I Know You’re There Because I Can Hear Your Little Brother Crying

School’s out for most kids. I know this because of the increase in posts about drinking from my Facebook friends who are mothers of school-aged children. I generally liked summer as a kid. My birthday’s in summer, I could sleep late, go to the beach. But come the end of July, my anxious brain would click into school mode and I would spend weeks obsessing over every detail of school life from where to sit in the cafeteria to being asked to explain covalent bonds in chemistry to whether or not jelly shoes were still the thing.

I don’t know if I was a popular kid or not. My schools were always so small that I never thought in terms of popularity because we all knew each other. Well, pretty much. My best friend senior year began dating this guy she seemed to have known since first grade, but I’d never seen until then. I was certainly aware there were The Kids For Whom Everything Was Easy and there was me. It’s just how you think until you’re, oh, 32. How WONDERFUL your life would be if you could turn perfect cartwheels like Judy, had the perfect amount of freckles like Monica, were still shopping in the children’s department in high school like Dana, and dated the cutest guy in the class like Molly. It’s not until you’re an adult you realize Judy threw up four times a day to stay small enough to be on the top of the pyramid, Monica spent five nights a week covered in lemon juice to fade her freckles, Dana was 40 before she got undressed with the lights on, and Molly spent most of junior year with a raging case of clap her asshole boyfriend gave her. Yes, there were some genuinely well-adjusted kids who were really smart, funny, cute, and had no anxiety about PE, but they are not the adults you want to hang out with now.

I have always been The Sarcastic One. At some point I became The Funny One, but I don’t think that happened until after high school. Actually, I can pinpoint when that happened. I became good friends with a girl I was not friends with in high school. The story she told about me was that I’d given her a ride home with another friend. She thanked me for the ride and I apparently said something like it wasn’t out of my way or somehow led her to believe if it had been a hardship on me to take her home, I wouldn’t have. She then thought I was a raving bitch until a few years later when we bonded over a case of Miller. That was when I realized the inflections I used in my head were not always articulated so clearly once I opened my mouth. Funny is a great way to mask sarcasm brought on by severe social anxiety. So I kept it.

There is an episode of 30 Rock in which Liz goes to her high school reunion thinking she was the one who was always picked on, but it turns out she was the total bitch. I have this fear. It’s not like I couldn’t have my moments. Sometime in junior high–this was when call waiting and three-way calling were becoming popular–I got a call from a guy friend. I believe he was “dating” (I use quotes because in 7th or 8th grade, what exactly does it mean to date?) a friend of mine. She and I were approaching critical mass. That is to say, she’d developed giant boobs. The only thing I’d developed was a unibrow, so clearly we weren’t going to be close much longer. He called and started asking all these questions about her. What did I think of her, really? What drove me crazy about her? After avoiding the questions as best I could, I heard the unmistakable sound of a small child wailing about something in the background. There were no small children in the guy’s house, but wait! My friend did have a significantly younger brother. The old Three Way Trap sprung by enterprising young sociopaths who are able to get boys to do their bidding. I mean, I was like 13 and saw through that one. So I did what anyone would do. I said, “You know, it’s so much easier to think of things we don’t like about people than things we do. I don’t really know how much longer we can be friends. She’s, well, you know how it is.” Obviously he didn’t. I was ready to throw something out about not being the kind of girl other girls like–totally untrue, by the way, but was fortunately saved from my own black heart when she finally spoke up with something about how she was glad she knew exactly how I felt about her. She smartly moved on from being friends with me, and I never said anything about making sure your little brother isn’t screaming about losing a G. I. Joe when trying to trap a friend into saying something nasty about you.

My takeaway from high school was one thing and one thing only: Boys are assholes. Proof? My brother had been tutored briefly by the very intelligent son of a friend of my mother’s. We’ll call him Mark. He was a couple years older than me and also very easy on the eyes. Within a couple of weeks of starting as a freshman in high school I got a call from a friend of the guy’s. We’ll call him Dick–for several reasons. Dick called to tell me he knew I was totally hot for Mark. I was not. Not that I would have admitted it if I was, understand. Mark was really cute and seemed like he’d one day make an awesome accountant, and Rules very clearly state you NEVER date the child of a parent’s friend. Never. Nothing good can come from that in high school. One little false positive pregnancy test and it’s Awkward City at the country club, right? Anyway, Dick was certain that I rilly, rilly super liked Mark. Yes, I said. I like him fine. He’s a nice guy. Is there a point? Well, as a matter of fact, Dick says, there is. “He likes you.”

Okay, first? Do 16-year-old guys really do stuff like that? That seemed a little weird to me even then. Second? Really? Couldn’t your after-school time have been better used by trolling your dad’s closet for porn? I thought that’s what guys did after school if there wasn’t soccer practice. I said, “Mark does not know me. He doesn’t. How does he know if he likes me and WHY would he have said anything to you? YOU don’t know me. I don’t know YOU.” I have to say Adult Me still high-fives Teenage Me for that one. The experience of my sociopath friend on the phone also alerted me to the fact that Mark was very likely either on the phone or in the room. Because I was not a total bitch, I also did not say anything like EWWWW! Like him? He smells like cheese! 

Unfortunately, it set a precedent in my world that boys were only to be admired silently from afar. Except for that one friend you tell everything to and who would never betray you even if you didn’t still have the pictures from that time in Panama City. You know the time I mean. It didn’t matter that your entire interest in a guy was the fact that he could rock a pair of 501s and was smart enough to tutor algebra, say nussing. NUSSING! For you and your unibrow will be humiliated and you will assume everyone in school knows about it. Which in this case was probably true. Although I’m sure the story he told probably sounded more like the plotline from Heathers and I was Martha Dumptruck. Because I’m a highly evolved individual with an amazing amount of therapy behind me, I hope that Dick is no longer, you know, a dick. The great thing about growing up is you don’t have to be the person you were in high school. THANK. GOD.

My stepchildren are 21 and 17 and the advice I’ve given to them is simple: Anyone who tells you these are the best years of your life is full of shit. Your high school and college years serve only as an object lesson in how not to be a raving asshat as an adult and how to hold your liquor.  It is inconceivable for a teenager to understand that as an adult NO ONE CARES what you made on your ACT or if you only got into your safety school. It is nigh impossible to believe as a 16-year-old drama nerd that, yes, there is actually a guy or two who thinks you’re the bees knees. Does it suck you don’t find this out until you’re 45 and married up to your eyeballs? Yes. Yes, it does. But face it, he’s probably a really nice, funny guy and you had your eye on Dumbass. You know, the one who called you the wrong name most of the time and never had money for gas or the movie he invited you to? When you got to college you had your eye on Sensitive Ponytail Man who wept for baby seals and also had his eye on Dumbass. So at least you had that in common.

I know I started out talking about summer and ended up with a bummer.  See what I did there? I just really hate summer. Also, I figure I wasn’t the only one who dreaded summer just because it meant school would start all over again in a couple of months.

2 thoughts on “I Know You’re There Because I Can Hear Your Little Brother Crying

  1. Normally, I would tell you that reading your column is like chugging two cans of Red Bull (the medium-sized $2.99 ones) and feeling all sparkly inside. But those two words, “high” and “school,” threw me into the Fog of Forgetfulness (a real scientific term I learned on Star Trek) and the screen blurred before my eyes. The fact that you even remember the words “covalent bonds” is a miracle of recall. Send me to a hypnotist and I might be able to remember high school (you pay, I’m broke). Otherwise it was four years between public school and college. The Big Blur. The Black Hole of Latin verb declensions and sine/cosine gibberish. YOu are, as always, a MARVEL.

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