Scattered Nothingness: On Being Socially Awkward, and Being Bad, and My Possibly Unhealthy Attachment to the Seventh Grade

This post will not be poetic. It will not say anything of great meaning. It will be a blank stare in a room full of people at that moment at the office party when the boss suddenly points to you and says it is your turn to contribute and you say, awkwardly, that you have nothing to say and and then there is a long moment of uncomfortable silence and you really wish people would stop looking at you before you burst into flames. (That happened to me yesterday; I don’t want to face work today.)

The week is about up. That means I’m one week closer to the last of my deadlines. I was bad yesterday and bought (1) jeans for $25 (really, $25, how bad is that?) and (2) a book for almost the same price that I am NOT ALLOWED to read until I reach this deadline, SERIOUS. (Oh, who I am I kidding, I’ll probably crack it open tonight.)

Last night I saw one of my oldest friends. She’s going back to school to become an English teacher. This week she started student teaching for seventh-graders in the Bronx. In fact, she and I met in the seventh grade. We were awkward, angst-ridden kids. We put safety pins all over our clothes. (Why?) We chose our favorite poets and tried—terribly—to emulate them. I had Anne Sexton. I can’t remember, but maybe hers was Sharon Olds. This week, she said she met the seventh-graders for the first time. So painful, she said. She looked on at them and remembered how hard that age had been, that special agony that no one understands—you’re sure of it—though everyone has been there. I hope they treat her well. Personally, I think she’ll be a kick-ass English teacher.

Speaking of seventh-graders, while I’m supposed to be working on this manuscript due September 28, I am sidestepping and working on an idea geared toward girls ages 10-12. The characters are twelve, in seventh grade. That age was a turning point for me, and I think for a lot of girls. I want to write for those girls. Yes, I want to write my literary fiction and I will; I’ll never stop wanting to do that. But more and more, I find myself wanting to speak to my younger self. That lonely, angry, confused, freakish, nervous, insecure, weird, passionate kid. I want to write something for her.

Really, there’s a lot I want to write. I can’t believe how far I am from what I’ve wanted to accomplish. That girl in an invisible middle seat in her seventh grade classroom, all those lofty dreams and yet when someone called on her she was too shy to say a word. We’re one and the same, even still.

I am writing this post in my usual corner spot. An addict—I’m assuming by the way he’s all scratchy and jittery—is at a table nearby. He keeps calling out to random people, now to me: “Miss. Miss. Miss. Miss. Miss. Miss. Miss. Miss.” I got up earlier than usual this morning and it seemed that all the night owls were still up. The wanderings. The sidewalk idlings. The man on the corner who says hello to you and if you don’t say hello back there’s a 50/50 chance he’ll tear your face off. (I gave him a hello, just the one.) I took my normal route around the edge of the park. I infiltrated a drug deal (accidentally walked through and bumped the dealer, oops). I hurried away. Kept walking. Dodged the broken bottles, the empty baggies, the condom—ick. I have ten emails to answer. If you’ve written me and I haven’t written back it’s because I don’t know what to say. How I have been? Not so good. What news do I have to tell you? None, absolutely none. But I’m working on that. I want to get better.

I took what felt like the longest subway ride down the west side of Manhattan last night, headed home. A girl and her mother were next to me. The girl had tiny little braids all down her back, glasses, freckles, wide-legged jeans. She was drawing on her sneakers with permanent marker, her mother trying to get her to calm down. But she couldn’t, this girl, she was talking loudly, animated, moody, then a second later forgetting she was moody. “Mom! Mom! Mom!” she yelled. “Look what I wrote!” She shoved her foot in her mother’s face so her mom could check out the message she’d written on her brand-new Converse for the world to see. I leaned over and took a peek. It said: “I’M WEIRD. APPRECIATE IT.”

I totally do. You know, I bet she was twelve years old.

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