I have poked fun at myself the last few weeks, joking about the transition to middle school that my son is making this week. For as much as I like to complain about the hormones, the zits, and the prison-like PE uniforms we were made to wear under duress, I had a good run those three years. While it was there that I developed a deep and enduring hatred of cheerleaders as a whole, it was also the time that I made friends whom I have kept to this day. (I’m amazed that none of us succumbed to Aqua Net Lung disease as adults from all the hairspray we used with reckless abandon.) Looking back on those days of John Cougar, Alexis Carrington, and Izod Lacoste makes me smile…almost. My middle school years would be nearly perfect if it wasn’t for one disturbing and unforgettable memory: a girl named Patty who threatened to kick my ass every day of eighth grade.
Patty and I were very different girls. I can almost guarantee you that our parents shared the same socio-economic status, but while I did everything in my power to hide it, Patty embraced the Southern Redneck-in-training persona. I came to school wearing penny loafers, khaki skirts, and button-down collared shirts with a silk ribbon tied in a bow around my neck. Patty also had a uniform, but the one she wore consisted of dirty tennis shoes, tight blue jeans with the hem turned up by one cuff, and a tee shirt touting the heavy metal band du jour on the front. (My personal favorite was her Black Sabbath tee.) We both sported feathered hair, but mine was of the sort where I stood in front of a mirror with a blow dryer and curling iron perfecting my dirty blonde wings, then plastering them and avoiding slight breezes and sudden head movements for the day. Her hair style was more about just pulling a huge comb from the back pocket of her Levi’s, slicking it to the rear like The Fonz, and then daring it to move.
It’s strange that Patty would have ever crossed my path. We didn’t share any of the same friends. I was in the Beta Club and the concert band. I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing that she spent her extracurricular time plotting ways to ditch school without being caught and stealing cigarettes from her dad. We definitely didn’t share a table at lunch or have any classes together. The two of us were traveling in completely separate universes until the day she confronted me in the lunch room, the day that I realized I had something that she wanted but couldn’t get (and I’m not talking about an add-a-bead necklace, people): I had the affection of the boy she loved, and she would do whatever it took to knock me out of the lover’s triangle…literally…with her fist.
Let me just state for the record that NO, my parents were tired after raising six kids, but they didn’t let me date at thirteen years old. Back then, our relationship started with what we called “going together” (even though we didn’t actually “go” anywhere except to the courtyard at lunch). It progressed to talking on a corded phone (our phone was on the kitchen wall), trying desperately to speak in hushed tones so that my family wouldn’t hear our sickly-sweet teenage conversation. And that was IT. The object of Patty’s undying love and affection never even kissed me. That was of no consolation to her. Once she caught wind of the fact that he took me to a banquet where the boys wore neck ties, the girls wore long dresses, and we shared a meal and even held hands, it was over….I was toast.
I spent the better part of that year hiding in crowds and trying to memorize her schedule so that I wouldn’t run into her in the hallway between classes. I’m guessing she spent her time writing the name of that dark-haired boy on her notebook while daydreaming of having her friends hold me down while she pummeled my face until the only thing left was the lingering scent of my Love’s Baby Soft perfume. She had me terrified that each school day would be my last. It wasn’t my fault this guy was more attracted to a Valley-Girl-talking Moon Unit Zappa wannabe instead of The Iron Maiden. Why should I get pulverized when HE was the person who decided that he preferred the smell of my Breck shampoo over day old Marlboro’s in her hair? She should have been pleading her cause to him, not trying to assasinate me.
Even with all of the threats, scary looks, and promises of certain death, the beating never happened. It turned out that Patty was all talk and no smack down. Maybe she understood deep down that no boy is worth getting expelled from school. Maybe her friends talked her out of jumping me as I left the band room with my hands full of books, sheet music and a saxophone. Maybe she looked around the arcade and realized that she would be much happier spending her time with a boy who would rather play Pac Man and get high before school than one who played football and chased preppy girls. Whatever the case, I survived eighth grade.
I don’t know what ever became of Patty. We went to different high schools and never crossed paths again. I will tell you this, though…she left a lasting impression on me and to this day, every time I head out for deodorant and light bulbs, I expect to walk through the door of the store and see Patty standing before me in a blue smock exclaiming, “Welcome to Wal-Mart!” A girl can only dream…