“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.
Thursday, March 24, 1994
I keep going through nice healthy periods when I don’t like Elliot Meyerowitz then something happens to make me start again. This last time I was walking to math and passed by a room he was waiting outside. After repeatedly telling myself not to look at him I did and saw he was staring at me. I just looking into his eyes and that was it.
Today in health (the one class I have with him) I sat a seat away from him until he moved his chair so he could see better (we were watching a movie) or sit next to Cindy J (You know all the guys you consider the cutest in your grade? Well she’s the one who goes out with them). While he was repositioning his chair he brushed by my leg and apologized. Pretending to be deeply involved in a crossword puzzle I mumbled “that’s okay.”
Now he was directly (almost) in front of him and the lights were out so I could only see his outline from the glow of the t.v. A couple of times during the movie (at least 3 or 4) he turned his head in my direction like he was looking at me out of the corner of his eye or maybe he was looking at Cindy. Probably the latter.
After the movie our health teacher took out this fetus preserved in formaldehyde and had a few people at a time come up to her desk to see it. When I went up I made sure I wasn’t standing next to him but then the people between us left. You had to lean over to see it so we both did and he was very close to me. I actually held my breath. I quickly sat down after that. I saw him a lot during the rest of the day. I’m actually beginning to think that I…it’s not possible. How can I if I don’t even know him and can’t even talk to him. No. I do not love Elliot Meyerowitz.
I can’t wait until I leave with my mom Monday. This cruise will definitely clear my head.
“I send a heart to all my dearies
When your heart is oh so dreary DREAM.” — Smashing Pumpkins, “Mayonnaise”
Oh, the teen angst of it all! Being around a boy you liked could sometimes feel like navigating a mine field. So much uncertainty and insecurity and the tiniest gesture or interaction took on an inflated magnitude. It was like being a character in a 90’s version of an Edith Wharton novel, except I felt like I was the only one who took notice of all the nuances, the only one who gave them any meaning. At the time, I would have traded in all those cruises with my mother to have a real connection with Elliot, one that didn’t take place in the wistful corners of my melodramatic brain. Now I can look back on it more logically, I can reason that I hardly knew a thing about this boy and never talked to him, so my crush was mostly based on his looks, and therefore I can’t blame him if he in turn developed a crush on one of the cutest girls in our grade.
I guess crushes by nature are based on superficial traits and a tenuous foothold on reality, at least the ones I’ve specialized in for a good part of my life.
I didn’t stand a chance with Elliot. But at least we’ll always have the fetus in formaldehyde.
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.
Tuesday, December 29th, 1992
My birthday was great. I got a lot of great presents from my friends. All together I got 6 U2 tapes! I also got some great jewelry and an engagement/planner type book full of Van Gogh paintings (he is my favorite artist).
Even though it is vacation, I have been thinking about Will so much. For the past 5 days I have dreamt about him.
[Traditionally, I only dreamed of a boy if I really liked him (at least according to a previous diary entry). In this case, it was more than just the crush on Will. The day before winter break, he somehow found out I liked him. Didi caught him writing about it in a note to a female classmate he was friends with. I was horrified, especially since this discovery clearly indicated he did not reciprocate my feelings. It was a special brand of teenage mortification, hence the five nights of being tormented by his guest appearance in my dreams. Let the nightmarathon roll!]
Day 1: Didi and I are sitting in a café and Will is there. There have been some new students that have entered our school and somebody was reading down the list. When the person got to a girl named Viola he said:
“Yes, that is the girl I’m going out with.” He said in the obvious way so I would hear and get upset.
Will and I moved to a smaller table and I thought that I was going to cry.
This is where it gets weird. We move back to the big table where other people join us. Then somebody spilled all these beans or lentils or something and we all start trying to clean them up. I start sweeping them off the table and the waitress goes: “Why don’t you make more of a mess?”
[Not a whole lot to interpret here. I mean, somebody actually spilled some beans. More text than subtext, really.]
Day 2: Will was sitting many, many seats away from Didi. Yet there he was, all of the sudden, sitting next to Didi. He wanted to sit next to her because he wanted to tell her something. What he told her is that he didn’t like me. And I don’t mean it that way. I mean at all. How rude.
[Yeah, figment-of-my-dream-Will! Learn some manners! Maybe that'll make you appreciate how delightful my 15-year-old self is, dammit!]
Day 3: I don’t remember specific things but I know he was there in class and I was talking to him.
[And what really matters is that he was there, torturing my subconscious with his mere presence. Insert wistful adolescent sigh here.]
Day 4: I was going to walk to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas spectacular and it was raining. Will was talking to Didi and he goes, “She’s going to walk there all by herself in the rain? Without an umbrella?” He was genuinely worried about me (or at least as genuine as you can get in a dream).
[This one is my favorite, because it has a nice mix of pathos, restraint, and paranoia.]
Day 5 (yesterday): I was in art class and we were drawing these strips that were all different colors. We had to do 24 of them and I did my 24. Since I was done, and kind of sad I decided to go in the closet for a while because I was really not in the mood to face anyone (especially Will).
After some time I came out and saw that Tyra was sitting next to him so I asked her if she would move over so I could sit next to him. She did, I sat down and then he begins to insult me! I don’t remember what he said but it was this whole long monologue/list of insults. I put my hands over my face and was going to cry.
Clearly, my dream self should have never come out of the closet.
This diary entry went on for pages and pages swooning about Will, which I have edited out (you’re welcome).
As for Didi’s presence, she was instrumental in what little contact I had with Will before the dream- and proverbial beans were spilled. We both shared several classes with Will and Grant, in classrooms where there were no assigned seats, and chair-desks were arranged in a loose circle. Didi and I would get to class early and engage in a subtle-but-painfully-calculated ritual in which we would move around the chairs in order to maximize the possibility of having our crushes sit next to us. It may sound a little crazy (agreed), and I couldn’t tell you the methodology behind the madness, but I swear it worked about 80% of the time.
Until Will found out I liked him. Then I tried to sit as far away from him as possible.
Thursday, November 17, 1992
Today I found out some very shocking and unexpected news concerning Will (Grant too). It started during 3rd period. Betty Michaels told me that she had to tell Tyra (who also likes Will) and me something very important about him. Automatically I assumed one of two things happened, he either found out that I like him or he is going out with somebody. But it was even worse.
[Mind you, either one of those two things would have been a Ginormous Teenage Tragedy, so it was hard to wrap my mind around what could possibly be worse than that. Armed robbery? Murder?]
Betty pulled us into an empty classroom and started telling us about this party she went to Friday. Will and Grant were there and the two of them and a couple of other people were, were—Okay I’ll just spit it out. They were smoking POT!
[Teenage boys smoking weed??! What kind of nonsensical and cruel world is this??]
When she first told me I didn’t even react and I said that Didi has to know about this.
[Didi had a crush on grant, and it was part of our friendship code that news on either of our crushes was reported immediately.]
We told her and she was like WHAT!? Then later we told Hahn because we didn’t want to leave her out. She thought it was really disgusting and just kept saying how gross it was. She was right but she kind of annoyed me because Tyra and I were focusing on how shocked we were and how we never expected it and how upset and numb we were (especially in science the next class, when it really set in.). But what we did for the end of that period was really cool.
Didi had two extra candy cane papers that she didn’t know what to do with.
[Every year for the winter holidays our school would sell candy canes. The way it worked: you bought a folded slip of paper for either a small or large candy cane, wrote a note inside, and the recipient's name on the outside. The following month candy canes were handed out during Official (Hunter's version of Homeroom) with the notes stapled to them.]
We decided to send one to Will and one to Grant. What we did was cut out letters out of a newspaper to spell out (on the inside of both of them) “Don’t do pot or else…” It looks really cool, like a death threat or something. We were all really happy that we did it and I said when they see it they will piss their pants!
[Look, our hearts were in the right place. Sending a ransom-note-looking threat in place of a holiday greeting was the best we could come up with at the time.]
I am still pretty upset. Didi told me how she knew Grant was a little messed up but she never expected Will to do it. I always thought he is as close to perfect as a person can get. I mean, I knew he had to have flaws just like everyone else but THIS!?!
I decided earlier today that I am going to forgive him. I mean, if this was a one time thing, then I can forget about it but… let’s just really hope this is a one time thing.
Those police officers who gave a talk at my elementary school about the dangers of drugs really had an impact on me. I can still remember the suitcase full of samples and their somber attitudes. They made it sound like a single tab of acid or line of cocaine could end your life and I believed them at the time. That terror they instilled stayed with me for years to come, even about marijuana. In turn, Didi and I hoped to instill some of that same fear into our two crushes.
Smoking pot was something I associated with “bad kids” doing, so it was shocking to discover that Will and Grant weren’t the “good kids” my friends and I thought (hoped) they were. My attitudes about that sort of thing have changed over the years, but back then I was one dismayed goody-two-shoes.
At least I found it in the goodness in my heart to forgive the boy I liked for doing something that had nothing to do with me… as long as it was a one time thing, of course.
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…
Teusday, June 16, 1992
Today is the (or should I say was the) last day of school. I’m so glad it’s finally over. Although I will miss my friends it will be great to be totaly free of responsibilities. I’m going to start camp in about two weeks so I can just relax and do absolutely nothing until then.
I have been doing lots of things. I finally visited a library and I took out lots and lots of books. Right now I have fourteen books to read. I have also been working on a cross stitch project called “Hummingbird on Hibiscus.” The last sort of important thing I’m doing is writing a book. I already have the first two chapters completed. 18 pages. I hope I’m patient enough to finish writing it. That’s about it. Boring stuff. See ya!
Hey, they can’t all be introspective/angsty entries about boys and body image and school and how my parents don’t understand me.
Being an only child (and a shy one at that) taught me to make my own fun. Watching television felt like a waste of time after a while, so around age nine I started going to the library and exploring a variety of hobbies. I tried magic, but found learning tricks remarkably more repetitive and tedious than I expected. I had a stint doing origami until I had a menagerie of paper animals and stars gathering dust on the windowsill. Mom taught me to crochet, and I decided to make a blanket, an ambitious project which I tired of and abandoned. I tried my hand at a hook rug or two (man, were those things ugly or what? Did anyone actually ever display one of those things after finishing them?) among other things.
Only two past-times endured over the years: reading and writing.
I searched through my file cabinet in the hopes that I saved the 18 pages of this novel the way I saved pretty much every other piece of creative writing from my teens onward, but no dice. I do remember a waitress living on her own in Manhattan trying to make some big dream come true. I also remember what inspired the novel: being locked out of my home. Not because forgetting my keys brought on a flash of genius, but because I had to wait hours in the lobby until one of my parents got home. I didn’t have a book on me, only pen and paper. I wish I could claim that some innate drive to share a story full of brilliant ideas brought on my first attempt at writing a novel, but in this case it was sheer boredom. The creative passion came later.
Friday, April 10, 1992
I got my report card yesterday: 95, 95, 96, 90, A, 94, 96, 98. My parents were happy. I was thrilled! My average: 94.5. Wow! I just hope there isn’t some computer error or something.
Speaking of computers, there’s a new show on television. It’s called “Mann and Machine.” I haven’t seen a whole episode yet but it’s something like a futuristic cop has a robot-ish partner. She’s a computer (perfect) but can feel emotions on a very low level. It wouldn’t be that awful being something like that. I would be gorgeous, have a perfect body, be a genius, and other good stuff. I wouldn’t disappoint anyone and live up to people’s expectations. My mom especially would probably love it because the dishes would always be done, my room would always be spotless, the house immaculate and she knows I would treat her and dad with utter respect. I would probably have more guys liking me (since I wouldn’t be fat anymore) as well as my mother off my back to lose weight. My dad would never have to lecture me seeing as I would be the perfect student. I’d never let my temper control me and when I would open my mouth, just the right words would come out. I would be like a blank sheet of paper without a line, spot or crease in it to ruin it.
When I grow up and have children of my own, I hope I don’t wish them to be perfect. That’s what makes people individuals. The fact that they have imperfections.
I’ll start my diet Monday.
Ever have one of those days when you wished you were a robot?
Yeah, life at home was tense even when I got good grades. The high marks, while a source of pride for my mother, still left something to be desired from my father, who wanted me to be the overachiever he never was. I was generally an A- student but he wanted me to be an A+ student. And if I applied myself more, it might have been possible, but I was tired of feeling like I never measured up, and threats and lectures were not a motivator for me. My father even resorted to bribing me for good grades, but that only went so far. Studying extra hours to earn ten or twenty bucks just wasn’t worth it after a while and felt kind of demeaning.
And then there were body issues. I still had some extra weight that I couldn’t shed, because I only had two modes: Diet Mode and Eat What I Want Mode. Nothing in between, no sense of moderation, no understanding that any weight I lost through a fad diet would be put back on if I didn’t learn new eating habits. My parents warned me that being overweight would have a negative impact on my adolescence, and they weren’t wrong. But I was too clumsy for sports and found too much comfort in food when things were tense at home, which they were a fair amount.
While all of this family drama was going on, there were all these ads being broadcast for a new TV show, Mann & Machine, about a male human and female android (albeit one capable of learning emotions) who fight crime together. It seemed every time I turned on the television, there was the beautiful Yancy Butler flaunting her robotic perfection at me. At the time, being an automaton would have solved all my problems.
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.
Wednesday, August 28, 1991
Boy! It has been a while, hasn’t it? For a boring summer, it hasn’t been so bad. I did go to Ohio for like 10 days & I spent some time with Fay. During that time we grew pretty close & even though we haven’t seen each other in a month, we are now not only pen pals, but are best friends, too! Let me describe her to you. She is 11, tall and thin. She is very pretty, and she acts mature for her age.
[I bet Fay just materializes out of the ether before you the way I paint her with words. Such vivid description!]
What I like about her is that, although we have a couple of things in common, we have our differences, too. Plus we can talk about anything. It’s funny. I thought that Nisa was my best friend, but how can we be best friends when I feel closer to a person hundreds of miles away than I do with one just a block away. I feel that I’m just not connecting with Nisa the way I am with Fay. I haven’t been for a while.
[It had been years since I'd seen Fay and even longer since I mentioned her in my diary. Becoming insta-best friends with her was easy, because we didn't have to deal with each other on a day to day basis. Given enough time, I'm sure we would have had our ups and downs and maybe even some drama involving a Certificate of Friendship. Alas.]
Well. I’m on a diet. I’ve already lost around 10 pounds & I’m praying (not literally) for another 10. I’ve also cut my hair. It looks like the same style as Chynna Phillips. I feel & look like a different person. If I just lose those 10 little pounds before school starts. I will be complete.
[If you lived in America, have a pair of ears, and were alive in the early 1990's, chances are you heard Wilson Phillips smash hit "Hold On" more times than you ever want to for the rest of your life. For those too young (or unborn) to remember, you may have heard the song in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, when the square-burger-craving duo sings along--nay, rocks out to the chirpy anthem. Back in the days when my musical taste was of the more sugary pop variety, I was a fan of this "supergroup" who were initially more famous for their Beach Boy daddy (Carnie and Wendy Wilson, daughters of Brian Wilson) and Mamas and the Papas mama (Chynna Phillips, daughter of Michelle). That, coupled with the fact that I was growing out a bad perm and had a catastrophic 'do that was straight on top and curly on the bottom made me look to Chynna as something of a hair role model. My eighth grade class photo bears the exact same haircut as the one above, only light brown instead of blond. In my defense, it was the early 90's and it was still a marked improvement over the perm-plus-small-hedgehog-made-of-hair-and-Aqua-Net-that-I-called-bangs.
The ten pound weight loss came from a ridiculous but temporarily effective seven day diet that included one day of nothing but fruit, one day of nothing but vegetables, one day of nothing but bananas and milk, and a couple of days of nothing but meat and vegetables. Every once in a while Mom would come home with a grainy photocopy of some fad diet that one of her coworkers swore was the best way to lose weight fast. My parents and I tried this one and all of us lost weight...and eventually all of us gained it back.]
Gosh am I looking forward to school! It starts September 11, but orientation is September 6th. I will get to see all my friends (and the cute guys in my grade!) that day! I’ve been thinking about Justin all summer. I want to see if I still like him. And if I do, I want to see if he has matured a bit & if he likes me. I also want to see if any of the nerds I knew last year have turned into hot studs. (I can hope, can’t I?!) Well just wanted to fill ya in. See ya!
So much excitement and optimism for the beginning of eight grade. If I had known it would be one of the most wretched years of my life I would have gone easy on those exclamation marks.
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!
July 8, 1990
On June 22 we had our graduation assembly where I got my award back framed and our show was good! (If I do say so myself!)
On June 26th, we had our prom! It was really great, I had this nice peach and silver dress with silver shoes and a silver purse. We had a really good deejay that played the best music! and everybody danced. I even slow danced. I danced (slow) one time with Bruce, Steve, and even Sam!
For our elementary school graduation, Mrs. Angelo had our grade put on a musical revue. I sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” during a slide show of our classmates throughout the years, including class trips, concerts and candid shots. Our entire grade also sang Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” which was our graduation song. Each of us sang exactly one line and the entire group would chime in for the chorus.
About 30 of us lined up at the edge of the stage for the song. Rose had the lyric “Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex” but was always too shy to sing the word “sex.” Luckily, a boisterous kid had the next line, so the song flowed seamlessly:
“Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician (___)–JFK, BLOWN AWAY, WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO SAY”
As for prom, I was nearly delirious with the formality and importance of it. And the dancing! Like many little girls, I grew up on fairy tales, so this was the closest thing I experienced to a ball.
The last song played at the prom was Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For.” Our entire class formed a circle with our arms around each other and sang along, and I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed. I was sad to be leaving my friends behind as I started a new school by myself. At my elementary school, I was considered smart, reasonably popular, and something of a trend-setter (I was the first girl at school to get a perm, and my acid washed denim jacket with white leather fringe was the envy of many). I had a lot of friends, I effortlessly got top grades, I was given solos in all the musical productions, and for a few minutes there I even had a boyfriend. Regardless of the melodramatic way I may have portrayed certain things in the diary entries, sixth grade was one of the best years of my life.
All of this was about to change, in a major way. A new school was looming, one that wouldn’t be nearly as welcoming as the one I was departing from.
[This was the last entry in the composition book diary.]
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.
We are on the bus back.
Yesterday we had square dancing and I danced with Mitch and we held hands for the first time. His hands are really warm.
I also had a dream with Mitchell. I usually dream about a boy I like if I really like him.
Well anyway this was the dream and what I think everything stands for.
First I’m in this store buying an apple (not to eat but we have these kinds that are pins that we have to wear to school).
Then all of the sudden I’m at this small party. I guess Rose was the one that threw it. Well anyway we were all drinking seltzer (yuck!) and there was a song playing. It was New Kids on the Block “Please Don’t Go Girl.” Well Mitchell was just standing there. Then Rose comes up to me drags me over to a corner and says
“He’s really tough isn’t he?” and then the teacher wakes us up. Weird Huh?
Alert David Lynch, because he obviously has some strong competition for strange dream sequences.
For some reason, despite pronouncing myself an expert dream interpreter, I didn’t actually bother to interpret the dream in the diary entry. Twenty years later I can make a cursory guess at what it stands for. I rarely had any privacy with Mitch–or “Mitchell” (it made me feel more mature to call him that for whatever reason). I felt frustrated that our courtship was being stunted by the crowd of our classmates and developing an intimacy was proving difficult. Nevermind the fact that we had only been out on one date.
Either that or I loved my “cool” New Kids on the Block jeans so much, my subconscious brain was paying the price.
We are on our way to Camp Ticonic.
We arrived here and it is wonderful.
We didn’t do much, but I’m sure this will be a good experience.
Gotta go unpack!
Just ate dinner. Getting ready for the night hike.
We just got back from playing this cool game outside. My impressions of today are: wonderful, fun, exciting. If I gave it a rating on a scale of one to ten, then I would definitely give it a ten-plus. I hope the rest of the trip turns out just as terrific as today was.
Our elementary school arranged for a weekend camping trip upstate every year for fifth and sixth graders to provide a greater appreciation for nature and wildlife. It was allegedly supposed to enhance our survival skills and ability to work as a team, if that’s what you call square dancing and chomping on Wint-O-Green Lifesavers until they made sparks in your mouth.
This particular brand of camping appealed to me for a number of reasons:
1. No sleeping in tents. We slept in cabins with electricity.
2. No pooping in the woods. There were full bathroom facilities in a nearby cabin.
3. While the kids took turns setting the table and serving each other, hot meals were cooked by a professional staff and often involved delicious french fries.
4. Exposure to insects or other unpleasant wildlife was minimal.
5. The camp grounds had fun obstacle courses like spiderwebs made of rope we had to climb, and rubber tires to run through (has there ever been an emergency that involved running through neat rows of tires turned on their sides? Didn’t think so. And yet they always make an appearance in obstacle courses).
6. The night hike provided a beautiful view of the night sky, and also a better chance of spotting a UFO.
What’s not to love?
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.”
J.D. likes me!!!!!!!!!! Really! My cousin asked him if he wanted to go out with me and he said, “yeah-no” because he thinks I’m a little too young for him but Anna is going to work on him.
I hope things work out.
Also I’m going camping again this year and I am going to bring this journal with me and keep track of everything exciting and worthwhile that happens. I hope nobody reads it because it has my deepest and darkest secrets.
Also I am taking the test for Mark Twain tomorrow and I hope I do well.
I will be so nervous tomorrow!!
Mark Twain was an accelerated middle school that required testing for admission. I would have been fine attending Seth Low, my local junior high school, but I was seen as one of the brighter students in school (permed hair notwithstanding), so I was encouraged to apply to the more smartypants schools like Mark Twain and Hunter College High School. I find it amusing that I wasn’t nervous at the time of writing the diary entry, yet felt that I could accurately prophesize my emotional state for the following day.
Let’s not even talk about the continued abuse of exclamation marks.
As for J.D. I don’t know why his ambivalence stirred such enthusiasm in me. The age difference was a real concern, as was the distance, (when you are a kid, the miles between Brooklyn and Staten Island are like New York-to-London grown-up miles). Regardless of the “work” Anna did on him, and J.D.’s lukewarm reaction to messengered confession of “like,” my dating life was about to take a surprising turn…
Remember the Halloween parade we had? On the way back upstairs you dropped the egg on the stairs by accident and a teacher came in to tell us about it and if we knew anything to write on a piece of paper an annonamous note. Well I put your name down and even though I wasn’t the only one I am still very sorry.
I mean you should not have been carrying that egg even though it was for protection and I feel that it was sort of my responsibility to tell what I know and I’m sorry.
… … …
Dear 11-year-old Damiella,
Nobody likes a snitch. Chen-chi wasn’t like those hooligans who used Halloween as an excuse to pelt people with eggs and vandalize houses with shaving cream and toilet paper. If she was packing that egg as ammunition against a possible attack from these boys, that’s her business. If anything, you should be more sympathetic after last Halloween when Mom was accosted by young thugs who threatened to pelt her with Nair-filled eggs.
Chen-chi didn’t hurt anyone; she just made a mess on the stairs. You should have known better than to rat her out.
Today two people are going to come in and talk about drugs.
I was probably too overwhelmed by the visit to write more about it.
That day was a somber one in the classroom, and our teacher told us to be on our best behavior and give our guests our full attention.
One of the visitors was a police officer, dressed in uniform, probably to intimidate us with his authority (in my case it worked, in spades). The other was a civilian, probably a drug educator of sorts. They walked around the classroom with a small open suitcase which contained samples of drugs and drug paraphernalia, in order for us to more easily recognize narcotics and say “no.” There were also diagrams and we got a lecture about the dangers associated with the different drugs. Physiological effects were detailed and anecdotal evidence shared, such as the kid who smoked PCP, thought he could fly, and jumped out the window.
Up to that point, my only exposure to drugs was limited to what I had read in books and seen on television. In the Sweet Valley High series of books, one of the characters tried cocaine and died almost instantly of a heart attack. There was also that Very Special Episode of Growing Pains when Mike Seaver was offered coke by a pretty blonde played by Kristy Swanson (of Flowers in the Attic “fame”). There was also that now-iconic commercial where an upset Dad confronts his teen son about finding drugs in the youngster’s room, only to be told “I learned it by watching you, Dad!” All of these fictional incidents disturbed me and hammered home the point of how scary and dangerous drugs were.
None of these moments unsettled me quite like the school visit, though. I found it terribly spooky and could not understand why anybody would take drugs, why they would risk their lives for a temporary high. Those classroom scare tactics made a believer out of me. I didn’t even touch a cigarette until I was 18.
Second day of school, I got the Blob (Mrs. Feinstein). She’s o.k.
Nisa’s a BITCH!
She’s a f@#in’ $%HOLE. I saw her the first day of school and ignored her. Now she’s getting the hint and ignoring me. GOOD! I’m glad we are in separate classes. Rose is also in another class but it’s not that bad.
Since Elaine and me are in the same class we have to start the cool group.
I think Penny should be in it. Also Chen-chi. I’m not sure about Yanmei. (she should kinda clean up her act.)
Mitchell got a new hair-style and looks cool. Gotta go. —Bye—
I haven’t the foggiest idea what inspired such vitriol towards Nisa, the girl I considered my elementary school best friend. Maybe it had something to do with her mother. The important thing is that I had enough strength and courage remaining to start “the cool group.”
If you have to ask what the qualifies one for being in the cool group, you probably aren’t cool enough to be in it. Also, I don’t remember the criteria Elaine and I set. Having big hair and awesome clothes probably had something to do with it. Being smart was cool, but being a nerd was not. There were probably other guidelines, which evidently Yanmei was falling short of (poor Yanmei).
In case you’re wondering, no, I can’t recall what the fringe benefits of being in “the cool group” were. Probably just a sense of clueless superiority over the other sixth graders.
Today we got some stupid class rules that have to be a joke. I can’t believe them. This is what they are:
To students who’s last names have more than 5 letters.
- Can not be monitors
- will be served last in the lunchroom
- May not use the gym
- Must turn in all books by tomorrow
- Can not recieve any grades higher than “N” on report card.
Forget the rest it was a joke anyway.
It wasn’t a joke as much as a classroom technique on developing an awareness of and empathy towards the victims of the Holocaust. And while I said I couldn’t believe it, let’s face it, I did. It’s quite possible that I was one of the last students to realize these changes to our academic life weren’t real. More than likely, in fact.
I still remember the outrage and frustration I felt as I furiously scribbled down those rules. This isn’t to say the experiment gave me any true inside perspective as to what Jewish people actually lived through during those years. You can’t compare concentration camps to getting a “Needs Improvement” on a fifth grade report card.
For a moment, the experiment even backfired, as I took the opportunity to hate Yanmei (whose last name was only three letters) just a little bit more because of the privileges I believed her to have. Nevertheless, this clever/sadistic class exercise did make me approach the Holocaust lessons with a greater sensitivity overall. No, really.
Today is the day!!! The day of the election. I know I should not be nervous but I am (a little).
I cannot believe that the day finally came, I’m so exited.
We are allowed to watch the counting of the votes and I am definitely going to be there. My parents are going to hear my speech in the auditorium.
After weeks of campaigning (which consisted of little more than taping posters all over the halls with “catchy” slogans and telling classmates to vote for me), it was time for the moment of truth.
I prepared a solid speech which I had practiced at home to the point of memorization. I can only imagine the outlandish reform I promised if elected to become vice president, from better cafeteria food to fewer school days.
My main opponent was George, a tall, broad-shouldered Greek boy who had the quiet poise of a natural leader.
I remember being in the spare classroom while the votes were tallied, counting up the hash marks as each ballot was accounted for. All of a sudden George and the other students were congratulating me, and I felt an odd sense elation at having won the election, but knew something was off. By my count, George had 10 more votes than I did.
Part of me hoped I was the one who counted wrong, but I knew that wasn’t the case. The votes were tallied again and George was announced as the vice president.
Those few false minutes when I was thought to be the victor were so bittersweet. Though George was boastful during campaigning, he was gracious about accepting his rightful victory. I remember his sad, gap-toothed smile when they announced the corrected count, downplaying his excitement for my benefit.
Today we have clubs, humanities, and I have swimming.
I really want to kill Yanmei. She is such a jerk. I hate her!!!
Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!
Now I feel a little better. I really like glee club and I like Ms. Angelo and swimming is really great because it is very relaxing and fun.
P.S. The only reason I crossed out kill! kill! kill! was because the teacher came around to check our journals so I had to or he would have seen it and got mad.
Or suspected that I had homicidal tendencies. It’s a good thing nothing violent happened to Yanmei during our elementary school years; that entry alone would have made me a prime suspect. I still don’t remember why she inspired such rage in me, only that we developed an amicable (if not occasionally turbulent) friendship over the next two years. But I do find it amusing that I tried to balance out my anger towards Yanmei by writing sweet nothings about my favorite extracurricular activities.
For the record, however strong my temporary dislike of Yanmei might have been, I probably just found her annoying. I did not want to actually kill her or hurt her in any way. I wouldn’t have risked doing anything that would have gotten me kicked out of glee club.
I forgot to tell you one thing yesterday, I got my seat changed and I am very very close to Charles and Nisa sits right next to him (lucky!) but, I can call Charles to call Nisa so I can talk to her.
Today, later we are going to get split-up and I get stuck [with] the big jerk Yanmei. Ugh! I’m stricken with bad luck! And to think Charles almost got split up with us, almost! that is!!!
Seating arrangements in school were so important. Proximity to crushes, friends, and enemies could make all the difference as to whether a class would be enjoyable or torturous. Even the most tedious lesson could be made bearable by knowing a cute boy was sitting nearby or within ogling distance, or that a note expressing boredom could be easily passed to a friend. Even being briefly split up with the wrong people for a class project could spell disaster and ruin a day. Like this one.
Despite being studious and well-behaved, my penchant for socializing in class was a talking point in parent-teacher conferences. Nevertheless, I was willing to risk a good grade in Conduct on my report card if it meant having an excuse to talk to Charles. He still didn’t know who wrote the secret admirer note, so I had to be careful, but I didn’t want to be too careful. Except that particular day I didn’t have a chance to mouth off, because of the cursed events that followed.
Yanmei was present at my McDonald’s birthday party less than a year before, but I don’t recall what grievous act she committed that made her my nemesis at this point. Back then having a grudge on at least one friend and a crush on at least one boy was pretty much status quo. And being split up with Yanmei for a class project was actually a good thing academically, because it meant I would talk less in class. Smart teacher, that Mr. Adams.
I am so nervouse, I am starting the 5th grade. My friend Nisa and me are going to school together. Right now I’m as nervous as hell + I don’t know why. I am going to get Mr. Adams and I wanted to get him, but I am still nervous. It’s probably because I want to make a good impression that’s all.
In Fifth grade, we were asked to get a Mead Composition Book and start a journal. Since it was part of our assignments to write in it regularly, the entries are more frequent than the sporadic updates I made in the Hello Kitty diary. And since I realized I’d be detailing many more personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings, I rigged my notebook with a homemade security system using electric tape, plastic cord, and a small padlock. Anybody with a pair of scissors could have broken into thing, but I rested easy in the knowledge that my secrets were secure.
Here is the first entry in the Composition Book:
Yesterday I bought all of my school supplies. I got all of them ready for the next day. Our teacher is really nice and I like him.
There are these two this one boys I kind of like their his names are is Charles + Bruce.
Right now I finished all my work and I’m really bored.
Being an overly nostalgic person (no, really), I enjoyed rereading my journal entries while growing up. I was also tempted to correct spelling mistakes and had to stop myself from editing the past while reviewing it. The Stalin-esque revisionism to this entry was my effort for me to appear less fickle-hearted, since my crush on Charles outlasted the one on Bruce. Luckily, I came to my senses and was able to refrain from doing this to the rest of my journal entries.