If Sophomore year was the year of Learn by Watching, then Junior year is the year of Boys. And I mean that in a whole spectrum of ways. It is the year of noticing boys, and of studying them and admiring them and being noticed and of having friends who are boys.
This boy-onslaught is made possible, in part, because the girl I just spent a whole year being seems to have vanished over the summer.
The easiest thing would be to say that in the last three months, I’ve completely transformed. But that’s not really true. Instead, it’s more like I’ve reverted. I’ve simply gone back to being the at-home girl—the one who makes physics jokes and likes Warren Zevon and glitter lipgloss and sewing beads and sequins on her shoes.
Already, I’ve become less pokerfaced and more Mona-Lisa-ish, and I’m actually kind of looking forward to going back to school and trying again. Like Beckett says, fail again, fail better.
I’m particularly excited because Little Sister Yovanoff is starting tenth grade, which means that I finally have daily access to a girl who understands me. We ride the bus together. We are locker partners. We are on the same soccer team. We share shoes and clothes and ice cream cones and coffee and look absolutely nothing alike, which means that I can basically be best friends with my little sister and there are no social consequences.
On the first day, I am wearing leaf-green Chuck Taylors with gold foil stars sewn all over them and jeans paired with an old-fashioned thrift-store blouse. I’ve cut the sleeves off, tailored the bodice. The blouse has tiny fake-pearl buttons and a high lace collar and a crumbling cluster of dried rosebuds safety-pinned to the shoulder. It makes me look vaguely Victorian and also strangely frail.
Little Sister Yovanoff is similarly bedecked, resplendent in ragged cut-offs and tiny plastic barrettes. With her burgundy velvet blazer and her purple hair, she looks bold and statuesque. She looks much sturdier than I do.
I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to find pictures of our outfits, but sadly, it seems the best I can do is the close-up of my shoes (yes, those are soccer socks I’m wearing. What? I had a lot of them), and a shot of my second-favorite outfit from that era—also quite lacy. You’ll notice that my dad has the decency to ignore the state of my jeans. Which are actually his jeans. My dad is nice.
School is anticlimactic. I go to my classes, introduce Little Sister Yovanoff to Catherine and Elizabeth, use up my shiny new free hour by driving around with one of my sophomore-PE friends.
Things do not get interesting until US History, which is the last class of the day. I show up after the warning bell, only to find the room half-empty. Honestly, this should already tell me pretty much all I need to know, but because there’s some stuff I still haven’t figured out yet, it doesn’t.
Ponyboy is there, so I take the seat next to her and congratulate myself on having a class where I already know someone. We play Outsiders for a little, which mostly just means her asking me how prison was and me asking her if she had a good time at reform school.
Gatsby and Valentine come in, followed by #4. He’s taller than last year, and if possible, even more impassive. He is also surprisingly . . . attractive. (Ironically, I notice how attractive he is because he’s managed to do something really unflattering.)
#4 came in, and I turned towards him, then away again. He’s cut off all his hair and probably thinks it makes him look tough or something, but it doesn’t. It looks shocking. His cheekbones are high and fragile. His ears are huge. It’s the exact opposite of tough. He looks like he’s been victimized.
He sat down next to me, which is weird because in Foundations [of English] last year, he mostly tried to sit near the back. Today though, he just slid into the desk next to mine and I couldn’t figure out if it was significant or not. Or if I wanted it to be. I think I did. Do. Passing over the haircut, he is very good-looking.
Then Dill sat down behind me and poked my shoulder with his finger. “Hey you.”
And we are not really dating, but he did call me to go to a movie last week. He did hold my hand. He did say that he missed me. He didn’t try to kiss me. I don’t know what is happening between us, or what I want to be happening. #4 glanced at us once. And then didn’t. Who knows if anything is ever really happening.
Yes, I’ve kind of been hanging out with Dill again. We don’t talk about our weird non-breakup. Instead, we drive around and go to movies and pretend it never happened. And yes, in the privacy of my journal, I mention this in the same breath as I wax analytical about how attractive #4 is. Don’t read into it too much.*
Our teacher, Mr. Tully, is young and unpredictable and animated and kind of awesome. I resolve that US History is going to be my new favorite class and settle in to enjoy myself. This resolution is immediately thwarted by the fact that I’m not on the roll sheet.
The mix-up means visiting the office after school to get it sorted out. When I hand the office lady my defective schedule, she informs me that I’ve been reassigned to the other section. I tell her I don’t want to be moved. I want to stay where I am.
She smiles up at me and her expression is kind. “If it’s a matter of staying with Mr. Tully, I can move you to his third hour class. How would you like that?”
I do not like it at all. More accurately, I don’t like the way she’s looking at me—like it means something unspoken and I’m just not seeing it yet. I hate feeling like I’m missing something. I tell her that no, I would prefer to stay where I am.
“Sweetheart,” she says tenderly, turning the monitor toward me and pointing to my GPA. “You are not supposed to be in that class.”
And for a second, I just stand there. Because to the best of my knowledge, they aren’t supposed to separate us into tracks, and it honestly never occurred to me that they might be doing it anyway.
I spend maybe ten seconds thinking about this—giving it real, serious consideration. Then, I look up and say politely, but very clearly, “I’d rather stay where I am.”
Right now, some of you might be thinking why? Why did I do this? Why, against all logic and reason, did I choose to stay with the bad kids?
It’s not because I have any particular necessity to be with Dill, even though his smile is infectious and he has good taste in movies, and he makes me feel relevant and noticed, and we’ve been having an excellent time together.
And it’s not because #4 looks magically delicious. He totally, totally does, but I am a dispassionate girl and take only the most cursory interest in boys of any variety—even the pretty ones. And it’s not because I want to pass notes with Pony or quietly observe Gatsby or spend my afternoons trying figure out what it would take to be more like Valentine. These are all incentives but they are not reasons.
The real reason is simple, and also very complicated.
I am not my standardized tests. I am not my grades. I’ve done the GPA thing, and I didn’t like how it worked out. It was Spanish class. It was basketball players and paper footballs and The White Trash Club and sitting alone in the corner watching Pierre feel sorry for me. And maybe it wasn’t completely miserable, but it was boring and alienating, and the bad kids have never cared that I’m smart, but the smart kids always seem to care that I’m poor.
No matter how good I am, I’m not one of the clean-cut, affluent set, and maybe I could fake like I belong there—after all, I’m on the honor roll and the soccer team, and in the college prep classes and the pre-SAT seminar. But I can’t help thinking that as measuring sticks, those things are so superficial it’s not funny.
I have not yet become the pixie-doll caricature I’ll be by the end of the year, bright and ironic and contrived. But I’m already growing more and more cynical about myself, getting used to the fact that when I tuck a stray lock of hair behind my ear and glance down demurely and clasp my hands on the counter like a Pre-Raphaelite painting, I generally get what I want. It’s cold-blooded. I know that. I understand how it works, and it doesn’t make me guilty—not precisely—but I’m under no delusion that it’s honest.
I go back to Tully’s class the next day, clutching my amended schedule, feeling calculating-but-victorious. For better or worse, I’ve chosen sides.
I’m secretly hoping that we’ll be given seats according to what we picked the day before, but the first thing Tully does is give us his own computer-generated seating chart, which means that I’m not next to #4 anymore.
However. Thanks to the miracle of randomizing, he winds up in the seat directly facing me, so I every time I look up from my notebook, I see him there.
And this changes . . . well, it changes everything.
Now, what I’d like to hear from you: A time when what you wanted for yourself wasn’t what an authority figure wanted for you—regardless of how it turned out in the end. I want to know about that moment. The moment where you decided what was best for you.
Also, I want to know about tracks and if you had them and if it made any noticeable difference and if you liked it, hated it, or Other. But that is just to satisfy personal curiosity. Because I am nosy, and I want to know everything.
*On the other hand, don’t discount it, either.