|Are you there, God? It's me, Mandy.|
This is the second part of a series. If you missed the first part, please click here.
As it turned out, the Summer of Rehab wasn't half bad. Mom dried out and stayed sober until Christmas. That summer unwound in the soft golden light that only the Kodak film of the time can accurately capture. My feelings were the same butter yellow, soft and mellow, as the sound of seventies soft rock playing on the radio in the kitchen while my mother simmered ground meat in a pot of Ragu spaghetti sauce.
My mother even took me on a shopping trip before school started. We didn't have much money and if I hadn’t been so damn tall, I probably could have worn more of my older sister's hand-me-downs. It was with pride and care that I selected two new pairs of jeans. I was quite certain that wearing jeans that weren't too short for me would propel me into popularity in the seventh grade. There would be new kids and new opportunities. Things were going to be different, I could feel it.
I showed up at middle school that fall, the only girl in straight-legged denim. Somehow, over the summer, every other girl had gotten the memo that both puberty and the eighties had officially occured. I don't know why I wasn't on that mailing list, but there I stood — braless, flat chested and woefully out of date. Tapered jeans and pinstriped denim had appeared overnight and I was standing at the bus stop in a pair Lee Easy Riders.
Not one to be easily overcome by obstacles, I resolved to win over new friends with the sheer force of my personality. I was the youngest child of an alcoholic. I was scrappy. I had wit. I had chutzpah. I loved attention. What could go wrong?
In elementary school the most popular people had two things going for them: 1) They were nice and 2) They were good at sports. I had both of those things. I was just too darn shy. I simply needed to hurl myself out of my usual reserve and strike up conversations with people, I reasoned.
So it was that I sat down in my first class, in front of four kids who are all talking and joking around in the desks behind me. Here was my chance. New Outgoing Popular Mandy was going to make her appearance. I overcame every alarm bell that was sirening off in my head and turned around to chat. I slung my arm over the back of the chair, super casual-like, and crossed my legs.
"Hey! What are you guys talking about?" I flashed them my toothiest, most Popular Girl grin.
"Turn around," a sullen, acne-faced boy replied.
"I'm sorry?" I cocked my head. "I was just asking what you guys were talking about." I tried the super popular girl smile once more, in case he hadn’t noticed it the first time.
"Turn around," he said again, this time circling his finger around in the air in case I was a complete moron.
"Okay," I slowly turned back around. I heard their laughter as my back was turned and felt my face turn hot. I secretly vowed to hate that spiky-haired, pizza-faced, pop-collared wanna-be for the rest of my life.
Unless he decided to talk to me. Then we would be totally cool.
It seemed that Antoine de Cadillac had somehow telepathically transmitted the message to every adolescent boy at middle school that I was a Grade-A Loser. Or perhaps my Lee Easy Riders were doing that for me? As I looked around, I noticed that in addition to bras and pinstripes, girls were doing their hair. They wore headbands. They had curls. Frosted lipstick. Accessories. Somehow over the summer they'd not only gotten their hands on the hormones that started breast development, they'd also done summer internships with John Casablanca. Clearly I needed a clue and a rich daddy to bankroll it.
Unfortunately I didn't have either.
It's not that I didn't have friends, mind you. I was in orchestra with all of the other socially clueless kids who were still waiting to get their periods and the ability to style hair. My hair up until that point had been a source of annoyance rather than pride. I somehow gathered in the fifth grade that the bowl cut was really over so I started growing it out. It was my nod to femininity. I mean, it would be nice if a boy liked me, but even better if they would at least stop ridiculing me. I thought long hair would help. And maybe I needed to ease up on the plaid flannel shirts.
Unfortunately my hair styling included asking my mother to hack off the bangs every once in a while so I could see. Grooming meant I remembered to pull a comb through my hair before I rode my bike to school. I'll be honest, most days I didn't remember. A couple of my friends had gently tried to help. I remember the sweet-natured Elisha recoiling in horror at the sight of me in a ponytail and twin barrettes when I showed up on the bus for picture day.
"Oh no!" She gasped. "You can't wear a ponytail in your school picture."
"Why not?" I said, confused by her reaction. I was wearing hair accessories. I was being girly. I not only combed my hair, but I put two barrettes it and a ponytail holder. This was me at my fanciest.
"You'll look like you have no hair. You can't see a ponytail in a school picture." My god, it was like the rules were a constantly moving target. One minute you have things figured out and the next you're Dick Cheney. Thanks to Elisha, we managed to remove the ponytail and left the two barrettes in place. When I look at that photo now, I see a sad plane of bangs lying straight across my brow. I had so carefully combed them straight down my forehead so they looked nice and neat. In reality, I looked like a total goon. I didn't need a French witch doctor to hex my social life. I was doing a fine job of it myself.
To read the conclusion click here.