My Girls

18 Dec

For the first three weeks of seventh grade, I threw up every day in the girl’s bathroom. As I made the solitary ten minute walk to school in the cool morning air, I tried to fight the rising nausea, but the closer I got to the junior high school campus, the more nervous I became.

The minute I pushed open the heavy door into that stuffy, claustrophobic bathroom, I knew there was no turning back. The geometric pattern of the tiled walls was like a woozy trigger that made vomiting inevitable. My hands gripped the toilet seat as the scent of teenage B.O. and the noxious fumes of sewer gases swirling up from the floor drains literally pushed me over the edge. I would retch up my breakfast into that stained porcelain bowl like I was making an offering to the deity of junior high school popularity.

No, I wasn’t bulimic (we didn’t even know what an eating disorder was in 1974) nor was I pregnant (I fantasized about my first kiss, but sex? Gross!) I was just your typical, run of the mill, anxiety-ridden twelve-year old adolescent girl. I was so afraid of not fitting in that my nervous stomach would clench and gurgle and produce enough stomach acid for me to upchuck my Cheerios every morning in that lonely, isolated bathroom.

The transition from the safe confines of my elementary school to the junior high was not a smooth one for me. My grade school friends had formed their own clique—one that I didn’t feel a part of anymore. For the first time in my life, I was basically friendless.

For a while I was desperate enough to hang out with the “Loadies” as they were called—the pot-smoking, greasy haired kids who would sneak out onto the field during lunch and take furtive drags on the cigarettes they had pilfered from their parents. I even managed to swipe a pack of Maroboroughs from my dad’s top dresser drawer and hide them in the pocket of my oversized blue nylon windbreaker. Standing on that grassy field, the wind whipping my wavy hair, I self-consciously hiked up my bell-bottom hip huggers that were uncomfortably tight. I wanted so badly to be a part of this group—or any group for that matter. My hands shaking, I fingered the puka shells around my neck as I offered my pack of cigarettes to the group.

“You first,” one of the tougher girls said, eyeing me suspiciously, her contempt of me clearer than the Bonnie Belle lip gloss she wore on her full lips. “I bet you’ve never even smoked in your life—have you?”

“Yes I have—since last year,” I stammered, an obvious lie.

She struck a match, expertly cupping her hand around the flame and lit the cigarette dangling unsteadily in my mouth. I took a quick look around to see if any teachers were watching and took a puff without inhaling the smoke. My eyes watered as I fought off the urge to cough. It was foul.

She watched me, her thick lips stretching into a rubbery sneer. I held the burning cigarette awkwardly between my raw, nail-bitten fingers, pretending that I knew exactly what I was doing. Her face was pinched like she had just sucked on a lemon. I knew she hated me, but I didn’t know why.

“Yeah—right,” she sneered, the pimples on her forehead turning a deeper shade of magenta under her feathered bangs. “You’re a real pro—aren’t you?”

She knew I was a fraud. I couldn’t hide the fact that I was a good girl. Callous laughter spilled out from the rest of the group; their own relief apparent, for she had chosen to devour me with her acidic sarcasm instead of one of them.

The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. She didn’t even try to hide her disgust with me as she flicked her still burning cigarette down on the grass and headed off the field.

“Later, chick,” she said, and with a flick of her head, permanently dismissed me. Her entourage trailed behind like her like a scraggly parade. I hung back, ashamed. How pathetic—I couldn’t even make friends with the reprobates.

But all hope was not lost, as the very next day, I found my girls. Or should I say—they found me. It happened so effortlessly that I couldn’t believe my good fortune. The girl I sat next to in English class invited me to eat lunch with her group. After class I followed her out into the sunlight to meet her friends. In front of the library, a continuously shifting circle of lovely girls flitted about, chattering excitedly like little yellow finches at the birdbath.

One of them was hosting a make-up party at her house the following evening and was inviting the others to attend. Oh, they were so beautiful—confident and stylish in their flowing hair, knit sweaters and fitted Ditto pants.  I thought they were perfect.

I stood back, mute with admiration, just waiting for someone to wonder what the heck this unlovable, awkward misfit was doing there, trying to break into their tight circle. One of them turned abruptly to me. I waited for her to ask me what I was doing there.

She gave me a genuine smile. “Do you wanna come to the party, too?”

I was so shocked that all I could do was nod up and down like my head was attached to a spring.

I had been accepted by the flock, and although I didn’t know it then, it was for life.

From the GVJH Yearbook: Front Row: Kathi, Michele, Me, Holly, Kay, Corrine, and Julie. Row 2: Pam, Row 3: second from left: Shelia. Last row: second from left: Lauri.

It’s been over thirty years since that fateful day at Goleta Valley Junior High. Through slumber parties and high school football games, school dances and trips to Hawaii, all of us have remained friends.  Months can go by without a word between us, and yet when we see each other again, time has been erased like we spoke just yesterday. We always pick up where we left off. We’ve been in each others’ weddings and rubbed each others’ swelled bellies at baby showers. We’ve cried together over the painful loss of a parent. We’ve cried even more after the unexpected death of a child.

Last week I had dinner with my girls. It’s Christmastime, and we’ve make a point to get together during the holidays no matter how busy are lives have become. As we gathered in the back booth of a downtown restaurant to eat, drink wine, and exchange gifts, the atmosphere around us began to expand, encasing us in a light of pure loveliness. In no time, we became those chatty, vivacious girls from seventh grade.

As we passed plates of decadent desserts around the table, we gossiped, hooted with laughter and shared the sweetness of our histories together. We’re all approaching fifty, and most of us are at a crossroads in our lives—looking back at where we’ve been and wondering what the heck we’re going to do with the next fifty years. We fiercely love our partners and our children, but admit to each other that sometimes it’s much more difficult to be a mother and a wife than we ever imagined. We openly reveal the pain we feel over the fact that our children have not followed the precise path that we’ve laid out for them—and about how challenging it is to push them out of our nests and release them into their own lives.

It’s true we’re aging. Every year we find more gray hairs. The crow’s feet around our eyes have deepened over time. Our skin has become a little less elastic and our hair a little less lustrous. But within ourselves, we feel as young as teenage girls. And if you look closely, you’ll see that our eyes still shine as brightly as they did back in seventh grade.

We may mourn the loss of our youth, but as we approach our fiftieth birthdays, the need to be something other than what we are right now melts away like the Christmas morning frost on the front lawn. We’re finally able to show each other our limitations and inadequacies without fear of judgment. We’ve made a myriad of mistakes throughout our lives and certainly haven’t lived up to our own expectations or fulfilled all of our dreams, but we understand that this is what life is about—making mistakes and learning from them. After all these years, we’ve grown up enough to realize that because of our imperfections, the deeper, more exquisite beauty within us has allowed itself to be revealed.

I keenly remember that shy, twelve year-old girl with the nervous stomach who stood in front of the junior high school library that day, hoping against hope to find a place to belong. I never imagined that a group of such pretty and spirited seventh grade girls would take me under their wings and make me part of their flock. But I guess they saw something in me that day—that in truth, I was really just like them, insecure and shy and afraid to spread my wings. I just wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, as they did. They pulled me in, and through their acceptance and love, humor and grace, gave me the chance to fly.

Merry Christmas, Girls. God bless us everyone.

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9 Responses to “My Girls”

  1. happykidshappymom December 21, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    What a beautiful post. You write with such clarity and detail — it’s a joy to read. Have you ever thought of writing a YA novel (young adult)? You would be perfect at it. With a main character based on yourself as a 12 year old, the vivid way you recollect your past, is supremely intriguing.

    And isn’t this the truth? “we’ve grown up enough to realize that because of our imperfections, the deeper, more exquisite beauty within us has allowed itself to be revealed.” Amen.

    • Allegro non tanto December 21, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      You know, I never thought about writing a YA novel. What a great idea–God knows I have enough memories of my teenage angst supply me with enough material for many novels! And by the way, I always appreciate your encouraging and insightful comments!

  2. Becky Green Aaronson December 23, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    Jessica, I love this post. There’s nothing like girlfriends, and ones that go back to junior high school are a gift like no other. Your post took me right back to adolescence, and all the insecurities that come with it. Beautiful writing, as always!

  3. Allegro non tanto December 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    Thanks, Becky. As I become older, it’s become clearer to me that all of us are basically the same. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or which socioeconomic group we belong to, as grown women we still share the same hopes, dreams, anxieties and fears that we experienced way back in junior high school. This incredible connection that I share with my friends (you included!) helps make my life that much more fulfilling. I realize how very lucky we all are to have these relationships.

  4. happykidshappymom December 28, 2011 at 5:33 am #

    I awarded you the Liebster Blog award! 🙂 http://wp.me/p1jBAi-yc

    • Allegro non tanto December 28, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      Thank you so very much for this honor! You’ve no idea how much I appreciate your support!

  5. Charla Bregante March 24, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    I have a a very clear memory of wanting to be like YOU in 7th grade, Jessie. We were in the same PE class. You had that fabulous curly hair and you were wearing overalls. You looked like a cool earth woman. I, too, was painfully shy and didn’t know how to talk to you. But I thought you were so cool and confident. We all thought we were the only ones feeling inadequate and insecure back then.

    • Allegro non tanto March 24, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      I so remember wearing those overalls! And I also remember that we shared classes together and that I thought you were so sweet. It’s funny that you thought I was confident when I was so insecure and afraid all of the time! We all share that awful adolescent experience, I’m afraid…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Whaddya Need? « Allegro non tanto - March 23, 2012

    […] lake-front cabin with nine of my junior high school girlfriends (you can read how we met here https://allegronontanto.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/my-girls/) to celebrate that we’re all turning fifty this […]

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