Gail never thought of herself as good-looking or pretty. She knew she wasn’t ugly, but that isn’t the same thing as being pretty. She actually hadn’t spent much time at all thinking about her looks, until lately.
Middle school was an eye-opening experience, to say the least! Gone were the days when you were popular because you could play a mean game of four-square on the playground. (That was Gail’s favorite activity during recess in elementary school.)
All of a sudden it seemed to matter what clothes she wore to school. This was a problem, because she had exactly ten “outfits” in her wardrobe. To make matters worse her mother had labeled the hangers “Monday”, “Tuesday”, “Wednesday”, “Thursday”, “Friday” and once again for the next week, and expected Gail to wear the outfits in that order. (Her mother said she did this because otherwise Gail would wear only one outfit to school every day….her favorite jeans, white cotton shirt and denim jacket. This might have been true, but still!)
When Gail looked in a mirror she saw a tallish, slender girl with mousy, straight brown hair, brown eyes and a mole besides her nose. She hated that mole. She felt like it was all people saw when they looked at her. Unconsciously she would turn slightly to the side so that the mole was not in plain view when she was talking to other people. It was strange when she realized she rarely had face-to-face conversations with people because of this habit.
Gail knew that the changes her body was experiencing were because of “puberty” and were all part of growing up. Part of her hated it, and part of her was fascinated by it. Her best friend Mary was thirteen, a year older than Gail, and she already had a bosom. Gail was a little jealous of Mary’s breasts because they were so obviously there and made her look a lot older than she was. Gail was not sure if she was ever going to have the nice shape that Mary already had, but she knew there wasn’t anything she could do but wait and see. In the meantime, her first bra that her mother had bought for her (which was softly padded and helped fill out her bust in a way that was not too obvious,) secretly excited her.
Boys were another puzzle. Gail had always been a “tom-boy” and could run as fast as any boy in the neighborhood. She loved to play kickball and softball and was always one of the first girls picked for teams because even though she was a girl she could out-play a lot of the boys. She was very competitive and would not think twice about running into or knocking over a boy who was guarding a base.
But nowadays, instead of being proud of her athletic abilities she found she was shy about being included in games with boys any more. She was embarrassed at how they looked at her when she was running and knew that her budding figure might have something to do with that. So now when the neighborhood kids got together on warm evenings to play, she would sit on the curb and watch the game instead of participating. Her mother would ask her why she didn’t join in the game and Gail would just mumble something about “being tired”.
It seemed to Gail that the boys who were in her class (and who had been in the same class with her all the way through elementary school) were becoming increasingly silly and stupid. They still treated her like she was their playmate on the playground. They didn’t understand why she no longer wanted to hang out with them and kid around. Because they didn’t understand they were hurt and began to treat her like they didn’t like her any more. They made fun of her, calling her “beanpole” and “snob”. That hurt.
But the boys in ninth grade….they intrigued Gail. They seemed to be so much more grown-up than the seventh grade boys. She often saw the varsity boys wearing their letter jackets in the hall, and would look sideways at them as they passed. They never paid any attention to her, though; she may as well have been invisible to them. But that was okay with Gail. She didn’t know what she would do if one of them ever stopped to talk to her! She was content just watching them and listening to them joke and laugh with each other or talk to the cheerleaders.
One afternoon after gym class Gail was in the locker room changing from her gym shorts to her clothes when one of the popular cheerleaders named Rachel caught sight of Gail’s plaid skirt and blouse that she was putting on. Rachel laughed and said to the other girls around her “Hey look at that! Gail must think this is a private school! Look at that uniform she is wearing!” They all broke into peals of laughter as they walked out of the locker room. Gail was humiliated. She was especially hurt because one of the girls in Rachel’s crowd used to be Gail’s friend before middle school. She slowly pulled on her sweater, gathered her books and left to go to her next class.
That afternoon on the walk home from school she was passing through a wooded area. She didn’t always go this way because sometimes the woods spooked her. But it was a short-cut and she wanted to hurry up and get home. As she made her way down the path she suddenly heard voices behind her. She froze, afraid of who it might be. She quickly made her way to the side of the pathway and knelt down to pretend to be tying her shoes.
As the group behind her came into view she saw that it was Jerry Walker, Mike Smith and someone else she didn’t recognize. They were all in the ninth grade and were on the varsity baseball team.
She knew who Jerry was because he was a friend of Mary’s brother. She liked the way his blonde hair fell across his eyes and was long enough in the back to skim the collar of his shirt. She also liked his wide smile and bright-white teeth. When she thought about him, her insides would squirm around in a way that felt good.
But this afternoon all she felt was dread, fearing they would notice her as she knelt by the side of the path. After getting her first glimpse of the three boys as they came around the bend she ducked her head and seemed to be concentrating on getting those shoelaces tied up tight.
As the group of boys passed, she heard Jerry say to the other two: “Boy! That girl is going to be some good-looking chick when she grows up.” She couldn’t believe her ears, and didn’t notice what kind of response he got from Mike or the other guy.
As they walked away without looking back, she slowly sat down. A warm feeling bloomed in her stomach and traveled all the way up her chest, her neck and her face. Her mouth dropped open into a small “O” and she sat there without moving. Did she really just hear Jerry Walker say that about her? She couldn’t believe it! She didn’t even know if he had ever noticed her before, either at Mary’s house or at school!
Finally, she slowly shook her head, gathered her books and stood up. She felt so light and tall. She squared her shoulders, smiling a small, secret smile, and began to walk the rest of the way home.
Photo credit: http://www.wemfo.com/dare-to-be-yourself/