still the same great writer trapped in a nerd’s body as you were in 6th grade!
That made me smile, and also made me think back to my sixth-grade self and what she’d think of where I ended up.
Who was I back then? Teacher’s pet, nerd to the fourth degree, and a fashion sense to rival Steve Urkel’s. Attending my tiny school, with the giant lunch tables that folded in half and lined the gym walls when we weren’t having lunch – and the best lunch was always hot dog day, where you gave the teacher your hot dog money on Monday and you’d get a pink construction-paper ticket on Wednesday to exchange for a hot dog and a carton of milk or purple juice. I remember the legendary kickball games with the occasional loose shoe flying over the fence, and the dodgeball games where everyone wanted this one girl on their team because she’d had her growth spurt much earlier than the rest of us and she could palm that giant red boingy ball and whip it at her victims’ heads with a remarkable accuracy. Do they still make those balls? I want to get one and bounce it on concrete for the memories.
I couldn’t quite call them the good old days, because I was fighting depression even then, and being a dork does make you a bit of an outcast. So young, the girls formed their groups and decided who to exclude, and no matter how I tried I never figured out the magic words that would let me in. Luckily, I had other fantastic dorks with me so I was never really alone, and I am profoundly grateful for those people and sorry that we didn’t stay close, because now I wonder what our friendships may have become if we’d tried harder. But Grade 6 is the end of an era. We’re hugging and saying goodbye, headed off to high school, and circles are split up with the wedges headed off in all directions. And at that age, you don’t know what’s coming, you don’t know how important those lessons are that you’re learning. I didn’t know that my family was falling apart, and I didn’t know how dark some of my future years would be. The bliss of ignorance.
I wanted to be a writer. Also a marine biologist and an astronaut and a doctor, but always, always, a writer. Plenty of teachers drenched me with praise and encouragement, but I never believed that I was good enough to write. I’d read some of my favorite novels and be both moved and depressed by how wonderful they were – there’s no way I could compete with such brilliance. And if I’m not going to be good enough, why try? I know now that such thoughts are just depression trying to keep me from making any effort, and that getting good enough takes practice, but I wasted a lot of years refusing to try for fear of being mediocre.
I think my sixth-grade self would be happy with where I am now. I’m not Dr Jen, space-dolphin biologist, and I’m not a published writer, but I’m married to a wonderful geek, I have a small circle of solidly nerdy friends, and I’ve come a long way in seeing the good in life. I think she’d also be disappointed to learn that I’m no longer making it a point to have my socks match my sweaters, but I’m comfortable with that.