Middle school is a strange period in our education and a strange period in our lives. We’re somewhere between eleven and fourteen and we’re in that turbulent period of physical and psychological development called puberty. At that time, when I was in middle school, I did not realize how strange and awful it was. I was overweight, mean-spirited, lazy, and girls did not like me. When I liked girls, I chatted with them on AIM, saying things like, “hey” and “A/S/L?” Now I also use the internet to mediate my love life, but this time around it’s okay because it works for me.
It is difficult for me to imagine that anyone in that period of their lives actually feels comfortable with themselves. But it did seem like some people were confident, popular, and attractive. But time has shown that they have not ended up especially well-adjusted. In retrospect, it seems like the people that changed the least over the course of their secondary education are the least interesting, and when I’m home and run into them at bars, it is depressing. It is also gratifying, of course, because the bros that had girlfriends with big breasts are now boring twenty-somethings who barely count as twenty-somethings. I may never have come remotely close to those breasts when I was an adolescent, but now I realize that they’re not my kind of breasts, anyway.
The point is, it’s a weird time, and I did things – as I’m sure we all have – that now seem completely out of character. I played videogames when I was in middle school. This is common amongst guys my age, and many of us share a secret gamer past. Nothing about me now warrants the pejorative term “gamer,” but a long, long time ago I spent hours and hours on my Playstation. I can remember crucial moments in the story lines of Role Playing Games like Final Fantasy VII, and if I hear the music from those games now, I feel a less extreme version of what I feel when I watch movies that I enjoyed with my ex-girlfriend.
I also flirted with the idea of being a serious Dungeons and Dragons guy and Magic the Gathering player. My friend John, who lived a block away and was an odd mixture of a street-tough guy and a gamer, turned me on to these pastimes. As an impressionable adolescent, I thought the guys who hung around the comic book/game store were really cool and I wanted to be like them and own $2,000 War Hammer armies. I was so taken with the way those people read all the D&D books and remembered all the rules, like “long sword does D8 damage,” or whatever.
I joined the wrestling team when I was in middle school. This is the thing that makes the least sense to me, especially since at the same time I was playing Magic and Final Fantasy. I did not win a single match, except against a very overweight 4th grader – and that just made me feel guilty. I did not particularly like to push myself when we exercised; I couldn’t run for longer than two minutes, and I tried to avoid discomfort and pain as much as possible. I am in far better shape now than I ever was while I wrestled.
Some of the other guys on the team were really good – so good that they would become state and even national champions. Eastern PA is known for its wrestlers, and there are whole families of wrestlers, each one of them a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes, I would have to practice with the really good wrestlers. This meant that I really got my ass pounded. Even when I practiced with light weights (as low as 90lb, I was 180lb), I got my ass handed to me. My coach told me I had to get mad and angry when I was out there on the mat. I wasn’t mad or angry about anything, though. I was frustrated, but that didn’t seem to help. To win, you basically have to inflict as much pain and suffering onto your opponent as legally possible. I didn’t want to inflict pain and suffering onto anyone.
My friend Julian was also on the team, but we weren’t friends during middle school because he wasn’t mean-spirited like me. It also doesn’t make any sense that he wrestled, because he’s a gentle, soft-spoken person who is now an artist living in Brooklyn. When I see him now, we laugh about it. He was really, really skinny and was usually taller than his opponents, something which probably put him at a disadvantage. He never won a match, either. I made fun of him a lot and called him a pussy because he lost to a girl once. I probably would have lost to a girl, too, had there been one in my weight class. I did practice with a girl pretty often who weighed about 40 lb less than me, and I came embarrassingly close to losing on many occasions (I also came embarrassingly close to having an apparent erection on several occasions, but thankfully, for the most part, I reigned that in).
Maybe the reason I stayed on the team was because I liked my coach, Mr. V. He called me “Hoffman” or “the Professor” because he said I had an analytical mind – which was certainly not helping me out there on the mat. I am glad that I abandoned wrestling after middle school, because I would have experienced a considerably higher degree of degradation and humiliation on the high school team.
I was a wigger in middle school. I listened to DMX, Jay Z, and assorted Cash Money record artists. I met some tough kids when I started sixth grade and they showed me the way; we smoked cigarettes, trespassed, ran from the police, and talked about fighting all of the time. Once I got punched in the eye by another wigger, but I didn’t really fight back. I did have some Hispanic friends and one black friend. I said n***a sometimes in their presence and they even called me n***a sometimes. Dominic, the one black friend, took every opportunity available to punch me in the shoulder in a supposedly friendly way, but it hurt pretty bad each time. We were always punching each other’s shoulders, and I never felt like I was punching hard enough. Once we all watched Dominic’s older brother Damien fight John’s older cousin in the alley near our school. Damien picked up a metal trash can and tossed it at the other guy. Pretty soon the school D.A.R.E cop, Officer Carpenter, came and broke it up — the same cop who wrote me up for throwing snowballs that same year.
I got in a fight in that same alley with Pat Cootie (a name which lent itself to many an insult), a scrawny boy half my size. He pulled the “ice” off of my neck – a sliver chain I had purchased to code myself as a street tough person, although I didn’t think of it in those terms at the time. Before any punches were thrown, a kindly man watching from his window stepped out and intervened. Cootie and I laugh about that incident now.
There were many incidents like these. Naturally, it was also a period of sexual (self)discovery, and many of the events related to that make me feel uncomfortable to this day. When I was in seventh grade, my friend and fellow wigger Davey and I were in the habit of hanging around a promiscuous, well-endowed eighth grader who lived a few doors down from Davey’s house in the suburbs. If she was in a good mood, and we were insistent, she would show a boob, or maybe even her crotch. I heard tales of Davey and another dude taking turns going down on her in her basement, but sadly, I was not present for that affair.
There was, however, Tracy, who was far more pretty and also well-endowed, especially considering she was actually younger than us by a year. In a game of spin the bottle, I made it to second base with her, and on another occasion, she went downstairs – but this only lasted a few seconds. Not only had I recently been swimming in Davey’s pool, and so I was experiencing that phenomenon known as shrinkage, but Dominic was there, and he wanted it real bad from her, and he got his way. I caught a glimpse of his dong, and it was really big. Later in my life I ran into Tracy briefly on the street walking home from high school, and the sight of her fully-matured, beautiful body aroused considerable turmoil in my loins, as well as frustration, because my high school days were entirely sexless.
Time passed, I met people who weren’t wiggers, I got into advanced courses in high school, etc. etc. In retrospect, my time in middle school was actually far more eventful than high school, which was where I flourished as a burgeoning, misunderstood douchebag.
I am thankful, now, for this turbulent period because it seems so unreal to me, as if it comes from some coming-of-age movie. I could have ended up like so many of my friends, who have disappeared into obscurity (dealing drugs, in jail, etc.). For a while it made me feel a sense of indignation towards those who were so delicately cultivated during their formative years, while I was smoking cigarettes and watching porn on (s)cinemax at my friend’s house. But as time has gone by, I’ve found that things have sort of evened out, and whatever happened then doesn’t really say much about me now.