I hated junior high. I remember starting socially at square one because all the friends I had managed to make in elementary school were in different classes. I also remember my soup exploding in the cafeteria microwave at a more than common frequency. And oh I suppose I remember not knowing how to tell the boy I liked that it wasn’t him, I just didn’t know how to be someone’s girlfriend in seventh grade, nor did I see the point of dating at thirteen. Retrospectively I see that I was clearly mature for my age and am glad I thought these sorts of things out with a level head. I remember crying because everyone knew that they were going to be orthodontists and interior designers when they grew up, while I still thought making pizzas at Papa Murphy’s might be cool cause you could probably sample the toppings at leisure…. All right so maybe “mature” and “level headed” aren’t exactly the right words.
Basically what I’m saying is that junior high, or middle school if you had to go there instead, was terrible and a time I was grateful never to have to experience again. Or so I thought. Because the other day, it hit me: The past year and a half after graduation has been the junior high of my adult life. Junior high 2.0.
At the beginning of my 23rd year, I hoped the near future would bring some sort of newfound optimism and light. My goal was to take things day by day for what they were and to just try my best. Instead, I found myself walking through the halls in my new cherry printed dress and matching earrings, carrying my snoopy lunch box to find everyone else wearing Abercrombie and carrying brown paper bags. Just like in junior high I found myself pulled from the friends, unaware how to interact with males in a way that might endear me to them, feeling overwhelmed about committing to specifics in a world of endless possibilities, and lost amongst people who seem to have it figured out.
I have to remind myself that these wearers of juicy sweat suits look back and wonder what the hell they were thinking just as much as I did. And maybe it’s the same now. Maybe the twenty-something wearers of professional suits are looking out their windows wondering if they should drop everything and leave just like the girl in the purple apron scooping ice cream is wondering. They probably are. But you know what, that doesn’t make me feel any better. Maybe a little less lonely, or validated in a way, but not better. Because I hoped that after junior high I wouldn’t have to start at square one making new friends. I hoped that my soup would stop exploding in the microwave and I wouldn’t be left to awkwardly clean it up in front of my peers. I hoped that I might know what I wanted to do, and that I might be in a position to better the lives of others with whatever talents I found that I had.
Instead, I continue to clean up my messes, to try and be a little more open when meeting new people, and to cry after being asked what I want to do with my life. Despite all this, I understand that these phases of transition, from child to teen, from young adult to slightly more adult, are just that: phases. So yes, I don’t look back on junior high as the greatest years of my life (and I would like to examine the brain of those who do) but I understand that it got me through a lot of awkward that prepared me to be a little less… well awkward, later on.
The issue with junior high is that you expect yourself to be more grown up than you really are. You expect yourself to know things and have a plan, because you’re no longer an elementary school baby; you’re mature. But you aren’t. You’re still so young and when teachers ask you to complete a project on what you want to be when you grow up they’ll nod and smile and encourage, but fully understand that maybe three of your classmates will do anything remotely close to what they presented. It gets a little trickier as you graduate from college because you’ve taken the time to think things through and focus your attention towards something more specific. You foster that same feeling of maturity and know-how as you did in elementary school and right when you have reached peak confidence they hand you your diploma and tell you it’s time to move on. You realize the world is a lot bigger than before, and no one is holding your hand while you walk directly from point A to point B.
Not every day has been bad though- I’m not even saying most days have been bad. In fact I’ve made plenty of beautiful memories in the past two years, so I don’t want to insinuate that I’ve woken up every day since graduation hating life. Some days are just more frustrating than others because they’re marred with uncertainties that clash with your expectations. It’s a conflict that feels big, making the transition challenging, and occasionally if the mood hits you just right, overshadows the many small victories you’ve made.
I left junior high not only with superb microwave cleaning abilities and a handful of new friends, but chosen as “student of the year” by my teachers, and with a smile on my face. Junior high didn’t last forever, and as I keep learning new things and trying my hardest to move forward, I know that this junior high 2.0 won’t last forever either. So for now I’ll keep trying to take all the “No’s” I’ve been hearing as promises that something better is just around the corner instead of insurmountable walls, and sometime in the next year I’ll be able to exit junior high 2.0 with an even bigger smile…. and better yet, without the awkward dance at the end.