, but I feel an intense urgency to figure it out. Perfection does not exist, but within my sixteen year old brain, it does. And I must reach it.
First things first I don’t know how to properly shave my legs, and as it pertains to some of my classmates, this is a very serious offense. During our lunch hour we spend most of the time going over this, while briefly giving an intro course on how to straighten your hair. Discussions about beauty is always priority and I don’t have much to add to the conversation.
At math class, the last class of the day, a boy wrote a note for me with a teared up piece of notebook paper. It took 4 people to get the note to reach me at my desk. I grab the note and look around my area. Upon opening it I see “Will you be my girlfriend?” and underneath a checkbox for YES and a checkbox for NO. I immediately begin to spiral internally. Without a smartphone, without Google, I dont have the opportunity to ask “what does it mean to be someone’s girlfriend?” Unfortunately I’m not ready to get pregnant, so I immediately check the box that says NO and pass the note right back so it reaches him.
“I just want you to know that you made a big mistake by saying no,” Angela says, with defiance.
It’s hard to keep up with these ongoing crises, I think to myself. I don’t know how to steer things or how to make good choices the way Angela does. But for me to be someone’s girlfriend? It’s just too much to bare for someone who barely knows how to shave her legs !
In the privacy of my own bedroom I explore. Coming home after school is the best part of my day. I look at myself in the mirror and wonder if I’m going to have these braces for the rest of my life. My body seems fine to me, as I scan it up and down, but since it doesn’t look like the other girls bodies I begin to doubt myself.
I get dressed and move onto my Gateway computer and begin to do the real important work; What should my MySpace name be? Today’s LiveJournal entry was especially erratic, so as a result I need to share it with as many people as possible. Should I put Linkin Park lyrics or System of a Down lyrics as my away message? Wait a second, should I cut bangs right f****ing now?
One of my friends is having a getty at her house this weekend and I ask my mom if I could go:
“Es demasiado pronto para que empieces a divertirte. La escuela acaba de comenzar. No sé quién crees que eres. ¿Estás escuchando esto?”
Anytime my mom feels insulted or shocked or perturbed by anything that comes out of mouth, she calls my dad over and has me repeat myself.
“Tell him what you just asked me.” she says in a bothered tone.
“Carissa is having a getty this weekend and I was asking mom if I could go. I can be home by 10:30!”
“At night?” My dad squeals. “And who will bring you home?”
“Angela drives now.”
“Ella es una loca!” my mom impulsively shouts. “How can you even think of getting in the car with her?
First social event of the year and I’m already missing it. What do I have to lose by my absence? Absolutely everything. I had plans for this getty, my crush José was meant to fall in love with me and now he will likely begin to swoon for someone else! Who else could he like? I try to mentally scan through all the girls in our class but fall short because technically he could fall in love with anyone at any given moment. Isn’t that how it works with boys?
Due to my life being so harshly restricted, I sneak out of my house after a certain hour in the night. Once my dads snoring reaches a certain decibel I know I can escape without being caught. There’s a getty at my friends house who lives about 5 minutes away, so I’m not too worried. I get picked up by a boy in my school who truly couldn’t care if I lived or died, his roster of girls surely endless. Like, if I caught a brain eating cancer right now that would onlygive me minutes to live, he’d likely respond with, “oh sorry about that, maybe I should take you back home then?”
But that’s the thing with me and my relationship to the opposite sex, I wanted them to push for me. I wanted them to feel anguish over the idea of spending more than 2 minutes apart from me. I wanted them to struggle and strain until they realize it’s my presence that they need in order to find relief from their pain. I wanted them to tell all the other girls to go kick rocks so that there’s no further distractions from the girl they really need - me.
Aside from the shortcomings I have with boys, there are my friends. I love my friends. I love the way we talk endlessly in our sweatpants. I love the way we binge on movies and snacks and make it a point to learn the choreography of every pop song. I love the safety I feel to tell them the darkest parts of myself. I love the way our secrets bind us closer together. My high school friends are the first people that make me realize that this kind of friendship can last forever if we try at it enough. When I’m with my friends I hold space and time and logic in my naive little hands. Here was time, seemingly frozen but passing me by at a rapid pace, trying to take in every feeling. Here was comfort, for the first time being received by people other than my family. Here was space, a new cast of individuals that I'd devote all of my time and energy to. Here was joy, the girls you share your entire adolescence with, because it all feels so good and fun and happy all the time!
These pockets of time hold everything. What is everything? Everything is fleeting and everything passes. Our decisions are manic, our impulse skews our judgment. But we are not our mistakes, we are allowed to change and take new forms, we are put in high school to grow and search and scour. It’s as if my friends and I have this unspoken understanding of these things. It’s as if we taught each other compassion and empathy without even knowing it. It’s as if we innately relate to each other's complexities and nurture them anyway.
But in that same vein, to be a teenager means you also have to hold grief: why did everyone all of a sudden know who I had a crush on? Why did Angela tell Carissa that my voice is “too much”? In that same breath of sadness I come to an approximation of my own; our girl gang had a rat. At my age, heartbreak is constant and consistent and comes at all angles.
How do I find refuge at my age? Why didn’t anyone brief me on betrayal? My coping mechanisms totally suck and they make my situation totally much worse. Pretty soon I’ll start to run out of excuses and have to take accountability that I’m vain. Pretty soon I’ll have to admit that I project so much self-doubt. But pretty soon I’ll realize that there’s no shame in being me, that it’s always going to work out as long as I’m flexible with acceptance. I cannot will things to change, I cannot will people to treat me better.
Being a teenager is just a stepping stone. I have yet to show my best parts, but I don’t know this yet. There’s an even bigger world outside of high school, and transitioning into college will bring more challenges. Life will bring continuous stages of grief and joy and it’ll work out as long as I still hold space for what I think is valuable. There’s a rigidity to being young, and I think that’s what makes things so hard. I never went to the getty. To my dismay, it worked out more than fine.
Thank you for reading! This piece was super fun to write. I have found myself overrun with nostalgia thanks to the VMA’s and Olivia Rodrigo’s new album. It made me reminisce so much about my high school experience. What was the best part of high school for you? What was the worst?