The first day of 7th grade. In the weeks leading up to that moment, I would ride my bike past the middle school, which dwarfed my puny, safe, single story elementary school. This new school had three floors and a basement to navigate, not to mention a new wing complete with a wind tunnel for testing the aerodynamics of the cars I'd make in shop class, a swimming pool I'd have to wear a bathing suit in, in front of other people, and a giant glass encased cafeteria filled with 20 foot long tables with seemingly endless chairs, one of which I would have to claim as my own. Staring up at the dark, vacant windows of my confines, I knew that something would have to change if I were going to make it on the inside. Since I already tried legally emancipating myself from my family to no avail, there was only one thing left for a powerless, 12 year old girl to do. I needed a new look.
Back at home, I sprawled across my sunflower printed sheets and began circling things in the Delias catalog. Though I lived in a small town in southern Indiana, I related to the models' chill, West Coast vibes. I wanted to be both a Valley girl and a surfer. The kind of girl who could pick just the right necklace to wear with that sweater, but who also could keep up with the boys on the half pipe. I was cool, hip, effortless, and meticulously styled, all at once. Or so I desired. When I had drawn circles around nearly everything from baggy burgundy corduroys to a sequined lavender gown, my mother told me to narrow it down to three outfits. This was obviously unfair, as I was her only daughter and dressing me well should be her main priority in life. Andy could wear Alex's clothes when Alex outgrew them, so it was really like they only had to pay to dress two kids, so it makes sense to give Andy's clothes allowance to me. It was a failed and ignoble attempt. But it was time to focus. I was going to have to say goodbye to a lot of excellent pretend outfits and find the most perfect one for the first day of school. After cutting out a dozen or so skirts, sweaters, button downs, and t-shirts and arranging them into tiny paper outfits across my bedroom floor, I had it. The. Ultimate. First day of middle school. Outfit. When it arrived in the mail, I hung it up together on my door, so that it looked like an invisible 12 year old girl was leaning against my closet. I stared at it as I fell asleep, dreaming of the instant fame I would inevitably receive as Northside Jr. High's best dressed student. "Oh this old thing?" I practiced saying to admires in my head. "It's just something I threw together last minute. Thanks though, you're sweet..."
The morning of the first day of school I descended the stairs like a queen entering a ball in her honor. Everything looked just the way I envisioned. In my hair, which I had smoothed free of its natural frizz and flipped up at the ends, I donned a black and white herringbone headband which exactly matched my herringbone mini skirt with attached gold chain belt. For a pop of color, I wore a pale yellow button down with three quarter length sleeves. On my feet, white knee high socks and black patent leather loafers. I was not allowed to wear makeup yet, but I found the Dr. Pepper flavor of Lip Smackers tinted my lips just enough to look like I was.
"Alright Mom, let's go." I said, floating past her toward the door.
"Not so fast. You're walking today."
"I have to drop Alex and Andy off at their schools. You'll be fine. Look, there's the Trace girl, go walk with her. Go, now, you're going to be late."
In my town, a school bus didn't pick you up if you lived within a mile of the school. The distance between my house and Northside? 0.9 miles.
By the time I got to the school's front steps, I was drenched in sweat from the late August heat and my feet were killing me from my new, stiff shoes.
"Hey Lora!" My friend from elementary, Shaye, was waving from the main entrance.
"What the hell are you wearing?" She asked after I ran over. "Nothing, it's new." I said, brushing it off with my hand, and we walked inside.
Immediately I was in awe with how many kids could be legally crammed into a single building, and each one of them was staring at their class schedules, trying to find the way to their homeroom. Mine was on the third floor. After parting ways with Shaye and finally finding the stairs, I noticed that my socks had fallen down in all the hurry, and my already mini mini skirt was creeping up with every step, so I had to walk with one hand on the railing, and the other tugging down my hem. Starting to panic, I got sweaty again, which left embarrassing evidence on my pretty pastel blouse. The humidity had ruined my perfect smooth locks, and now my head looked like a giant, blowing tumbleweed. I was so physically uncomfortable that I knew everyone around me could sense it. In my mind they were all staring, snickering, laughing at the girl who looked like an extra from the movie, "Clueless." And not even one of the cool extras, but one of the extras they blur out. The warning bell sounded, which meant we had five minutes before we needed to be in homeroom. I had a decision to make.
After attendance was taken, a girl named Heather, who was sitting behind me, tapped me on the shoulder.
"Hey," she said. "I like your frog t-shirt."
"Oh, thanks." I said. "Cool hemp necklace."
"Thanks! My friend Audrey has one, too. You should meet her!"
I left my first day of middle school with a handful of new friends, an armful of really heavy books, and a backpack stuffed with the most ultimate first day of school outfit. You see, when the warning bell sounded before homeroom, I made a beeline for the bathroom, where I immediately changed into the Peace Frogs t-shirt and boot cut jeans I packed, just in case. Because sometimes, when you're trying on a new version of yourself, it's best to have the old one stashed away, just in case you need her. And maybe you'll realize she wasn't really so bad to begin with.