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.
Oh oh, I’ve got one of these. In the 8th grade I was at a Catholic school I’d transfered from a public school the year before and the class of 27 kids had been together since kindergarden. There were 20 girls and 7 boys. One of the boys, Justin, had the misfortune to be the son of our 8th grade teacher Mrs. Williams. Not because she was awful, just because it sucks to have your mother be the teacher too I’d imagine.
Mrs. Willams was tough but fair. She was short, less than 5 foot and always wore 3 inch heels and we 8th graders towered over her. Except Justin, he was short too.
I remember admiring her one day as she ranted at the class about something I didn’t feel guilty about and I asked her “Ever think about being a cop?” she fired back “Yup, too short!”
One week Justin and his best friend Eric were fighting. I forget why, might have been about a girl. Mrs. Williams pulled me out of the class into the hall. She told me it was hard for her being the teacher and Justin’s mother. She asked me to tell me what the problem was between Justin & Eric. I looked her in the eye and told her it wasn’t fair of her to ask me, as a mother or a teacher. I was uninvolved in the issue and she was unfairly dragging me into it.
Mrs. Williams blinked at me for refusing her direct request. Thought about it, then nodded and said. You’re right.
See, fair. She wanted my help, but respected my refusal.
Tracking, I got stuck in the easy english when I transfered back to Public school due to scheduling issues. It was agonizingly slow. I read a lot.
I’m really impressed by this story. By the time I was 18, I might possibly have had the self-possession to simply inform a teacher that I didn’t think they were being fair, but certainly not at 14, or however old you are in 8th grade! At that age, I was still moderately obsessed with not getting in trouble. And even knowing logically that I was in the right probably wouldn’t have been enough to get me to take a stand.
I had easy English in 10th grade because (I might be remembering this wrong) all 10th grade English was the same and didn’t start branching out until junior year. Or else, maybe I just got put in easy English because I was coming in as an unknown quantity and they wanted me to adjust?
I also read a lot.
As to that first request, I can’t think of a concrete moment of this off the top of my head. I guess that there are a lot of times, but none of them really came with stuff to do about it directly. A lot of the time it seems to be people that think that they know me and what’s best for me, when they really have no clue about either. So then I just smile and nod, all the while knowing that they have absolutely nothing on me. The only other thing I can think of was this one time last year in US History (heh) when we had a substitue and a worksheet. The sub said that we had to find the answer to each of the questions in the textbook and then write the page number next to the answer. But there were quite a few people in the class that really didn’t need to look for the answer because they already knew it (myself included). The boy who sat next to me turned his in without any of the page numbers written on it, and the sub told him to go back and look for them but he started arguing. I did agree with his side, and when the sub started calling him argumentative like it was the worst thing in the world to be, a teenager with a bad attitude, I really wanted to point out that being able to argue a point well is a skill that is valued in many important people in society, such as lawyers. But I didn’t say anything, though I sort of wish I had. Hmm. This story is not quite with the question, it would seem, but I’m not going to delete it.
As for my track record…hmm. I’m not sure. Different people see me as different things, I guess. Teachers seem to see me as smart and quiet and a “good kid”, so it would seem that they cut me more breaks I guess. Church….well, I don’t go to church as often as I should, and I don’t really have more than say two friends there (neither of which are my own age) and I’m not really involved with any of their programs (except for VBS, which is this week, and hurts), so a lot of the time it seems like pretty much everyone there treats me as this very twisted reflection of myself, which annoys me. Also, sometimes my fellow students treat me like I have all the answers all the time, which I don’t. So yeah. That’s all I can think of right now.
A lot of the time it seems to be people that think that they know me and what’s best for me, when they really have no clue about either.
This is really familiar to me. I know I’ve said this before, but I feel like in a lot of ways, your interior experience of school has a lot of similarities to mine.
And I’m glad you didn’t delete the history class anecdote, because I don’t think it matters to the topic that you didn’t wind up saying anything, only that you wanted to. I spent years wanting to say things before I transitioned into *actually* saying them, and even now, I feel like I do much better in writing.
The issue of being seen in different ways by different people is one that’s followed me all the way through high school and college, and is probably even still hanging around today. Or if it isn’t, maybe that’s only because now that I’m not in school, I get to decide who to spend most of my time with, and those people tend to be the ones who help me be my favorite version of myself.
I can’t say that what I’ve wanted for myself has ever lined up with what authority figures have wanted for me.
As far as tracks go, in my town’s middle school we were most definitely on tracks and there was no attempt to hide it. My high school was too small for us to have been on tracks.
I was a smart kid but lazy; if I didn’t see the point to another assignment meant to drill the same message into our brains again and again, I didn’t do it. Therefore, I had lower grades than I could have. There were other reasons to be an underachiever, of course. In sixth grade a girl I didn’t know asked me to sit with her friends at lunch. They interrogated me, and suffice to say they were looking for someone to do their homework for them. I was very small for my age back then and they’d assumed I’d skipped a grade, so I must be smart enough to copy off of. When they found out I was the same age and not a prodigy, they never spoke to me again. Getting B’s was a way to avoid that humiliating type of attention.
All this goes to explain that I was put in the lower tracks in some subjects, even though I was quite aware that I was smarter than everyone else in the room (in some cases, I believed that I was smarter than my teachers, even). I never liked it because my classmates were painfully slow to grasp concepts that I understood immediately, making group projects torturous. And because I knew the answers to all the teacher’s questions, I wasn’t well-liked, even putting aside that I had no friends to speak of.
I was a smart kid but lazy
This is pretty much the mantra of my high school career. I was constantly on the alert for new ways of doing the bare minimum, and in my free time, I invented elaborate (and often pointless) projects in order to entertain myself.
Looking back, there are certain things I wish I’d taken more seriously—for instance, I could have done much better on my term paper for Literature senior year and I knew it, and worse, my teacher knew it.
But mostly, I don’t remotely regret reading paperbacks or writing stories when I was supposed to be taking notes, because even though I consider education to be very important and I should have paid more attention, I still remember the choice between filling out the interminable worksheets and writing down everything that happened that day, and I know which one has served me better.
My school functioned entirely on tracks. They worshipped them. Tracks were a religion. (Wait, no, I think random drug testing was their religion. But tracks were a close second.) They separated us out in the *eighth grade* (well, not counting the “GT” classes [which no one knew stood for Gifted & Talented, obviously] they started in 3rd or 4th grade) when some kids went to Pre-Algebra instead of Eighth Grade Math, and everyone had the same exact group of kids in their Math, English and Computers classes.
And then, in high school everything was Honors or Academic, and loosely tied together… And I was never a fan, because I am so skill-specialized it is ridiculous. My schedule was always a mess. I think I was the only senior taking AP English and Math Applications (a class which was exactly as much of a joke as it sounds like). But even if there was a >200 point gap between sections on my SAT, it became a total self-fulfilling prophecy of coasting through ridiculously easy math classes. (Though those ridiculously easy classes tended to be full of far more interesting personalities.)
None of my experiences even compare to the tracking fiasco of the class below me, though, who were introduced to the wonders of the “Gold Academy”…
All I can say is . . . WOW. That is a lot of meticulous tracking. Of course, maybe we had that in middle school too and I just wasn’t there to see it because I was still homeschooled.
And I was never a fan, because I am so skill-specialized it is ridiculous.
This describes me exactly—I never took math again after 10th grade, until I got to college and had to take something tragic called “Math for the Social Sciences.”
Also, in the non-privacy of these comments, I’ll readily admit that if I’ve done the calculations correctly (doubtful) I had a greater-than—400 point gap on my SAT. Really.
Our school district is rather… overenthusiastic. They take being 86th-best in the state very seriously.
Even better, in addition to the obvious, we also had the invisible kind of tracking you notice in the post… due to a scheduling conflict, I had to switch from one of the two AP Euro classes to the other last year. Everyone in the other class took the exam, and less than half of the class I was in passed the class. I really don’t think it was a coincidence.
My school required three years of math, but I took four because my senior year schedule already had so many elective spots I ran out of art classes. I’m currently arranging my schedule so I can take math next semester and never again. The sad thing is, I’m probably around average at math, but joke classes and lack of interest have totally killed my motivation to care or try.
Oh, wow. Now that’s specialization I must tip my hat to.
Hmm. I think the biggest one I can think of is the College Saga. The short version is that I was accepted to three universities for undergrad, and my parents differed on where they wanted me to go, but the one thing they agreed on was that they didn’t care for College I Wanted. After a long and tiring series of events, including me signing acceptance letters to the two other universities under moderate duress, I finally ended up going to the college I wanted.
I think what I remember most about the situation was that I didn’t necessarily know what was the best decision on an objective or rational standpoint or whatever. I just knew it had the things that mattered most to me– people who I liked talking to and who were interested in the same things I was, and location in a huge city– and that I wanted to go there. In the end, I feel like College I Wanted was the right choice. I had gotten into an Ivy League, but I think I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to go there and truly thrive, considering the circumstances.
My elementary school had tracks, I suppose– I was in a program called TAG (Talented and Gifted)– but I don’t remember doing anything more than a couple of projects outside of class. I could learn about whatever I wanted, so it felt more like a club than anything, and there wasn’t really a big deal made of it. I switched to a K-12 private school starting in 5th grade,and I don’t think we had tracks there.
I think what I remember most about the situation was that I didn’t necessarily know what was the best decision on an objective or rational standpoint
Wow, I completely remember instances like this, and they always shook me a little because most of the time, I really do make decisions based on taking into account the various factors and seeing what they add up to.
Good for you for going with what you knew you wanted! I still have a hard time explaining decisions that I make based on what I can only call “inexpressibles,” that feeling that all the facts are there, they just happen to be abstract and not very measurable. Which does *not* mean that they’re irrelevant.
I never had any outside projects, except for a city-sponsored art group, but some of my cousins were in Science Olympiad for a long time and they really liked it. It seemed to be a lot like what you said about learning the things that interested you—they got to pick projects based on what they wanted to experiment with.
Neither here nor there, but it’s really interesting to me how many people in the comments have spent at least some of their education at private schools!
Very interesting post!! And I LOVE your style. I wish I’d had the guts to dress creatively, rather than wear the ‘right label,’ which is what I did.
So, I’m curious about the reverting to at-home Brenna while at school – how much of that, if any, came around because your sister, who saw at-home Brenna daily, rather than poker-faced Sophomore Brenna, was now with you, do you think? (Having never had a sister, but being a mom with two daughter, I’m fascinated by sister dynamics. My girls act very differently when they are on their own in social settings than when they are together.)
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about tracks before. My school mixed everyone in together when it came to classes, as far as I knew, including many of the mentally disabled students who were in the special education program.
There was a program everyone called SPED (which is typically a not-nice term, but it differentiated this program from the Special Ed program) for the kids who struggled to keep up with my very academic school – these were mostly the kids with learning disabilities, but these were also mostly the super popular kids, so SPED wasn’t considered a bad thing. (in fact, it pissed me off that one of my friends faked dyslexia so she could sign up for SPED and up her social status) SPED was also for test-taking and occasional help, not full hour classes.
As for ‘A time when what you wanted for yourself wasn’t what an authority figure wanted for you’ – uh, yeah, that was pretty much most of the time. I had a huge I’m right/you’re wrong complex – no shades of grey, and in school, I was a weird mix of smart, preppy cheerleader, well-known and well-liked by faculty and students when things were going my way…and when they weren’t, I was a smart-mouthed pain-in-the-bleep, leading class revolts and getting expelled from LEADERSHIP, of all classes (had to spend that period with the principal every day) and kicked out of 12th grade Art. (I had been accepted to an art school at that time, so my mom fought to get me back in – and won. My teacher was not thrilled)
:P Man, as an adult, it is so weird thinking about how I was in my youth – my brain definitely waited until college to mature.
It is SCARY WEIRD how much my incredibly smart, charismatic, smart-mouthed pain-in-the-bleep, no shades of grey 4-year-old daughter takes after me. Aaaaand once again, I’ve written a novel in your comments :)
I’m so obsessed with clothes, it’s ridiculous! Honestly, I’ve *always* been obsessed with clothes, but back in high school, I was weirdly of apologetic about my fashion sense—like, I’m only dressing this way because we don’t have a lot of money. But truth is, I could have been a lot less flamboyant on the same budget, I just always gravitated toward the shiny and the ironic.
I’m really interested in sisters too. I only have the one, but I have a lot of cousins, and they’re almost all girls. I grew up babysitting them and watching the various sister-dynamics unfold and develop. I think that having my sister around at school changed me a lot for the reason you mention, and also because I felt more pressure to do a better job at being social and well-adjusted once she was watching.
It’s funny, I always think of myself as having been such a good kid, but starting my junior year, my mom was fielding calls from various teachers and administrators on a semi-regular basis. We weren’t bad, we were just . . . difficult. By which I mean, we were bored.
Honestly, I think I managed to preserve that image of myself as the Good Kid because even when my mom was defending my sister’s Texas hold ’em penchant, or explaining to my poetry teacher why I wrote my Emily Dickinson parody about a prostitute, she was always on our side.
(Also, I love these long comments—I love getting to know about people!)
So, I sort of adore this comment.
This is me all over. I’m just out of high school, and I was always fairly well known and well liked. But I was bored, and have strong feelings about right and wrong (although they are generally gray, I still feel strongly about the existence of the gray). Thus, I’ve ended up getting myself into, and out of (I learned fast how to be charming, if not sincere) trouble. Eventually I made it a sort of cool. I’d do what I wanted, and ware what I felt like, and since I didn’t care it was weird it stopped being weird. Even the teachers reacted like that. I did what I liked, and did it cheerfully, and it was like they forgot I was breaking rules and taking liberties.
I did what I liked, and did it cheerfully, and it was like they forgot I was breaking rules and taking liberties.
By the time I was 18, this was me all over. I used to joke that my super-power was my absolute inability to ever get in trouble. (In addition to going over well with teachers, I was really, really good at talking to the police.)
Oh, and as for sister dynamics, my sister is starting high school this year, and we used to have a terrible fight-all-the-time relationship. But now that we’re going to be at the same school and possibly have overlaps in our friend circles, I’m realising how much I actually want her to do well socially, and that is actually surprising to me. (Which I find… interesting.)
Overlaps in the friend circle is something I was weirdly unprepared for with my sister. I grew to love it, but at first, it took some getting used to. Mostly (I think) because my school friends knew me as a very different person than she did, so I was constantly navigating this weird balance. Later, having her there really helped me just be ME though, and I was really grateful.
It’s strange to me that I can’t seem to think of a specific example of a situation where I had to take my own life in hand in this way. I am a massively contrary person. The only explanation I have is this: I have spent the vast majority of my life in opposition to expectations. I have a forceful personality, and going with the flow is not only foreign to me, but utterly unacceptable. If I fail to stand up for myself then how can I be strong enough to stand up for anyone else? And if I’m too weak for that then I’m not going to do a hell of a lot of good in my life.
So all I have to offer you is that I know the moment you mean. It’s the second that you decide something is worth fighting for, even if it’s something stupid. It’s the moment where you pick your battles. Because things could go fine, and you could get what you want, but you could also run agains a brick wall. And for me there’s no turning back. If I’ve decided it’s a matter of principle (oh lord, if my family or friends saw this they’d die laughing. The stupidest, least regretted things I’ve done are always over a matter of principle), then backing down is just not an option. And if it’s not a matter of principles I wouldn’t have bothered in the first place.
See, this is very much how my mother is, and because of that, it’s always a little surprising that I didn’t turn out more like her.
It’s the second that you decide something is worth fighting for, even if it’s something stupid. It’s the moment where you pick your battles.
I’m still a very careful battle-picker, even to this day. I like to know at the outset that I have a high probability of winning, and I’ve been thinking more and more that maybe that’s not the right way to be. Every battle does not need to be fought, obviously (or at least, not by me), but I think sometimes that I could stand to be a little more vocal. This is problematic though, because even now, I have to think about things from every conceivable angle before I decide to proceed.
I’m trying to grow in the opposite direction. You say “every battle does not need to be fought, or at least not by me.” this is a concept I’m slowly starting to integrate. The problem being, in my head at least, if not me, who? Because I may not care that much, but if it’s wrong it’s wrong and someone will have to fix it, and honestly do I trust the world to just take care of it? And that’s how I get into a heap of fights that I don’t particularly care about, on a personal level, but on a higher level seem to mean A LOT. Not sure why this reasoning, for lack of a better word because it’s not all that reasonable, always makes sense at the time.
I can’t think of any particular thing that keeps me quiet in situations of principle. I mean, I *have* them (principles), but sometimes they are oddly specific and it’s very hard to get me going. In fact, it might just be the difference between introverts and extroverts. Or else the fact that I am very lazy.
Although once, in high school, I did take one of the gigantic redneck boys to task over the way he was talking to my friend, and I hear from other people that it was quite shocking, only I’ve kind of blocked it out. All I really remember is that afterwards, I was profoundly embarrassed. And also, the word hatemonger may have been involved.
Haha. Hatemonger <3