In Which I Reflect on a Middle School Situation, Publishing a Work I Will Read in Shame in a Matter of Years

In the lunchroom on Thursday, I begrudgingly handed the PTO moms a ten dollar bill in exchange for a slip of paper that read GRADUATION DANCE ADMITTANCE. While taking down my name, one of them gave a prepared speech: "It's Hollywood-themed, and we'll have a 'red carpet' for the parent 'paparazzi,' and, oh, you're all just going to have so much fun!" Before walking away I said thank you and glanced with hatred at the Marilyn Monroe cardboard cut-out that stood pitifully next to the ticket table. And I normally LOVE Marilyn Monroe.

Then Saturday came. I got a rare pimple in the middle of my left cheek and didn't notice for a while (I slept in then listened to Daniel Johnston until late in the day.) While searching half-heartedly through an old issue of Sassy for the six-step zit-zapping guide, my phone buzzed and Ella wanted to know when I was coming over to get ready. Right, that. Soon enough, her mom was waiting outside, so I ran a brush through my white hair and grabbed my leather jacket.

At Ella's, I put on a little eye makeup but found myself constantly cleaning the black gunk off my glasses. I attempted to hide my pimple with concealer but realized that pale is more "me." I felt secretly cool about not having shaved my legs. I decided none of the accessories I had brought would work, but I felt like without any, I was too typical-looking. Too normal. Not weird enough. For once, I felt under-dressed. And underwhelmed. We headed off to the red carpet.

...Which was a long piece of construction paper, with unsure, smiling, they-grow-up-so-fast parents on either side. I saw some friends and, forming what from afar must have looked like a giant meteor of satin bows and taffeta, we all crowded around one another and exchanged compliments. But they seemed, well, genuine. No one was fishing for a confidence-booster in return. Thoughtlessly and without feeling awkward, I was suddenly embracing friend-acquaintances with which I've never clicked this whole year, and we showered each other with nice things about the other's makeup. One seemed shell-shocked at the decency of my appearance and gave me a hug, but I only found the situation funny and sweet. Everyone admired my shoes, and ignored the far from smooth legs that were attached. I then linked arms with a couple pals as we jokingly glided down the red construction paper. I smiled at parents, and then at the Broadway-themed lights that had been mixed in with all the Hollywood stars and movie posters.

If you're not already familiar with the term "grinding," it is when a bunch of kids stand in a line, closer to one another than they would be on a class field trip, and grope like there is no tomorrow, while adult chaperones stand nearby in a panic about the youth of today. Usually reserved for the Cool Kids (or so I'm told,) last night it defied the politics of lunch table seating arrangements, making the lyric "this is why I'm hot" seem less timely than an all-inclusive "This is why WE'RE ALL HOT! Yay team!" The argyle sweater vest-sporters grinded with the girls in Pink perfume. Girls who won Most Likely to be a Philanthropist grinded with the dudes who felt so passionately about the Cubs vs. Sox debate. It was a moment of unity, of disposal of the social structure we'd known for three years, and, in a weird way, a kind of "HA HA" to the nail-biting adults that stood close by, wondering how Twilight hadn't worked as something that would keep kids sure that, while dancing, they would make room for the holy ghost. You decide if that last part is good or bad for yourself. But that's not actually my point.

Normally the idea of a bunch of hormonally raged kids trapped in the same building -- in this case, a single room -- means that the most scarring happenings will ensue. Something was different this time, other than the awful stench, which made me want to run to a Walgreens for giants and bring back a humongous thing of Febreze to shoot at people while screaming about how, one day, hygiene will reign over Pink brand perfume and Axe! IT WILL REIGN!!!! But other than that, the room was alive in the best ways and no one seemed terribly self-conscious. No one stood in the corner and whispered. No one cried in the bathroom. No girls who grinded were called sluts. And there wasn't even just grinding; people were actually dancing! Donks popped, locked, and dropped with confidence. Everyone was very firm that they fancied a bad romance over just being friends, and were in agreement that shawty had indeed gotten very, very low. Up went hands in regard to the single ladies, and our heads and hearts were truly on the dance floor.

As for me, I learned about a few financially secure men who wisely keep some of their money saved in the bank. I considered Jay Sean's inquiry of whether or not I was "down." But mostly I put away my unreasonable cynicism and insecurities -- that having fun with my peers would mean contradicting my "non-conformist" attitude, hairy legs, granny glasses, and big, fat, pimple. I danced and enjoyed myself and realized that not being the conductor of a grind train doesn't mean that I have to be a wallflower, and then realizing that any labels are stupid, and that I shouldn't make my dress look ugly because I didn't feel "different" enough, and that I shouldn't buy a Daniel Johnston record because Kurt Cobain wore the shirt to the VMA's, and that I can listen to him and enjoy a little Beyonce on the lunchroom dance floor, and that I would really rather everyone just be themselves. And then I was happy because it seemed like everyone was just being themselves. Normally passive-aggressive, catty types seemed sincere when they said they liked my eye makeup. The Dudeliest of Dudes grinded with the girls that hadn't considered a hair straightener or spritz of perfume for the night, maybe because...what's the big deal? I think everyone was just into the music, and into doing what they wanted, and was trying not be dramatic and shut other people out, and to appreciate one another, and to appreciate the small size and community qualities of our grade that we won't have when we enter high school in a few months. Holy shit, a FEW MONTHS. Anyway, that's that. Then I went back to Ella's, where we watched Destination Truth. Today we went to bookstores and added to the fairy dwelling in her backyard. We then listened to Lady Gaga and Jay Sean. We can do all of that.

(Look, I learned a lesson! But you know what's scary? MIDDLE SCHOOL TAUGHT IT TO ME. Shit, I think they DO prepare you for the real world, a little?)