I think about it every now and then. What it would be like to go back in time, 20 years or so, to the golden days of the late 90s when I attended DuBray Middle School and spent most of my time floundering in the misery of not-quite-childhood. Sure, I was a kid, but middle school is that horrible period where you start to actually become a person, the one that’s going to eventually hurtle its way towards adulthood like a spaceship tossed out of orbit.
What would I tell her, that little tow-headed kid in sixth, seventh, eighth grade? The one who took the walk down the hill from the school bus to cry so her mom wouldn’t see? I think about that, too. I’ve got a whole list of things I’d like to tell her. And here it is.
I know you don’t feel pretty.
Very few girls do at your age. Right now, you feel like it’s you and only you, but everyone is fighting their own battles. Please feel pretty, because there’s so much else you could be doing with your time than worrying your hair isn’t long enough or your skin isn’t tan enough.
You’re boy crazy.
(I wish I could say that goes away but not really.) You find boys in your class to fixate on, ones with good hair or nice smiles, and your heart gets crushed when you go out on a limb on Valentine’s Day. You write a poem for your latest crush on a red construction paper heart and leave it on his seat — unsigned, of course, because you’re boy crazy but you’re not insane — and when he finds it a girl named Chrissy tells him you probably wrote it for him. He cries “Gross!” and throws it right in the trash can. You’re sitting behind him as he does it. Do not let this break you. It hurts so much it feels like you’re being torn apart but you’re all stupid kids and none of it really matters. This won’t stop you from putting yourself out there in the future even though it feels like you’ll never take another chance again.
No matter how they tease you for it, never stop answering the teacher’s questions right.
Being smart is not a flaw. It’s not something to laugh at. It’s something to cherish and nourish. I know it sucks when your hand is the first to go up and the snickers roll through the classroom but fuck them — sorry, forget them — because one day you’ll run into one of them working as a gas station manager and you’ll be so thankful you worked hard in school.
Don’t pity-date your friend’s twin brother because he’s nice.
In fact, don’t do anything out of pity unless it’s something kind. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb.
It’s another thing you get teased for, but all that time you spend reading is going to pay off in a big way.
“You read FOR FUN?” is something you hear a lot in a tone dripping with derision. Yes, you do. And you should never stop. It shapes you into the person you become some day and you’re so much better off for it.
You’re jealous of the girls whose bodies look more like women.
Be patient. You’ll spend most of your life in a woman’s body with its curves and valleys. For now, enjoy your lean, knobby-kneed self. Besides, you have no idea how sweaty it can get under your boobs in the summer. It’s pretty gross.
You feel stupid when you start writing fan fiction — because let’s be real here, writing about how you ~understand~ Draco Malfoy more than anyone else is pretty stupid — but it’s worth it.
You’re experimenting with fully-formed characters and putting them in scenarios right from your own mind. That’s pretty awesome and it leads you down the path of doing what you really love: writing. You’re going to be a writer. Pretty cool, huh? So play around in worlds you didn’t create because someday you’ll build your own.
There are days where it seems like you’re never going to be happy, be grown-up, be free.
It seems like you might be trapped forever in that middle school, weighing the pros and cons of raising your hand, staring longingly at the “pretty girl” in English class, trying to sink into your chair when you get another A+ paper and someone makes a petty comment about it. I’m here to tell you that middle school is not forever. In fact, it’s barely a blip on your radar. One day you’ll put it in your rearview mirror and the only time you’ll look back is now, right now, when you’re telling yourself how everything’s going to turn out just fine.
I would know.
I promise you: we are just fine.