I concluded my elementary school career by attending group therapy at my mother's rehab facility. To say I was ill equipped to handle middle school would be an understatement.
I recall telling my three closest friends that my mother was going away to a hospital for a while and she had a disease called "Alcoholism." I thought having a sick mother with a nameable disease would somehow normalize my life. What I didn't realize was that there were acceptable diseases — like cancer — and then there were the things one wasn’t supposed to mention.
A few days later, one of these three friends informed me that her mother said she wasn't allowed to play with me anymore. It is without malice that I now mention that her mother was quite possibly more pickled than my own, but I digress.
It's not like it was a surprise to the neighborhood that something was awry at my house. For several years the catholic school punks down the street had been heckling me on the way home with taunts of, "Your mother's a drunk!" When I was younger I hadn’t known what a "drunk" was, but I did know enough to be ashamed and to find a new route home
In the sixth grade I had already acquired a bully of my very own. For some reason, the quiet, awkward, tomboy that I was had inspired rage in this particular bully’s pre-adolescent mind. He went after me with the full-throated screams of a zealot on the playground and with whispered threats during class. We'll call him Antoine de Cadillac because his name was French and I'm from Detroit.
Antoine alternated between finding me repugnant and wanting to grab my ass amongst the book racks. It was too early for me to understand the kind of sullen loathing a pre-adolescent boy could have for a girl. This type of creature also mistakes being "unpopular" for being "easy." I would encounter more of his type later on in high school.
However, my lack of dating opportunity never quelled my fervent desire to be choosy and to have the same blue-eyed dreamboat of a boyfriend that the popular girls had. In fact, I thought popularity was something that fell upon you like winning the lottery or getting hit by an asteroid. Although I believed it was out of my control and not likely to happen, I still felt it was within the realm of possibility.
So it was that on one golden June afternoon while all my peers were full of summer hopes and I was preoccupied with dreading group therapy at Mom's rehab, that the slope-foreheaded Antoine de Cadillac grabbed me by the collars of my off-brand Izod shirt and pinned me against a brick wall at school.
"You are a loser, Mandy. You will always be a loser. I know people in middle school and I know that you’re gonna be the biggest loser there," he said, his spittle hitting my face like tender drops of summer rain.
I managed to save face by shoving him off.
"No! You're going to be the loser, Antoine! I know people in high school! So there," I said. But I was shaken by the Frenchman's prognostication. It had the ring of a hex about it. I worried that he could either see me more clearly than I saw myself or that he had somehow French cursed me into a life sentence of unpopularity.
To read Part 2, please click here.
*This is an excerpt from my memoir, from the chapter, "Middle School: Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell."