Chapter 3: The Awkward Teen Years
I was looking for a good 80s lyric to title this post and seriously considered this one for a minute:
"Out from the ruins, out from the wreckage..."
(It's Tina TurnerWe Don't Need Another Hero from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.)
Because when I shared that last post on Facebook, several people clicked the shocked emoji, or otherwise left comments of regret about my youth experiences. The same day, a friend of mine posted her own story of being forced into lock-up conversion therapy when she was in high school which is way, WAY worse than anything I experienced. So I want to reiterate: We all have challenges and trials and unhappy childhoods. My life isn't all that remarkable. Besides, as Kinky Friedman famously said, "A happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for life."
In junior high - which in my school district was 7th-9th grade - I was exceptionally young for my age. I had crushes on boys but was oblivious to things like kissing or makeup or fashionable clothes. To be fair, it was the late 70s so using the word "fashionable" to describe the clothes of the era is a bit of a stretch. In small-town Mississippi around the turn of that decade, "fashionable clothes" was practically an oxymoron. In ninth grade, it became apparent to me that every single person in my school was wearing Nike tennis shoes. It was the first time I ever noticed a brand. When Mom took me shopping for tennis shoes, I begged for Nikes but she refused on the grounds that they cost $30. I share this story to illustrate how much times (and parents) have changed.
In junior high I decided not to try out for concert choir and became a stereotypical band geek instead. I developed two good band friends, Gina and Daisey. Daisey had Nike shoes and Izod sweaters and was the prettiest of us and the only one with a boyfriend. She dated Mitch for like two years before I even got my first boyfriend, if you're wondering just how behind my peers socially I was. I blame much of that on being raised a good little Molly Mormon, although my best church friend Kelly was way faster than me so that theory may not hold up under intense analysis. Mitch recently moved to New Orleans from NYC with his wife and children and we've gotten together a few times. It's highly bizarre to me, because when we do, my brain is all, "I USED TO SWIM AT YOUR HOUSE IN JUNIOR HIGH."
As my second elective in 8th and 9th grade, I took journalism, which was our school paper and yearbook staff. My Freshman year I received an award for a fictional short story I wrote at Halloween for the paper. Which is weird because I never write fiction.
At the end of ninth grade, I decided to try out for high school concert choir. As I explained in Chapter 1, I had been singing in front of live audiences since I was 3 years old. I knew I had a good voice so I wasn't surprised when the list came out and I had made it. I was surprised to find out after-the-fact that Mrs. Edwards, our high school choir director, had created a high school Girls Choir. Up until this point, pretty much everyone from junior high concert choir was automatically promoted to high school concert choir, because Mrs. Edwards had responsibilities for both. But the high school choir had gotten so...umm...girl heavy? that Mrs. E created a separate Girls Choir to siphon some of them off. Only a small percentage of girls from junior high choir made it into high school choir that year; the rest were relegated to Girls Choir.
If I had known this ahead of time, there's a good chance I wouldn't have had the confidence to even try out. So this was really a stroke of good fortune for me because no one in my high school years - certainly no teacher - had more of an effect on my life than Mrs. Joanne Edwards.
My sophomore year, I was in both choir and band. I adored my time in choir but hated band every day of the year. The thing
about band was, I was good, but I never practiced. So my band director had high expectations of me that I never once lived up to and the junior and senior girls who sat in the chairs ahead of me talked shit about me while I sat right there. I was just a miserable band geek with bad hair.
So at the end of my sophomore year, I decided to try out for Madrigals, our concert choir small ensemble group made up of only juniors and seniors.
I thought by signing up, I was submitting my name to Mrs. E for consideration. Turns out, she let this year's Madrigal juniors decide who they wanted next year's Madrigal juniors be. Once again, fortune smiled on me because I never had suspected that the folks from Madrigals liked me enough to vote me in, and I'm not sure I ever would have had any friends in high school if I had not been in Madrigals.
I must have called my mom from school when I found out I'd been selected, because I remember getting off the bus that afternoon and as I walked up the road to our house, my mom called out the door, "Is that a MADRIGAL I see coming?" She was really proud of me and so happy for me. I dropped band and took Choir and Madrigals as my two electives junior year.
And that was the year that everything changed for me. I guess that will have to be the next chapter because all this lead-up to it has gotten indefensibly long.