Yesterday was probably the best day I ever had at Hunter.
Claudia and I finally broke out of our awful locker hallway. We moved to the third floor art hall, where David and Neil are after being banned from the other hallway for threatening to shave some girl’s head.
There’s so much to say but I have no way of being vague about it. All set for next year. I never actually thought that… wow. On to other things.
Dandelion were great. I felt so bad because so few people were into it. There were more people for Po’ Boy Swing (who were eh).
I’m not 100% sure what I meant by “all set for next year” but I’m guessing this locker hallway had something to do with it.
To give some context, every grade was assigned its own locker hallway and then there were a few additional, more sparsely-populated hallways. One of these was dubbed the “freak” hallway. As the name would suggest, it was where many of the weirdos hung out, those generally (dis)regarded as being outsiders, either for their physical differences (being abnormally tall or otherwise unusual-looking), their interests (listening to heavy metal, playing Dungeons and Dragons) or anything else that might set apart an individual from the culture of homogeneity high school typically encourages. There were even rumors of a polyamorous relationship among several of the hallways members, which was regarded as particularly scandalous and distasteful.
In my earlier years at Hunter, I was put off by that hallway. There was all the PDA among the less-than-conventionally attractive students. There was also the greater fear that I was ever in their ranks, it would put me in an ever lower social caste, and for a while I held on to my Sweet-Valley-High-esque delusions that popularity at school was important and attainable.
Once I started wearing oddball outfits and dyed my hair purple (and developed an inappropriate crush on Neil, the too-young punk a few grades below me) fitting in was no longer desirable and I sought out other fellow weirdos at school.
David was another fellow oddball and put the rest of us to shame with his outlandishness. He was notorious at our school for having a starring role on a cable show (I won’t say which one, but it was something of a cult hit in the 1990′s) as well as a minor part in a an immensely popular family film and its sequel. His style was akin to homeless indie bike messenger and he was always pissing off the Hunter administration one way or another, like this latest incident. I even added one of his shenanigans to his IMDB page (I think I write about it in a later journal entry, so I won’t spoil it here). Being in the company of such misfits as David and Neil felt like being admitted into a club that I realized I wanted to belong to more even more than the popular crowd. These were my people.
I don’t remember exactly how Claudia and I ended up in the “freak” hallway but I do remember the excitement I felt and the relief at packing up my things and leaving the locker hallway designated for our junior class. This other hallway was sunnier, quieter, and all-around more inviting. There were not too many moments during my tenure at Hunter where I felt truly at ease and welcome, but this was one of those moments.
[Oh, and for anyone wondering, Dandelion was a band that I most likely didn't tell my parents I was out seeing one night when sleeping over a friend's house. The usual.]
Lots and lots and lots to write. How vague to be remains a dilemma.
I dyed my hair purple. The top is VERY bright and noticeable, the bottom is darker but looks violet in the sun. Combined with bluish-purple lipstick, blue mascara (& nail polish), turquoise eyeliner and glitter (silver) below my eyebrows. I looked like such a freak and loved it. The strange stares, the hushed conversations as I walked by, the halted comments (“that’s an…interesting look you have there”), it was wonderful. I felt this great power and release. I finally spelled it out (Anita gets confused every time I use that phrase).
A month of stalking the hallway and nothing but brief glimpses. Ooh, I need a code name. Claudia got a great one: Mercer. Perfect.
So we were walking through the hallway and as I’m walking I’m staring at him (I’m switching tenses now). This time he’s looking at me too (with a look of—as Claudia described it—interest). I said hi to Didi and looked back down at him (again looking at me). Claudia and I started walking and I knew he asked who I was because I heard Didi say my name.
Saw Mercer later in the day too. Damn those 3-4 years.
This marked a turning point for me in high school, so I remember it quite well. I even remember what I wore that day: a purple tie-died t-shirt, cut-off shorts, and two pairs of tights (torn-up black nylons over fuchsia ones). It was hardly scandalous, but the combined look was drastically different from the generic fashion of my classmates and marked a dramatic departure from my days of trying to blend in and look like them. It should be noted that I started wearing the glitter make-up before it became fashionable, when it was only sold in alternative and specialty stores that catered to club kids and drag queens. In fact, I bought my crazy make-up at House of Field (the shop she owned years before Patricia Field went on to do wardrobe for shows like Sex and The City and Ugly Betty) from a stunning effeminate blonde man who would go on to be the transsexual cult figure Amanda Lepore (pictured below). Kind of fitting, looking back on it.
I don’t know what there was to spell out. I felt apart, different, freakish even, and wanted my outward appearance to finally reflect that. It was the physical manifestation of my I-am-not-like-you-and-nobody-understands-me teen frustration. The feeling of release came from no longer caring about conforming to my high school’s standards of appearance and asserting my individuality. At 17, it felt pretty powerful. I was teased and bullied from 13-14 for the way I looked (not something I chronicled in my diary, because it was too awful to recount), but I no longer worried about being made fun of because I was owning my freakishness. I walked those halls with a confidence I hadn’t felt in years. And my self-empowerment must have shown, because I was never bullied at school again.
“Mercer” was the code name for Neil, who I referenced before, but not directly until now. Neil was not just a punk, but the only punk in our entire school. He wore dirty clothes riddled with tears and safety pins, had green and orange hair, and a baby face that was often masked with a look of disdain. Unfortunately, he was considerably younger than me (a few years in high school matter more when the age difference is more than a year or two), so I felt immensely guilty having a crush on him. But the crush was born out of intrigue more than anything else. There were so few kids at Hunter who so blatantly defied convention in their outward appearance that Neil provided the same relief from the homogeneity. And sure, I thought he was super-cute, but more than anything I just wanted to know him.
And now that I was coming into my own and not afraid to stand apart from the masses, I also caught his attention. And maybe, just maybe, he wanted to know me, too.
“I’m drunk and right now I’m so in love with you.” – NIN
NIN COUNTDOWN: 28 DAYS
Yes, the countdown has moved up 2 days because I’m going to the Wednesday show (after Claudia the Wonderful gets us tickets). It was an up day. Don’t care about randomness too much. T.W. Wrote back, just what I need. Wonders indeed (I use that word too much. Even though I don’t use it all that often). Chorus sub looks like a Depeche Mode reject. Bad thing? Naw.
“Love comes in colors I can’t deny” – S.P. [Smashing Pumpkins]
More of my teenage code in this entry, but I’m actually able to decipher most of it.
Collecting crushes became something of an inadvertent hobby for me when I was 16. It was rare for me to go more than a couple of months (or even weeks) without having at least one target for my boy craziness, but sometimes I accumulated a few. I remember a lot of them today, but still can’t recall who “Wonderfully Random” was. If it wasn’t Neil, the younger punk kid, it was some classmate I decided was cute and crush-worthy.
However, none of that mattered because I was smitten with Tim Wunderlich from his first letter (and because of his last name, I was fond of making bad puns using the word “wonders.” Sorry.). He was frustrated and jaded and had the furious male scrawl of a teenage malcontent. Tim lived in a small town full of ignorant people, where he was called a “faggot” because he wore his hair a little long and listened to bands like The Cure and Cocteau Twins. He felt imprisoned and misunderstood, which was something I could identify with (as could just about any other adolescent, I imagine). Even though I lived in one of the most dynamic cities in the world, Hunter was a small school which felt like a microcosm unto itself, a brick prison full of kids who were smart, but not wildly eclectic or unusual–at least not on the surface. And while I had momentary escapes from the school, it dominated my social existence for a long time, and I felt more pressure to fit in than stand out. Tim did as well, but fought back against that pressure and did not pretend to be something he wasn’t. That quality in both Tim and Neil were big reasons I had crushes on them (on top of finding them generally attractive, of course).
Then there was, of course, the “Depeche Mode reject,” which was in reference to a substitute teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Dave Gahan, the band’s lead singer. Even though I was not a fan of the group as a kid, I did gradually like them more and more as my music tastes evolved. And while Dave Gahan was no Trent Reznor, he did have a certain physical appeal at times. And having a temporary chorus teacher who had a similar slender, dark-haired, broody, pale British look to him made me… rather uncomfortable. It was the first–and possibly only– time, I felt attracted to a teacher (not counting my girl crush on Ms. Donaldson, which had no sexual component to it). I was embarrassed by this crush, because it felt taboo to have lustful feelings for a so-called authority figure. Much like the crush on Neil felt wrong because he was so much younger than me, this felt wrong because Mr. Pseudo-Gahan was considerably older than me… and because I kept picturing him starring in music videos wearing leather pants. I could barely even look at him in the classroom for fear of blushing. Luckily, he only subbed for a few chorus sessions.
“You don’t need my voice girl you’ve got your own.” – Tori Amos
I just needed to reemphasize what a great day it was. The feeling is like after I take an especially lovely trip to the village. It’s been one of the best days of the year, with everything just falling into place. Imagine how I’d react if something truly phenomenal happened. I don’t know how long it’s been going on, but Anita and I are best friends. I remember telling her once but it wasn’t until her candle-lighting ceremony that it was really…confirmed. We have an immense amount of private jokes between us, I guess that’s one indication. Also when I got home today (to a mailbox more packed than I remember) I knew I would just burst if I didn’t talk to her and tell her about my day. Something totally random but wonderful happened. I’ll call it a one-time fluke, but it was still pretty cool.“Sleep, sleep tonight
And may your dreams be realized.” – U2
This is where once again I wish my father hadn’t read the diary so I wouldn’t have felt the need to be so cryptic. Granted, the random but wonderful thing that happened was almost definitely boy-related, and specifically related to Neil. He was this really young kid (13 to my 16) who I started seeing around school. He was hard to miss because he was a punk in a sea of preppies, with dirty torn up clothes, spiky hair a different color every few weeks, and a playful badass attitude. He was the only true punk in his grade and one of maybe a dozen alternative-looking people in our entire school. Claudia was heading in a more punk direction, while I was alterna-chick with hints of goth, but neither of us were fully formed whereas Neil was all punk all the time. I’m almost positive that I finally met and chatted with Neil that day. I (unsurprisingly) ended up developing a crush on him that, despite his maturity, made me feel guilty because of our age difference. 20 years later a three-and-a-half year age gap isn’t such a big deal but in high school even thinking about him made me feel like he was the Lolita to my Humbert Humbert.
Whatever the happy incident was, for me to compare it to a trip to The Village is major. Anita and I visited Greenwich Village as often as we could. It was all about shopping for music, which was one of the cornerstones of our friendship. We’d start with Record Runner on Jones Street, and maybe stop by Bleecker Bob’s (which is not on Bleecker Street as its name would have you believe), which was almost always had a disappointing (and overpriced selection). Next it was on to Second Coming, a tiny place on Sullivan Street where we found tons of used tapes and CDs. The guy who worked there had a shiny shaved head and a crush on Anita, and we nicknamed him Lysol because the bald head made us think of Mr. Clean and therefore cleaning products in general. My personal favorite record store was Generation Records on Thompson, where I consistently found lots of obscure, sought-after CDs and was intimidated by the tattooed, haggard, too-cool-for-you staff. We usually walked up 8th Street up to St. Mark’s place, where we stopped by Venus (another favorite) and once in a while, Sounds. There was usually a stopover at BBQ for a late lunch and early dinner and then, broke but content with our musical acquisitions, we’d take the subway back to Brooklyn, perusing liner notes on the train home.
It’s funny how friendships can take on the intensity of an affair. Anita and I spoke on the phone several times a day, spent most weekends together, and would even bring each other to school (one of us would cut classes to visit the other—crazy, right?). It’s rare to have that kind of connection on a platonic level, and rarer still for it to endure. But I guess I felt especially close to her since her recent Sweet 16 (what the candle-lighting ceremony is in reference to). I don’t remember what kind words she said about me at the party, but I know that was the moment I fully realized we had become best friends.
10/24/94“Some days it all adds up
And what you got is enough” – U2
I’m writing this on the train which means bumpy writing. Today was a great day, one of those times when the little things go right. I swear I wouldn’t be surprised if I was diagnosed as a manic-depressive. Mood swings indeed.
Hozumi gave me a tape I once considered getting, Dig. It was really nice of her, just came out of nowhere. She’s very cool. Well, some people actually understood my second story which made me happy. I don’t care that everyone didn’t, but the people that mattered (the teacher, for one) got it. Yeah…
“Too much is not enough” – U2
In retrospect, I do wonder whether my oscillating moods were caused by teenage hormones or whether there was something a little bipolar going on back then. The swings were usually provoked but not always,and small events could set the pendulum in motion to either extreme. If I had to guess, considering the moods did not negatively affect my grades or social life, I’d say it had less to do with manic-depression and more to do with being an angsty teenager.
Hozumi was someone I always liked at Hunter, because she defied categories (though I initially pegged her as a metalhead), got along with everyone, had her own style, and didn’t take any shit. In other words, she was different from just about everyone else at the school. I wanted to be friends with her, but we rarely had reason to interact, and I think I found her too intimidating to feel comfortable enough around her to really be myself. Or it’s possible that we just didn’t have the right friendship chemistry to form a true bond. It happens. Even so, throughout high school we had a few pleasant interactions that I look back on fondly and her giving me this tape was one of them. Dig was a grunge band with one minor MTV hit, “Believe.” They weren’t memorable, and neither was the album, but it’s the gesture that I appreciated.
As for the short story, it’s called “cut adrift but still floating,” and is about a high school girl, Nina, who stops talking, which elicits a variety of reactions from her teachers, family, and classmates. The story is written in alternating vignettes of her teachers, classmates, and family offering their opinion about her, with excerpts of letters that Nina writes to T.R., a famous musician who killed himself. Kurt Cobain had killed himself six months earlier, and while I was not personally affected by the tragedy, it did make me wonder would be like if a musician I really adored died. Considering the important role music played in my life back then, I think it would have been pretty devastating to me. At the time, I practically had a shrine devoted to Trent Reznor, so T.R. was the natural choice for the object of obsession in my story. To make my love of Nine Inch Nails even less subtle, I also named the protagonist Nina. Here’s an excerpt from the story:
It’s hard to function without you. You helped form me, create me. You terrified me, initially, but you forbade my fear. For a while there, I was under the impression that I was immortal. But then you disappeared, leaving me alone with my black thoughts. The bravery you instilled in me immediately decayed. You were supposed to complete me. Now there are pieces missing from me, pieces that were never formed. I was almost powerful. Now I’m nothing.
Just a wee bit overwrought, I know, I know. I’ll spare you the rest.
10/17/94“You make this all go away
I’m down to just one thing
And I’m starting to scare myself.” – NIN
I dyed my hair yesterday. It came out very dark brown with red highlights. A lot of people noticed and complimented me.
Didi and I were talking in the locker hall today and Claudia was nearby. Didi said something about Doogie Howser (that old T.V. show) and Claudia got all excited because she thought she heard someone say “Dookie,” the Green Day album. It reminded me of the olden days (9th grade) when Didi would dread saying or hearing the words “you too” around me (“U2? Where?”). Claudia’s lucky they don’t have more stuff out (as in albums and merchandise) or it could get more serious. She’s the third non-U2 obsessive fan I know (there’s also Alicia with Soul Asylum, and Darby with Smashing Pumpkins). It’s as if I’m drawn to these people. If I stay with this writing thing, maybe one day I’ll write a book about obsessive fandom. Or maybe start a support group, something like that.
“I hope someday you’ll have a beautiful life I know you’ll be a sun in somebody else’s sky…” – Pearl Jam
Or better yet, maybe I’ll start a blog in which we can all laugh about these obsessions.
Claudia was quickly becoming one of my closest friends at Hunter. Even though Green Day was her musical addiction and U2/Nine Inch Nails mine, we had other music in common, like Nine Inch Nails and Tori Amos. More importantly, we both had a disdain for the mainstream and the general oppressiveness of our high school. Music helped us both deal with that teenage frustration.
I’ve always been drawn to passionate people, but in high school and college, music was such an enormous part of my identity that I couldn’t help but gravitate toward others with similar obsessive tendencies. I didn’t mind hearing Darby go on about what a songwriting genius she thought Billy Corgan was or Claudia give impassioned soliloquies on Billie Joe Armstrong, because they let me have my turn ramble on about the brilliance of Trent Reznor. And while I always thought Alicia was a sweet girl, when I learned of her Soul Asylum fixation, I liked her so much more for it, and she was glad to have someone she could obsess with, even if our music antennas were set to different channels. In a way it kind of was like having one-on-one support groups.
Even though now I can see that this type of obsession is sometimes a substitute for something lacking in life, at the time I believed it gave a person depth of character and a crazy-in-a-good-way streak to their personality. It always irked me when I would ask people their favorite music and they replied, “Oh, I like everything.” I much preferred it when someone was utterly hooked on a particular artist or genre, even if it wasn’t something I was into (as was the case, when I was a little girl, with Depeche Mode).
Of course now I understand where temperance has its good points. It’s healthy to have diverse interests and that kind of one-track mindedness can become tedious. But back then, I didn’t have much else. I had school, I had my friends, and I had music. And being so obsessed with music gave me a language that helped me develop friendships in high school and beyond that may not have otherwise come to fruition. It was a bond unlike any other.
[“Raphaela Smashes” was the first short story I wrote for my creative writing class. It was about a teenage girl who hates high school except for an art class where all she does is sculpt clay angels. A few angsty excerpts:
I used to be so much more tolerant of this place—no, that’s wrong. It was never the place, always the people. I can’t see how I’ll be able to conform to their blueprint of an average, non-interfering girl anymore. Molding myself into their empty smiles has taken its toll and my tolerance of them has gone dry, leaving me raw and bracing myself for their sharp neglect. I wonder if maybe I was better off sugar-coated.
* * * * *
I haven’t decided which version of me to be this year. I think I have outgrown all of my old masks, the nice, pretty ones. The silent, claustrophobic ones. Maybe I can dig a new one out of the gutter.
* * * * *
I’m alone up here. I don’t cry, it just makes the hole deeper (and it’s already becoming hard to crawl out of). I practice breathing, doing it normally has been giving me trouble lately. I’ve been feeling like something invisible is trying to strangle me, some thought or emotion lodged in my trachea.]
10/4/94“You didn’t hurt me Nothing can hurt me You didn’t hurt me Nothing can stop me now” – nine inch nails
We discussed Raphaela Smashes in class today and I was incredibly happy with how much people liked it. I don’t think cut adrift… is going to be as well received. I haven’t decided how I feel about it yet. I’ve read it over a lot, but I don’t know what I’d change about it.
Oh well, I should focus more on my next story. I really want to call it My Empire of Dirt and am almost ready to construct an entire story on that title. I want it to be about little girls. Around 9 years old.
I was really touched (and a little surprised) with how many people identified with my first story. It was really nice, felt good.“And in our world a heart of darkness A firezone Where poets speak their hearts then bleed for it.” – U2
So much for holding back my feelings. My fiction was rife with them, brimming with enough teen anguish for a dozen Angela Chases and Brian Krakows.
This short story was published in a literary journal at the end of the year, which was a point of pride for me, because I was approached to submit a piece by someone who had shared the writing class with me.
Funny that I couldn’t believe that my classmates were able to identify with the alienation I portrayed in this story (a theme that would appear over and over and over in my writing). It’s hard to imagine others feeling that sort of isolation, especially in a school full of bright, accomplished kids. And yet so many of had our own personal cocktails of misery brewing within us, blind to the fact that we were all going through variations of the same thing.
It terms of inspiration, I wore my influences on my sleeve. Raphaela was the main character in Faraway, So Close! the sequel to Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. I suppose I was going through a bit of of an obsession with arty movies about angels (who hasn’t, right?… right?…). I knew I’d never top Wenders’ interpretation of celestial beings, but I tried to work in some kind of homage anyway.
Music continued to be the biggest inspiration, though. “Cut adrift” was short for “cut adrift but still floating” (a U2 lyric) but I decided to change “my empire of dirt” (a nine inch nails lyric) to “Happiness in Slavery” (a nine inch nails song title). Nowadays, whenever I see a book or movie title based on a song, my first temptation is to get irked at the lack of originality, but then I have to remind myself I used to do the same thing, and it was more about paying tribute than anything else.
One upside to having a journal where I didn’t gush about my feelings as much was having fewer entries devoted to boys. Mind you, the crushes were undoubtedly still there, but putting my passion into music and writing seemed like a better outlet than unrequited love, and more fun to reminisce about years later.
Tuesday, January 11, 1994
Let’s go back in time a little bit. My birthday party was really fun. Twenty people came and I had it catered. There was also a caricaturist and a cake with a Harley Davidson on it. I don’t think I stayed in place more than a couple of minutes. On my actual birthday my parents took me to the Harley Davidson Café which is the coolest place. There is this long list of famous people who have Harleys and Larry Mullen Jnr was on the list (though his name was spelled “Jr” not “Jnr,” the way that most people spell it. I like the fact that he tries to be different.
New Years was kind of boring. I stayed home with my parents. I’m happy that I haven’t made any resolutions for this year.
Today I’m staying home from school. There is a story behind this. Lately there have been many storms in New York. Not snow but ice. Yesterday Holly, Tyra and I were going to lunch and were walking down an icy sidewalk. I didn’t realize that we were walking on such flat ice and before I knew it I was falling. I put my hand down to break the fall and landed right on it. When I stood I could barely move my left hand. After school my parents took me to a doctor and he took an x-ray. The verdict: my wrist is very badly sprained. It kind of hurts (sometimes more than others) and it’s a pain doing things with one hand.
I didn’t have the elaborate Sweet Sixteen that a number of my more financially solvent friends had, with a rented hall, a DJ, formal wear, and a giant cake wheeled out for a special candle-lighting ceremony. This didn’t bother me; I was perfectly content with pigs in a blanket, a few balloons, a caricaturist, and a Harley cake. With regards to the Harley Davidson thing, I’ll be honest. It had less to do with my own budding interest in V-twin engines and all about Larry Mullen Jr’s own interest in them. You know how when you like a guy sometimes you start to like the things he does? It was a similar thing, except that the guy in question happened to the drummer for one of the most famous bands in the world.
As for the sprained wrist, part of me still wishes I sued Hunter College High School. The walkways near the courtyard were covered with sheets of ice and it was the school’s responsibility to make sure they weren’t a safety hazard for the students. I still remember how my friends laughed when my feet flew out from under me (hey, I would have laughed too) and how I shook off the injury until the pain was so bad I couldn’t pick up a french fry and I was near tears. I would have had a case if I sued. But whether it was laziness or my parents not wanting any bad blood between me and the school, they ended up footing the medical bill. Luckily, it was the worst bodily injury I ever suffered and haven’t sprained or broken anything since.
Saturday, October 30, 1993
Before I write anything else, I must mention that tomorrow Larry Mullen Jnr. is turning 32! Happy Birthday Larry!!!! I don’t know if I mentioned this before but I really want to go to Ireland. The only thing is I have to go in at least a couple of years, ideally after college. At 22 I would be old enough to go to bars (which is where I’m going to meet Larry, God willing) and I would be young and independent.
I joined the speech team about a month ago. I am doing Oral Interpretation which is when you read a prose and poetry piece. My poetry is Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf/The Three Little Pigs by Roald Dahl and my prose is part of The Princess Bride. Today was my first tournament. I only performed my poetry. There were about 65 people competing and the top 8 Junior Varsity (9 & 10th graders) and the Top 8 Varsity (11th & 12th graders) went on to the Finals. I actually made it to the Finals! In my first tournament! Then, out of those 8, I came in fourth! And I ACTUALLY GOT A TROPHY! My first trophy! I am so happy. It is one of those trophies with the winged women on top of it. Just the kind I always wanted. I feel like I finally found my niche. This is something I enjoy doing and I guess I’m pretty good at it.
I don’t like Elliot anymore. I made myself stop liking him. I am not completely sure why but mostly because I never talk to him.
Pretty good reason to stop liking someone, I’d say. It’s difficult to have any reasonable courtship when no words are exchanged. Besides, I had it all mapped out with Larry Mullen and only needed to wait it out six more years before I’d be on my way to being Mrs. U2 Drummer.
Thank heavens for the speech team, which was able to pry my attention away from U2 and boys for a little while. For those unfamiliar with Speech, it is a subset of Forensics along with Debate. I don’t remember how I ended up on the Speech Team, but it probably involved a teacher scouting me after hearing me read something aloud in class. In elementary school I participated in storytelling competitions, so it was a natural progression to pursue this particular extracurricular (hey, that rhymes!) in high school. While “Oral Interpretation” may have naughty connotations, it simply referred to reading a passage of poetry/prose for 6-10 minutes in an engaging way, but not too over-the-top that it veered into Dramatic Interpretation territory. I’m sure nobody will be surprised when I confess I did a lot of veering (though I never believed myself to be a good enough actress to go full-on Dramatic).
Winning the trophy meant a lot to me because it was the first noteworthy thing I had really done since being accepted to Hunter that did not involve questionable fashion statements. For a while, I felt like the dumb smart kid, like I made it in just under the wire and had to struggle for an A- average (I didn’t have the discipline and work ethic to go for the full A). Attending Hunter was sometimes like being in a prison (our school was even nicknamed the “Brick Prison,” partly for its lack of windows), one that was extremely competitive and ostracizing to me. After years of not measuring up in this academic setting, being rewarded and having a sense of new-found belonging felt nothing short of miraculous. It made me believe high school might not be so bad after all.
Monday, September 13, 1993
Tenth grade has begun and for some reason I like it. Maybe that’s because tomorrow is only my fourth real day. I did not get psychology, I got economics but I really like it.
Now for the guy I like. No, the guy I’m trying not to like. His name is Elliot and he has brown hair, I’m not sure about the eyes and he’s shorter than I am. We were both born in Russia and moved here when we were little (he was around 3, I was around 4) and he has math right before me and we sit in the same seat. Coincidence? Well okay maybe but… I don’t know. I have art tomorrow and if I don’t talk to him I’ll consider dropping this whole liking him business. I heard that he was really sweet though.
Anita came over last weekend and I had a lot of fun w/her. She’s one of those people I know I can be good friends with. Plus she got me started on U2. Later.
I’ve never been much of a math whiz, and even today I sometimes get nervous trying to figure out the tip on a check, but I’ve always had a mild interest in economics (I still have a copy of a paper I wrote in 7th or 8th grade on the 1929 stock market crash which was oh-s0-originally titles “What Goes Up Must Come Down”). In particular, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of investing. I think of it as a more intelligent form of gambling: there’s risk, but with the right information, foresight, and a bit of luck, a potential for windfall. I was looking forward to this economics class because one of our big projects was to take $5,000 of imaginary money at the beginning of the semester, invest it, follow the stocks throughout the autumn and winter, and write a report on the financial outcome. I invested in Harley Davidson, because I had a thing for motorcycles at the time (which may or may not have had something to do with U2 drummer Larry Mullen’s passion for Harleys) and a couple of toy companies, thinking they’d do well around the holiday season (Mattel did alright, but I remember Tyco tanked). The guy who made the most imaginary money invested in IBM (talk about foresight). For all the grumbling I do about Hunter, I have to admit that was a fun project and a great hands-on way to learn about investing.
In some ways, romance can be a bit like the stock market. You invest your time and emotion into a person and hope it somehow pays off, or at least doesn’t make you want to jump out a window. Sometimes you find great fortune and sometimes you end up broke (insert suggestive/witty pun about “losing your shirt” here). I thought Leon was a good investment, and on paper it was all there, but that lunch date never materialized, and since he was a year ahead of me in school and we no longer rode the same bus together, we quickly grew apart when the school year began. Elliot seemed like a good bet because of our similar cultural background and math desk (I know, I was grasping at kismet straws), and also because he was cute and rumored to be a nice guy. However, considering how many ill-advised romantic picks I made in previous years, I wasn’t ready to do any serious investing just yet. In other words, I didn’t have the guts to talk to him.
Monday, August 23, 1993
My summer has not been that boring. The thing I have been doing the most is writing. I just started one day and now I have 64 pages and seven chapters completed. That is the most I have ever written. I hope to have at least 80 pages done before school starts. School. Ugh. I have to go back in less than three weeks.
It will be great seeing my friends again. And Leon (he’s my friend too but I have to put him in a separate category because I am going to write about him). Thus summer, I have kept in touch with him more than I have with Didi. I think we have become really good friends. In one of my letters I told him that even though we might not see each other on the bus a lot, I wanted to stay good friends and not lose touch. He said he agreed in his next letter.
Also, one night I couldn’t fall asleep and I got this really crazy idea in my head. I thought I should ask Leon out! I wasn’t even sure I liked him but I thought since we had so much in common (movies, books, MUSIC) it would make sense. Plus, I rationalized that we would not see each other a lot anyway so this way we could. And if it didn’t work out, or if he turned me down, I wouldn’t see him much. Then I realized it would be a mistake, especially since I was not sure how I felt.
What I did decide was to invite him to lunch before we went in to get our schedules. I couldn’t ask over the phone so I wrote him a 6-page letter and asked him at the very end if he wanted to have lunch, just as friends. He got it the day he had to leave for Paris and called me a couple of hours before. Before we hung up he said he would call me when he got back so we could get together and have lunch. That made my day.
A couple of days ago I had a dream that made me think about things. It took place right across the street from Hunter and is this area of steps, benches and plants that is attached to this huge building next to it. Leon and I were both there and we were standing face to face. Then we… we kissed. It was strange. The kiss was alright, I guess, but afterwards everything was very uncomfortable. I don’t know, it’s weird.
It’s stating the obvious, but maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me there was no real chemistry with Leon, and that we should stay friends. Of course, I would never take such sensible advice from my subconscious. What would be the fun in that?
Granted, I did not have the most auspicious record of asking boys out. One disaster was followed by a second blow to my ego. Both left traces of embarrassment and disappointment, but obviously not enough that I wasn’t ready to attempt a rejection trifecta–albeit, one in which I lose every race.
Leon was different, though. He wasn’t some boy I developed a crush on because of good looks. He was someone whose personality engaged me, someone who I wanted to have a crush on in a way, because he was someone actually worth liking. Except that there was still something not quite there in terms of romantic potential. In theory, I should have been head over heels, but in practice I…wasn’t. Nor was I used to being so friendly with a boy on a platonic level, which was all kinds of confusing to a self-professed “guyaholic.” So for once, I was going to try to be a bit more cautious and sensible, boring qualities it was becoming necessary to cultivate.
Regardless of this romantic ambivalence and machination, considering the fact that Leon and I are friends today, I must have done something right.
Friday, September 11, 1992
School has started. Everything is different yet still the same in a weird way. My schedule isn’t too great. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I have no free periods except for 8th (which doesn’t really count). Didi and Hahn are in my class. Last year’s class was better but some of the girls in this class are really nice. Joyce is in my class again. We have two cute guys in my class. Will Davidson and Grant Simpson.
I lost a little weight and hope to keep the diet up. It’s getting late now so I better sign off. I still want to read a little.
Even after all these years being out of school, I still associate the autumn and start of the academic calendar with new beginnings. More than January 1, it’s the turning leaves and cooling fall temperatures that signal the potential for change. After two shaky years at Hunter, I was ready for some change, hopefully for the better.
I remember 9th grade as the year I tried to blend in more than stand out. After being mocked for my outlandish style, I had enough. No more neon colors, no more bold patterns, strange dresses, or wacky hats. Instead, I asked my parents to take me to shops like The Gap, where I stocked up on generic clothes like plain t-shirts, Doc Marten boots, jeans, and flannel shirts.
Joyce and I drifted apart in the middle of 7th grade and over the next year-and-a-half, I watched her undergo something of a transformation. She was a frustrating girl to be friends with, because despite her good looks and talent, she had a crippling amount of insecurity which morphed into a funnel for reassurance and praise. There are only so many times you can tell a thin and pretty girl that she’s not fat and ugly, especially while struggling with your own self image (and real weight problems instead of imagined ones). I eventually found it exhausting to bolster her self-esteem, but by the time we stopped being friends she didn’t need me. She joined the track team for which she had a natural affinity, trimmed her dancers body down even further, and was quickly embraced by the popular crowd.
I knew I wouldn’t have a transformation like Joyce did, having neither the grace and agility for dance/sports, nor the discipline and twisted headspace for the eating disorders for which some of my female classmates were being treated. Instead I hoped that dressing like the other kids would provide some social respite. Would it actually make high school life easier for me? Time would tell…
Wednesday, April 15. 1992
Tomorrow there is a dance and I am actually going! My dad finally loosened up a little. I’m not too nervous (more excited, actually) and I hope that I have fun. Also, I guess it couldn’t hurt if I dance with a nice guy, or two, or three!
Let’s be honest here. I didn’t want to go to a school dance. I wanted to go to a school dance in an 80′s movie. Preferably one in the style of John Hughes, where the adolescent caste system was flexible and inner beauty would eventually shine through and win over some seemingly unattainable attractive teen.
But we all know John Hughes painted a fantasy world of what high school was really like. The dance I attended in 8th grade lacked the romance, adventure, and good music of one in an 80′s movie. The DJ played cheesy pop, rap, and hip hop that I wasn’t into, and the gym was full of students I didn’t know, which made me shy and uncomfortable. That dose of social awkwardness was enough to keep me away from all ensuing school dances until the senior prom.
Actually things are going great for me, apart from not having a boyfriend (which I won’t talk about now). For example: my grades are substantial, my friends are great and everything else is just as it should be (except my weight! Ha, Ha.). I’m pretty happy because cool things are going to happen.
Brace yourself for this “coolness.” Are you ready? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I’m probably going to day camp this summer! It will be really cool from what Didi told me (she’s going too). We go on trips every day to places like roller skating, bowling, beach, etc. There are also going to be late night trips to Action Park and Dorney Park. But wait! There’s more! There is also going to be a three day, two night trip to Washington, D.C.! This is really great! Finally I’m not going to have a boring summer. For five days a week, for eight weeks I am actually going to have (as my friend Haley would say) “Gobs of fun!” I’ll keep ya posted. See ya!
I know, I know. On the scale of Things That Are Cool, day camp might not rate highly for most. But for me, it meant finally being around kids my age that weren’t the same 200 students I was stuck with for six straight years at Hunter College High School. And I never had the sleepaway camp experience, which seemed to breed a special brand of nostalgia in those who did, but day camp seemed like the next best thing. If not even better, because I’d get to experience daily activities without the risk of homesickness or (more likely) television withdrawal. Having fun without sacrificing creature comforts seemed like a pretty cool thing to me.
Sunday, November 24, 1991
I’m not very happy. I just seem to be depressed a lot. Maybe it’s that the guys in my class hate me and tease me during science. Maybe it’s that I don’t have a boyfriend. Or something else. Sometimes I just can’t express my feelings. I’m afraid I am unable to try to figure out anymore or I’ll start sobbing. I’m overreacting. I’ll be okay soon. I know I’ll get out of this slump. I am by myself a lot, but that’s alright. Things have to get better, don’t they?
Dark days. Kids get picked on every day and you grow up and move past it but at the time it’s happening, it’s the worst. I thought Hunter would be a place where I could continue to assert my individuality, but by 8th grade, I was learning otherwise. Being heavier (I gained back the 10 pounds I lost over the summer) was one liability. My fashion sense was another. I found the generic clothes of my peers dull and spiritless, and looked to 90′s sitcom character Blossom as my style guru. Mayim Biyalik’s portrayal of quirky Blossom Russo was an inspiration to me because her ensembles were a reflection of her personality: colorful, offbeat, fun. And I’ll be honest, I loved that she wore lots of wacky hats.
My own foray into unique fashion did not go so well. I already had a preview of meanspirited adolescence in the second half of 7th grade, but it was nothing compared to this. Science was particularly brutal because our teacher was one of those laid back guys that let us run rampant, didn’t do much actual teaching, and turned a blind eye to classroom shenanigans. Which was great if you had friends to goof off with, but not great if you had no friends in that class and were the target of ridicule. There was name-calling, drawing hurtful caricatures of me on the blackboard, throwing things at me. At first I found it confusing, because I genuinely thought I looked cool and would be positively regarded for asserting my personality by dressing differently from the other kids (sample outfit: babydoll dress over biker shorts, purple velvet hat, fabric scarf). The other kids did not agree. Unfortunately for me, the other kids were mostly made up of boys, several of which I had a crush on.
I did have a few friends in the 8th grade, but felt increasingly isolated, and being teased wasn’t something I talked to them about. I let that shame, sadness, rejection, and frustration slowly pull me down and erode my self-esteem. It was one thing not to be popular, but to be this unpopular was a shock to me.
I did it. I gave Hahn a note to give to Archie. She told me that he laughed and said, “Damiella wants to go out with me?” Well I’m taking that as a “no.” I’m telling myself it doesn’t matter because I’ll forget it ever happened. It doesn’t matter. It’s too bad, though. I was hoping it would be different this time. Sigh. Oh well. I’ll live. No big deal. See ya!
Of all the reactions you can get when asking someone out, laughter is not high up there. It’s kind of like that movie cliché where a guy calls a hoity-toity restaurant for a table that night and the maître d’laughs in derision to emphasize the restaurant’s popularity. That’s exactly how I took Archie’s laugh.
Even though I tried to hide my disappointment in my journal, it was still an ego blow and a letdown. Sure, I set myself up by asking out a guy I knew was out of my league. Back then I wanted to think it would have been possible for someone like him to go out with someone like me. I was fed a steady diet of romantically improbable fiction and cinema, and really and truly believed life could mimic a John Hughes movie. At least, I wanted it to.
The Hughes films that made up my adolescent core were Weird Science, the Molly Ringwald Trilogy (Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) and Some Kind of Wonderful. All of those movies showed that no matter how quirky, different, nerdy or unpopular you are, you can still get the hot guy or gal that will see you for who you are. In Hughes’ world, the pendulum can swing either way. Popular kids can turn out to be down-to-earth, sweet, and willing to date outside their caste (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful) and unpopular kids can show hidden talents and blossom and turn out to be rad and hot-in-their-own-special-way (Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful), or at the very least get a makeover from Molly Ringwald that makes them generic and pretty enough to catch the eye of the dopey jock, (The Breakfast Club).
In the real world? Not so much. At least not in a school like Hunter, where you were stuck with the same 200 or so kids for six straight years. I saw a few cases of extreme talent/beauty being accepted into the fold of the popular kids, or “survivors” as they were known. However, things weren’t shaping up for me to be one of those exceptions, and the sooner I accepted that the better.
Saturday, July 20, 1991
Les Mis was fabulouse. I took out the (very thick, 1,232 page) book out of the library and I will read it when I find time.
Yesterday I had the wonderfull experience of being royalty. What I mean is my father’s friend Abe took us out to “tavern on the green” which is a very expensive, ritzy restaurant in Manhattan (central park). Outside there is this tree wrapped in lights. The trunk and roots of the tree (the base, or whatever) is in a glass-enclosed thing in a mirrored hall that leads to different rooms to dine in.
Everything there is done with class, good taste, and style. The food is exquisite (though the portions aren’t) and it’s the best meal I ever ate, and the best restaurant I have ever been in.
Thing that isn’t surprising at all #1: I never “found time” to read more than about 100 pages of Victor Hugo’s novel. The bleakness of the story, the abject poverty, war, and heartbreak, all of these things were somehow more palatable when interspersed with catchy tunes. Reading about a man going to prison for stealing a loaf of bread just wasn’t as enjoyable when it wasn’t set to music.
Thing that isn’t surprising at all #1: I did not end up at Gourmet, or any other publication, as a professional restaurant critic.
Between attending Hunter on Manhattan’s wealthy Upper East Side, seeing the more relaxed but also moneyed Upper West Side during a trip to the Museum of Natural History, and this sort of restaurant outing, I was getting a glimpse of the good life (or at the very least, the rich life). Up until that point, my notion of a nice restaurant was Beefsteak Charlie’s or our local Chinese restaurant, which had red leather booths, rice paper lanterns and served cocktails in ceramic coconuts. For me, the Tavern on the Green level of opulence never existed, though I made sure I took well advantage of that fine meal and ordered the lobster.
It didn’t help matters when my mother told me that she actually has royal blood in her lineage and that I’m descended from a countess. Somewhere along the way, our Russian ancestors lost their wealth and had their land confiscated, and generations later we ended up in New York City as struggling immigrants. Still, it was great to experience such awe and get a taste of luxury, even for a single evening.
Monday, June 17, 1991
School is over. Earlier than the other schools. Justin asked out Gina, and she said Yes. I was very upset untill I found out that she changed her mind and then said no. (Sound familiar?) I guess Tony figured out (the hard way) “what comes around goes around.” I think I’m over him.
I have some good news. At the end of July, for 2 or 3 weeks I’m probably going to go to Israel without my parents! I would be going with my cousin Anna who is 15 and I like a lot, and her mother. I hope I go. I can’t wait! I can’t believe that my parents actually let me go. I think they are becoming a lot less over-protective.
For a 13-year-old who was fond of complaining how unfair life was, this was a pretty sweet moment. Perhaps it was a coincidence that Justin faced the same romantic reversal of fortune that he caused me, but that’s now how I saw it back then (or even today). I took it as confirmation from the universe that doing a crummy thing would lead to payback.
Vindication aside, what the hell was wrong with Justin and Gina? Who says yes when someone asks you out only to double back and reject them? Was it some kind of passive-aggressive cowardice or further evidence that while Hunter College High School housed the “gifted and talented” it also housed the socially retarded? I vote yes on both counts.
As for Israel, the prospect of the trip was exciting for several obvious, and one less obvious reasons. Clearly I was ready to spend some time away from my well-meaning but overprotective parents and cut loose. I was craving adventure and travelling thousands of miles for it sounded like a great idea to me. And even though I’ve never been a fan of hot weather, Israel in the summertime sounded like the Best Idea Ever as soon as Anna told me how cute the boys over there were. The Promised Land indeed.
Wednesday, Jan. 16, 1991
I can’t believe this is happening, but a war has begun. The middle east is involved. I am so thankful that I have no relatives or friends fighting in this war. God, I really want peace for our world. I don’t want people to die. I don’t think that problems should be solved with death or violence.
[Trite much? Let's be honest. I did not follow the Gulf War, and was one of the least political teenagers you could have known in the early 90's. You want to know what inspired the above paragraph? Hearing George Michael's "Praying For Time" playing over recorded messages to the troops from their families on the radio. No, really.]
I am such a hypocrite! Here I am saying that problems should not be solved with violence, when I go around hitting people all the time. Sometimes actions speack louder than words. Maybe war is the best thing for us after all. My father said that the only to have peace is to be prepared for war. Maybe he is right. I hope this war is over soon.
[There was a second, much smaller war going on, taking place on a small yellow bus during trips between Brooklyn and Manhattan. To be exact, the private bus my parents made me take because they thought the subway was too dangerous for their 13-year-old daughter (insert eye roll here). There were a handful of boys on the bus who teased me, and the verbal sparring became physical sparring. I'd punch or scratch them, they'd punch me back (never in the face, mostly in the arms). While I was still sharpening my acerbic wit, I had my trusty nails which were plenty sharp. Since I couldn't reciprocate the mental anguish back then, I had to work with what I had. Considering all the violence I was wrapped up in at the time, how could I resolve these conflicting feelings about war and its role in society? I really couldn't, so the safest thing to do is to go back to talking about boys.]
Well things are so-so for me right now. Nothing too bad (excluding the war) or good is happening to me right now. I have no idea who I like. I think that I don’t like Tyler, but I just like to flirt with him, and smack him around a little.
[There, isn't that much better? And as much as I might sound like a bully, I have to stress that this was all self-defense (against mostly verbal attacks, but still).]
Danny is a different story. I have no idea how I feel about him. I feel very furious with him at times and my heart melts at others. Right now I am SO MAD at him! First of all, I have only begun to realize what a major ego problem this guy has. Not to mention what a wannabe he can be sometimes. I really get annoyed by people who try to act cool. Usually they end up looking and acting like fools. Either you are cool or you are not. There is no in between. Sometimes the way Danny acts ticks me off. He can be such a putz! I guess I don’t like him anymore. Then again, who knows? -Bye-
I think we all know where I stood when it came to acting like a typical teenage boy. The only thing worse is when that typical teenage boy is one you have/had/who-the-hell-knows-anymore a crush on.
Being cool is such a subjective thing. I thought I was so cool in elementary school. I was the first girl in my grade to get a perm, wore edgy outfits like giant button-down shirts as dresses with wide belts (a trend which has since returned, I’ll have you know), and had a collection of big colorful earrings to go with my big colorful personality. Within the first few months at Hunter, I went from being a big fish in a medium pond to a small fish in a tiny pond… full of piranhas. My big personality diminished by kids who all looked the same, acted the same, and dressed the same (Gap, Banana Republic, etc.) and made it clear that I was different–and not it a good way.
Guys like Danny started out different but tried to assimilate with the “popular” crowd. He was one of those borderline kids who was friendly with some of them, but wasn’t truly one of their own. Seeing his efforts to belong infuriated me. Back then it was the phoniness that ticked me off. Now I can look back and admit that part of it was probably jealousy, too, that he was closer to being popular at Hunter than I ever would be.
My big hair, odd outfits, and Brooklyn sass seemed to have no place in a smartypants school on the Upper East Side, but I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
Thursday, Jan. 3, 1991
God, I have to straighten out my emotions. I have no idea how I feel or how I’m supposed to feel. I just feel weird and kind of breathless. I can’t explain it.
[I can: I'm a friggin' drama queen!]
I’m a guyaholic. I’m addicted to guys.
[Where's my support group, dammit?]
When I went back to school on Wednesday, Danny was absent because he was in Club Med and won’t be back in school until Monday. We have Friday off so I only would have to manage two days without him.
[Two. Whole. Days. Without a boy who barely paid attention to me. However could I survive such a painful absence?]
As it turns out, those two days were not too hard to bear. Actually, I think that I kinda-sorta fell for another guy. The crazy part is that the guy is Justin. I don’t know what happened, but after vacation he just seemed like a changed person. His hair looks great since he had it cut.
[Let's not forget the power of a good haircut. It could turn a guy from being nondescript to being full-on crush material. Let's be honest, Justin was not a "changed person" after his vacation, he probably just had a tan to go with his new haircut. But I appreciate my attempt to make these new feelings less shallow than they actually were, which was very.]
And how could I have not noticed those georgeous (god I’m a bad speller.) hazel (yes they change colors!) eyes before!?!
[More importantly, how did I get accepted to a school for the so-called gifted and talented when I still couldn't spell a word I used to describe EVERY cute boy with decent hair? How could I have not noticed a, you know, dictionary?!]
He acts a lot nicer to me also.
[Yeah, right. More likely his hair acted a lot nicer to me, by looking so darn good.]
Am I falling for Justin?*
Did two days (could two days) make me forget Danny?
Well, I haven’t forgotten him, I just need to see him again to make sure I like him.
[I told me so!]
Why doesn’t anything happen when I think of Danny?
[Like what, spontaneous human combustion?]
Why do I get a funny feeling in my stomach when I think of Justin?
Am I that fickle?
Could 2 lousy days make me forget one guy and fall for another?
[Yes and no.]
I’m not sure. Am I just using Justin as a substitute for Danny in his absence?
[No, I'm using them both as a substitute for my boredom and frustration toward a school that's a struggle for me academically and socially.]
If I were to give me advice I would tell me to wait until Monday and see how I feel then. And to enjoy the attention I’m getting. I think I’ll take that advice.
If I were to give my thirteen year old self advice, I would tell me to take up some hobbies to take my mind off boys, and just grit my teeth and bear the next couple of years.
* As I type this, “Is this Love” by Squeeze is playing. Ooh, synchronicity!
Tuesday, Dec. 18, 1990
My father is so unfair! It was all planned that I would go to Joyce’s house on Friday and sleep over. I was so excited, when I realized that Friday was half a day and that we would have even more time to spend together. When I told my Dad he told me I couldn’t go because he thinks Joyce will kill me or hurt me because she had a bad early childhood! That is so f%^&ing stupid!! I understand that my Dad cares about and doesn’t want me to get hurt, but this is ridiculous! I can’t believe what kind of bulls#$% this is.
Also, I have to tell Joyce that I can’t go to her house on Friday (tomorrow) because I have to go somewhere on vacation. I am SO furious! I don’t think there’s any hope, but I’ll show my father that he has no right to act so presumptious and unfair to me. It’s not fair!!!!!!!!!!!
Ah, the first bitter taste of adolescent injustice and parental resentment.
I’ll be the first one to retroactively find logic and wisdom in the diary entries lacking self-awareness. But in this case, I think my 13-year-old self had good reason to be furious.
My parents showed what some would consider an unreasonable amount of overprotectiveness. I was not allowed to take the subway to school those first few years at Hunter because Mom and Dad feared for my safety. Instead, they spent a decent chunk of change for me to be picked up and dropped off from school via private school bus. This meant no sleeping in when my schedule had a free first period and no extracurricular activities, since the bus left promptly at the end of the school day. The commute from where we lived in Brooklyn to the Upper East Side would have taken around an hour and fifteen minutes, but because I was one of the first kids to picked up and one of the last to be dropped off, my commute was nearly two hours each way.
I was drifting apart from my elementary school friends and my new friends were scattered throughout the city, so seeing them outside of school proved difficult. Thus the visit to Joyce’s house was a rarity and an enormous letdown when it fell through. And it makes me a little bit angry to remember it. Not just because I was given permission, then had it taken back and had to lie to my friend about why I was cancelling, but because my parents judged my friend so harshly based on the fact that she was adopted.
I did a little research just now and discovered that of the 500 recorded cases of serial killers, 16% of them had been adopted, a striking statistic considering that only 2-3% of the population is represented by adoptees. It’s possible that my parents came across a similar statistic within days of learning of Joyce’s family situation, but I highly doubt that sleeping over her house would have put me in any grave danger.
I’m sure there are kids out there who would do anything to have the parents I had, overprotectiveness and all, but at the time, it was like being put in a cage. Sharing this personal detail of Joyce’s life with my folks cost me, and also taught me that withholding information–and even lying–would sometimes be the only way to get a bit of freedom during my teenage years.
April 5, 1990
The library thing worked out all right, but I have absolutely incredible news. I MADE IT INTO HUNTER!!!!!!!!!!!!! I AM SO HAPPY AND EXITED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Total number of words: 24
Total number of exclamation marks 29
This is possibly the only time my punctuation has outnumbered my actual text.
To be fair, I was the first student in the history of my elementary school to get into Hunter College High School. Even taking the entrance exam had been something of a production, so I got caught up in the big deal that my parents and teachers made of my acceptance. It took up so much of my attention that I put additional Mitch-related revenge plans on the back burner to take some time to bask in this achievement (though rest assured, more revenge would be attempted–and soon).
Life was about to hit a major crossroads for me and choosing what middle/high school to attend still remains one of the most significant choices I ever made. Going to Hunter would mean leaving all my friends behind, and leaving Brooklyn behind to attend school in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It would mean commuting two hours each way by private bus because my parents felt I was too young to take the subway. It would mean an academic course load unlike any I had up to that point and one even more rigorous than some of the classes I would end up taking in college. Saying yes to Hunter meant no longer being considered one of the brightest kids in my grade. It would mean being stuck with the same group of small people from 7th through 12th grade. It would mean a lot of other things I didn’t know to prepare myself for at the time, from loneliness to conformity to working myself to my wits’ end to hone my intelligence and sense of identity.
It would have been easy to say yes to Mark Twain and then Stuyvesant and have what would have undoubtedly been a more pleasant six years of my adolescent life.
Then again, I’ll never really know if it would have really been easier, because I said yes to Hunter, and in a few months my life would take a very dramatic turn.
Yesterday I took the test for hunter and it was very hard. I don’t think I made it but you never know.
Tomorrow I am going camping!!!!!!!
I’m so excited!!!! It will be so much fun!!! I just can’t wait!
Well I gotta go back now!!!
The “camping” trip was more of a class excursion upstate to learn about nature, but more a long weekend in the woods with some fun facts about plants and animals. The previous year’s trip was chock full of edutainment and good times, so I had plenty to look forward to.
As for that pesky test I took, it was an entrance exam for Hunter College High School, an educational facility for the “gifted and talented” on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It’s on par with New York magnet schools like Bronx Science or Stuyvesant High School. The difference is that it’s a combined middle and high school and after 7th grade, no new students are admitted (if you believe the Wall Street Journal, it’s the best high school in America).
I remember the test being as one of the challenging ones I’ve ever taken in my life, probably more difficult than the SAT’s–hell, for all I know it was the SATs.
The testing site was a large building that was part of the Hunter College campus (an affiliate of the high school). Thousands of people turned up, of which only a couple hundred would be granted admission to the school. The swarm of people was daunting and when my father and I approached the crowd at the entrance, he turned to me and said,
“Are you sure you want to do this? What are the chances you’ll be one of the students to get in?”
I looked at the mass of people and thought of how much more fun I could be having not spending the better part of Saturday taking an exam.
I looked back at my father, who was only too happy to turn around, and shrugged.
“You already paid for parking, Dad. I might as well try.”