I was a little girl filled with confidence and pluck. I was the smartest little girl I knew, and everybody loved me. I had no problem at all walking right up to someone and shaking hands, followed by, “Shake, spear, kick in the rear.” Everybody thought that was hilarious. I was probably cute as the dickens, but back then, I never thought about how I looked. I was just me. From the inside out.
‘Course that all changed in seventh grade. That’s the year half the seventh grade class had to come to my grade-school, instead of going to the high school with the lucky seventh graders. That’s the year my best friend ever, Connie, went away to another school. That’s the year Mr. Maize taught history. That’s the year Carla asked me to sit with her at lunch. That’s the year I fell in love with Art. That’s the year I started looking at myself from the outside in.
Connie’s parents hated that my parents annexed our school to the big school in the town where Mom got groceries. Mom and Dad wanted more choices for classes than my little school had. “Only one chemistry class in four years?” Mom said. “That is unacceptable.” Connie and all her brothers and sisters got pulled out of our school and sent to another small school nearby. Same thing for Donnie’s family and a bunch of other kids, too. I only saw those kids in catechism and church on Sunday.
Carla came from the big school. Those kids were super-mad about coming over to my school and getting stuck with grade-schoolers. Carla was in the band like me and she had a horse like I did, too. She liked me after I told Mr. Maizie, “Yes, I wanted to see ‘ass’ in the dictionary.” Which made him madder than he always was. Mr. Maizie gave me the nervous-cries, ‘cuz he gave super-hard test that got me memorizing the whole textbook and still answering the questions wrong. He also made kids go through the spanking machine on their birthday. Anyways, Carla said, “Wanna have lunch with me?” and I said sure, even though I thought that was a strange question ‘cuz everybody had lunch together. Later on she told me not to bring Diann or Daylene, she just wanted me to sit with her and her friends. Carla asked me how I got my hair to puff up in my barrette and make it look so cool. “Just like that old-fashioned girl on Twilight Zone,” she said. “I love it.”
Deanna told me Carla was cool, and I was lucky she asked me to have lunch with her. “You better not blow it,” she said. Deanna knew about being cool. She was born cool. She gave me lots of good advice about being cool, like where a bra, and listen to CKLW, and never say peanuts in front of a boy or tell him you had a dream about him. I liked Diann and Daylene ever since kindergarten, so I kept having lunch with them. Carla and I could be friends outside of lunch. That was okay with both of us.
Art was from the big school, too. Art was smart and tall and wore glasses. He sat in front of me in English class. Sometimes just thinking about Art made my heart flip over in my chest. Mrs. Bee made us memorize poetry every week. Art was awful at poetry. I kept my fingers crossed that he wouldn’t flub up, but usually he did. One week we got to choose between “The Chambered Nautilus” and “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” He chose the first one and I chose the second one. Sure Paul Revere was way longer, but it was a story and it clipped along like a horse through the streets, so that poem was way easier to remember than the one about a giant sea snail. Art thought I was so brave and smart to memorize that whole thing. After that we were boyfriend and girlfriend.
“Julie was his girlfriend before,” Carla told me. “She won’t like it.”
I had nothing to say to that. Art like me and Julie was at the high school, anyways, cuz she was one of the lucky one. Sometimes I put my feet up on the front bar of my desk, and he put his feet on top of mine. My heart got all jumpy and my insides felt like they were melting when he did that. Mrs. Bee gave the whole class a talkin’ too about puppy love and how she and some boy used to touch arms like nobody knew they liked each other, but everybody knew. Old people were so goofy.
“Art likes Julie again,” Carla told me.
At first I didn’t believe it, but he stopped meeting me at my locker and he stopped putting his feet over mine, and pretty soon I just asked him.
“Yeah, I like Julie, again,” he said. “She’s cool.”
I was mad as all get out about that. I thought about it a lot when I was alone, like when I cleaned out gutters behind the cows’ stanchions. I thought about all the things I probably could do better than Julie, even though I never met her. Someday, Art would be sorry about that one.
The next year, we all went to high school. Julie played the flute just like I did. She and I battled for first chair.
I fell in love with someone else. “The coolest boy in school likes you,” my friend Diann told me. “I told him we were friends. He’s in my English class. Let’s go.”
She took me right up to this guy with had a super-short haircut and a big nose.
“She likes you,” Diann said.
“No I don’t.” I ran away.
Wayne played football and rode his bike all the way over to my house, which was five miles, just to say hello. At first, I didn’t like him at all ‘cuz he was sorta not so good at school and, well, because of that butch haircut and big nose.
At my first dance ever, Wayne cut-in. Wayne’s mom made him take ballroom dance classes, so he knew how to really dance. Plus, he smelled like Yardley for Men and his breath heated up my neck. My heart did a flip-flop just the same way it did when I started liking Art.
“What do I need to do to make you like me?” Wayne asked me.
“Well, if you get on the honor roll three time and grow your hair longer and sI’ll like you.”
Wayne was cool. He almost get on the honor roll, so what could I do? Besides, it was too late, I already liked him.
Carla joined an all girls rock band and skipped out of senior year to go on tour. Later on I found out she became a public defender. Art started dating a girl named Sherry who had a bad kidney infection that she got before she knew Art. Her belly swelled up like Mom’s did when she was expecting. She went in the hospital for three days and came home cured. After that, Art stopped dating her. I lost touch with Art after high school.
I married Wayne a year after high school. The Ouija board told me not to; Aunt Annie did, too. I had to. He was cool, and he could dance. He told me I better stop telling people what I thought or we would never have any friends, and to stop reading interesting articles from the newspaper because I bored him. After a while his warm breath on my neck wasn’t enough to keep my heart flip-flopping around in love. Besides, he told me we there was no reason to dance, ‘cuz we were married.
Somewhere in that time, I lost the little girl who looked at herself from the inside out, and started thinking about how I appeared to other people. After a while, I stopped thinking about being cool, and let that little girl breathe again. I spent time going to museums, theatre, and discussion groups. I found Loved-One who loves me from the inside out. He and I love to watch ants, and documentaries, and read interesting articles to each other. Besides, sometimes he sweeps me off my feet and dances with me, even when the only music playing is in our hearts.