Tim Peterson was HANDS DOWN the McDreamiest boy in 7th grade. I’m not talking like, JTT dreamy, I’m talking about a twelve-year-old who is so attractive he makes adult females uncomfortable, sexually. For decades. Tim had perfect hair and perfect jeans and no acne. People said he had smoked pot AND gone to second base with Jenny Pautler. This kid was a golden god who (shocker!) had never spoken to me. Which is why when he uttered my name with his actual mouth one day during 5th period lunch, I should have known it was too good to be true.
I should have known, but kids are dumb. My faculties were likely compromised by the otherworldly glow emanating from his general eyelash area and/or the intoxicating scent of 400 cinnabuns baking in a nearby industrial oven. I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled 400 cinnabuns baking, but that shit will mess with your head.
Tim approached me in the DMZ between the garbage cans and the lunch tables—the place where—if you wanted to throw away the shell from your hard-boiled egg (which you were already mad at your mom for packing because EW), you had to parade yourself and your off-brand-jeans-that-took-two-hours-to-perfectly-tight-roll past 8 tables full of 7thth grade assholes. Inside this social death trap, you faced the possibility of getting tripped, de-pantsed, spit on, or worse, called a poseur.
So there I was alone in no-man’s-land with a fistful of eggshell and limited ankle circulation when Tim tapped me on the shoulder. Hey Liza. Freeze frame. For half a second I didn’t hate my name. And for the other half of the same second I imagined an alternate universe where Tim and I spent Saturdays on his floor listening to Pixies deep cuts, creating elaborate inside jokes about everyone else, especially Lauren Schwartz and her stupid dance pants. He’d be like: Liza! We’re so much smarter and funnier and cooler than everyone else. Especially Lauren Schwartz, she’s such a cunt. And I’d be like yeah, what a fucking poseur. Fuck her dance pants. And then we’d high five and make hemp necklaces and talk shit about our parents and maybe kiss but probably not do any bewb touching.
Back to the cafeteria, and more specifically, my outfit. I was wearing a Pearl Jam Live at Soldier Field t-shirt but I hadn’t actually gone to the concert because my mom wouldn’t let me because she was a responsible and involved parent (See: a raging bitch). And for some reason, wearing a concert t-shirt advertising a concert which you did not personally attend was the epitome of uncool. Kids used this transgression as concrete proof you were a poseur. And as you may have gathered, being a poseur was the second-worst thing you could be in my school—the worst thing you could be was bad at sports. And I was already that, so the stakes were high. This is why I began to frantically construct a fictitious Pearl Jam concert in my mind—one I would recount like an autistic robot the moment Tim deemed it appropriate for me to speak. Yeah I was there, Eddie wore two flannels, Yeah I maybe saw your brother, but I was really high… on nitrous… yeah duh I smoke nitrous. I mean not smoke, puff… huff… you know what I mean…
Hey Liza. The world was melting. I waited for Tim to continue, praying Hey Liza was a prelude to I saw you wrote the exact correct lyrics to Jeremy all over your Spanish book cover—that’s so authentic and cool.
But he didn’t say this. Instead, he smiled this beautiful smile, and leaned in close enough for me to smell laundry and gym class and Old Spice and all the parties I would never go too.
He whispered: Hey Liza, I heard you lost your upper lip in ‘Nam.
I didn’t get it. Probably because it was 1993 and we hadn’t studied the 70s yet. So I used social cues: at the lunch table behind Tim, twelve of his 7thth grade lesser-hot friends were laughing and rubbing cinnabun frosting on their upper lips to simulate the lipstick I would never wear.
My hand flew to my face. I touched the physical defect which UNTIL THIS POINT I didn’t even know was something I should hate about myself. I had like a hundred other things I already hated about myself. Hair. Tummy. Legs. Head. Arms. Bumps on arms….Holy FUCK How could I have missed this!?
I stood there, a hard-boiled eggshell in one hand, and a mouth-area full of shame in the other. A tube of cherry Lip Smackers burned a hot and angry hole in my back pocket—sticky sweet evidence that I was, through and through, a total poseur.
At the time of Tim’s comment, I didn’t know what ‘Nam was. When I asked my mom later that night, she was like Wow, that’s a really clever insult for a twelve-year old.
Whenever I hear or read about the Vietnam war, or vets, or the VA, or benefits, or Forrest Gump, I don’t think about the thousands who gave their lives, or of the decade of political unrest that shaped the very character of this nation. I think of Tim Peterson’s beautiful blue eyes dismissing me over by the garbage cans in the Washburne Junior High school cafeteria, affirming my total, inescapable, eternal uncoolness.
And to this day I do not wear lipstick. Because guess what Tim, I’m not a fucking poseur.