Concluding Stories from Middle School

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But how much has my handwriting really changed since 7th grade.

While I packed away my high school stuff (read: the 5% of work I deemed worth keeping) into a large plastic bin, I found some of my middle school writing- mostly academic assignments from my English classes, from a time where I cared about my school writing and knew that it would be read. Somewhere in high school, I lost that motivation. 1

But alongside those assignments (and a daily diary), I also wrote other things back then- namely, the pieces that would later become Stories from Middle School, a combination of A) true personal experiences and B) true personal experiences disguised as fiction. And four years later, all of them have been made public.

I like to think that these stories span a variety of topics. There’s a story about the guy in the year above me I stalked throughout 6th and 7th gradeThere’s 2 stories about how I enjoyed nerding out to math problems with my peers.  There’s a story about a lunch ritual I did with my friends that involved Yoplait yogurt. There’s a story that I refused to admit was about an elementary school crush (but it totally was). There’s a story about how my entire grade seemed to idolize one of my best friends and how I dealt with the resulting inferiority complex. There’s a story about my 6th grade math teacher that I must have annoyed the hell out of but gave me some odd sense of identity.

My writing notebook, a wide-ruled composition notebook from 6th grade, is still on my bookshelf. I used to handwrite stories 2 or 3 times before typing them up on a computer. First drafts were a bunch of segments that had no coherence, and crossouts, arrows, and doodles littered the pages.  Each rewrite was a chance to string together ideas until they made sense- very much the way I write nowadays.

Emotionally, I mostly just remember balancing the fear of sharing my writing alongside the desire for it to be seen, especially when I got mixed feedback about my writing. My teachers usually liked my writing, but my friends didn’t. (Looking back, my friends were the honest ones.) The only compliments I ever got were that my writing had “voice” and flowed well, so much that I questioned whether that voice was even good and whether “flow” was just a generic compliment.  I was picked as one of 7 students in my grade to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition, but even with extensive help from my English teacher, my piece didn’t win anything. This happened two years in a row, while my friends always got awards. Talk about feeling inferior.

I have one last story that I still don’t feel comfortable posting (or even rereading.) It’s a 10 page story- to date the longest I’ve ever written- from the end of 6th grade about how one of my friends had changed upon entering middle school. It drew a lot of judgement from my other friends and essentially marked the end of a friendship. Yikes.

What do I think of my middle school stories now? Some make me cringe, some make me laugh. Some of these stories are undoubtedly silly. And I could choose to remember middle school as a place where an idiotic me did idiotic things, under the premise that my brain wasn’t fully developed or that I was underexposed.

But on the other hand, in some of these stories, I see a raw and innocent energy, that same desire to write down ideas and experiences, that same desire to connect my life into a narrative, a less refined version of that same “voice”. These stories embodied the experiences I cared about enough to write and then to share, experiences I could proudly embrace and call my own. And given a choice, that’s how I choose to remember middle school instead, because chances are, I’ll look back on high school in much the same way. 2 3


  1. But actually, if your teacher is reading and grading 100 essays in a night, is she really reading them. 
  2. I’ve contemplated putting together a series called “Stories from High School”, but I’ve decided against it. If a story needs to be told, it’ll find its way into a post. 
  3. Reminder to self: You just graduated high school, not middle school. Stop thinking about middle school. Also, stop with the consecutive footnotes. You’re not Wikipedia. 

Stories from Middle School: The Person in First Period

“Okay, here are the answers,” Ms. Gordon said as she placed the answer sheet onto the projector.

I skimmed through the answers hastily, not wanting to miss any questions. Number 1, check, Number 2, check, Number 6, check, Number 7…Number 7… I paused for a moment and double-checked to make sure that I was checking the correct question. Yup, it was wrong. I stared at the problem and mentally re-added everything together. Same answer. I grabbed my pencil and re-worked it using pencil and paper. Still the same answer.

“Ms. Gordon,” I called out. She looked up from her sheet. “Shouldn’t the answer to number 7 be 2½ quarts instead of 3 quarts?”

Ms. Gordon was not your ordinary stern-faced teacher with wire-rimmed glasses. Well, she actually did wear glasses sometimes, and she could be stern at times, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that she was Ms. Gordon, a short and stout African-American who had a very obvious Southern accent. And she was loud. On Monday mornings at 7:50 AM, we would be all woozy and tired and she’d just be jabbering on to the class. “So what is 34 times 3, class? … Class? Come on, WAKE UP EVERYONE! I don’t want to be the only person thinking at this time!” And when she taught, it wasn’t a lecturing type of teaching. She’d be standing at her projector and writing down each step of whatever she was explaining, with genuine eagerness, asking us questions along the way to make sure we were paying attention to her.

Anyway, after I asked my question, she eyed me suspiciously for a second and then her eyes flickered back to the answer sheet. After a moment, she opened her mouth, but no words came out.

Then she spoke, “Well, you guys didn’t read the question carefully. The question asked how many quarts she needed to buy. Of course she needed 2½ quarts, but she had to buy 3 quarts.” She glared at me with her arms crossed, expecting me to go, “OH…oops.”

But I didn’t. It didn’t make sense! “Why not?” I cautiously answered back.

Ms. Gordon looked at me as if the answer was obvious. “Because you can’t buy half a quart of milk at the grocery store! Half a quart is equivalent to a pint!” She was waving her arms like crazy.

“Well, I’m not in charge of grocery shopping at my house!” I burst out. What was this, a how-often-do-you-go-to-the-grocery-store test?

“Then go to the grocery store more often!” She definitely was annoyed.

“But…but…” I sputtered. “That’s not fair! You can’t take off points for that!” I was annoyed too.

A few minutes later after an excessive amount of debating, the whole class was also annoyed at me, Ms. Gordon was extremely frustrated, and I finally had to admit defeat since “3 quarts was what the book said,” and she “wasn’t accepting any other answer.”

For some reason, that one incident set off a whole chain of arguments. It seemed like every single class period, I would manage to find some reason to argue with her. I never really noticed how seriously she took it until I was telling a friend about it.

“Ms. Gordon never listens to me! She always ends up saying something like, ‘When you get to higher-level math, you will have to be able to do…,’ or ‘The book says _______. You can go write the authors of the book if you want to protest. Those people know a lot more about math than you do.’ I just don’t find math class fun anymore!” I complained.

My friend looked at me kind of funnily with a slight smile and said, “So you were that person in first period that Ms. Gordon kept on talking about.”

A lot of my friends think I’m weird in a way. I’ve been known to come up with some random theory about something and then try to explain it to my friends without any success at all. It would often take up the entire lunch period, and they would constantly ask, “So exactly what is your point?” and according to them, I would keep changing the topic to something else. They could never get my “point.” It was just plain frustrating.

Anyways, I was surprised by her comment. “Ms. Gordon said something about me?” My eyes widened.

“Yeah, she keeps saying that there’s this person in first period that keeps arguing with her.”

 “What?!” I nearly shouted. I wasn’t really trying to argue with her, I was just proving my own answers right! I never said her answers were wrong! And she would never listen to me!

After some more questioning, I also found out that Ms. Gordon thought I was “stubborn,” “annoying,” “frustrating,” along with a whole list of other things.

The truth was I actually wasn’t used to arguing with teachers and being so…loud. (I was a different person with my friends. They thought I was amusing.) It was already the second semester, and everyone had their place among the teachers. I was the type of student who would sit in the off center region of the room and listen to everyone else talk. Something must just have come over me at 8 o’clock in the morning every day in math class.

One day after an argument (do you seriously need subtraction to realize that 4 is greater than 3?), she decided to confront me. “You know, I tell all my classes about you.”

I laughed. “I know. I’ve been asking around.” She didn’t even look surprised.

Every time I said anything that was barely disagreed with Ms. Gordon, the entire class would groan very loudly, and Ms. Gordon would always look annoyed and cross her arms even though her eyes kind of sparked a little. So, in order to get her less annoyed, (not completely unannoyed. I still had my pride.) I tried to shorten my arguments to under a minute so they wouldn’t be as time consuming. Yet during lunch, my friends would still tell me, “Ms. Gordon said that she had a looong argument with ‘a certain person in first period whom you all should know very well by now.’”  

But there was also the time my friends told me, “Ms. Gordon said ‘That person in first period proved me wrong today.’” I was so proud. Another time, she purposefully pointed out a mistake I had made on a worksheet. I think that she actually enjoyed arguing with me just so she could tell all the other classes about it.

Thanks to Ms. Gordon, the entire grade knew about my “half-quart” arguments with her. Once when I was in another class, I was defending my answer (I wasn’t really arguing.) and the whole class was like, “Don’t start arguing again like you do with Ms. Gordon.” The teacher actually didn’t look too surprised. In fact, since I had completely broken out of my “place” with Ms. Gordon, I was suspecting that all the other teachers were wondering why I still was the same quiet person in their classes.

I still didn’t know if Ms. Gordon liked me or hated me though. It seemed like she got really annoyed every time I said something contradictory, but according to my friends, she would usually (not always) be smiling whenever she mentioned “this person in first period.” Another friend said that she had to really like me in order to not get super mad at me when I argued with her. Still, she did seem frustrated when I was arguing with her.

Soon, it was end of the year, and most of my doubts about Ms. Gordon started unfolding. First was awards day, where the entire middle school crowds into the cafeteria and the teachers go up on stage to present awards to specific students. When it was Ms. Gordon’s turn, she went up to the podium and told us that she gave awards to the people who “really pushed her.” I’m telling you, it was creepy having the entire grade glare at you at the same time and mumble your name. And once she called my name, I was pretty sure of one thing. She didn’t hate me–it was the complete opposite.

Then on the last day of school, when I was saying bye to all the teachers, another teacher told me, “You know, Ms. Gordon thought very highly of you. You wouldn’t believe what she said to us during lunchtime.” (She didn’t mention anything about her own class…)

Now that I think about it, there was something special about Ms. Gordon, and it wasn’t really the arguing (although it was fun.) It was more of the way she made me feel different. I mean, I wasn’t just a student that was …there. I was actually someone to Ms. Gordon–me.

Over the summer, I went to the grocery store. They didn’t sell half quarts of milk there, only pints. But they sold half gallons and half pints. What’s wrong with half quarts?


I wrote this in 7th grade about my 6th grade math class. Intentionally left unedited.

 

Stories from Middle School: Mathcounts

This is related to one of my earlier posts: Partitions and the Quadratic Formula, but written from a broader perspective. Also, with more nostalgia. 

incorrect derivation

Yes, I know this is wrong. And that’s the point.

One of my most vivid educational experiences dates back to a middle school math competition– Mathcounts. After months of hard work, our team of four students were ecstatic to have qualified to compete at the state level in Austin.  In the weeks leading up, our sponsor had one goal in mind: beat St. John’s. This sentiment had been building up throughout the year. St. John’s was the local private school whose team had beaten us at the regional competition.

In preparation for the competition, we worked through lunch for a month to solve math problems in our coach’s classroom. Anyone who walked in would have seen four people huddled around a table talking numbers, but like children mesmerized by magic, we didn’t care what the others thought. Together, we had found something greater.

When we were able to solve a hard problem without guidance, the happiness was contagious. That is, until we realized the multitude of problems ahead of us and that many before us had already solved these problems. Nevertheless, to us each solution was an element in a series of epiphanies. As a team, we explained difficult problems to confused team members. When we were truly stuck, our coach would pull out the solution manual, and we would try to make sense of the official explanations.

As we pushed ourselves through problem set after problem set, we developed a mutual respect for each other. Like four legs of a table, our team was built on the idea that in order for the group to succeed, we needed support from all members. During the team rounds, we split up problems and learned to settle disputes quickly and effectively (though not always accurately). We shared our victories and failures, our laughter and frustration, our stupidest mistakes and grandest insights.

Through solving hundreds of different problems, I gradually learned probability, analytic geometry, and number theory. This was before I had taken Algebra 1. By comparison, my math class seemed dull (though I didn’t tell this to my sponsor, who was also my teacher at the time).

One day of practice in particular stands out. It was the Friday before spring break, and we had finished reviewing a set of problems with nearly 20 minutes left. One of our team members, Alex, decided that the logical thing to do was to go to the chalkboard and write ax^2+bx+c=0 followed by the statement “I’m going to derive the quadratic formula.”

When I was in kindergarten, my brother had made me memorize a sentence starting with “x equals” that included a bunch of a’s, b’s, and c’s. That was about all I knew of the quadratic equation. Deriving this mystical formula was a big deal for me, something complicated and important, though it had no bearing in our preparation for the state competition.

So I watched in awe as he rearranged and factored terms, until we were left with something that looked suspiciously like the quadratic formula.

Wait no. One thing was missing. An “a.”

For some reason, this mistake made us crack up and start repeatedly exclaiming “WHERE’S THE A?”.

The end of lunch bell rang. None of us left the board.

The students from our teacher’s next class began trickling in. They saw the four of us freaking out over a board of algebra searching for some mysterious “a” and silently stared at us.

After balancing our laughing with serious efforts to find our mistake, we found the “a” lost inside a fraction.  Alex quickly filled in the chain of mistakes that the  ‘a’ had created and we excitedly proclaimed to all within earshot, “WE FOUND THE ‘A’!”

The tardy bell rang, and we were officially late to our next period.

That didn’t stop Alex from exclaiming, “YES! I FINALLY GOT IT! I HAVE TO WRITE THIS DOWN!” Meanwhile, I knew I had to get to my next class. So while he was scribbling down the slanted rows of algebra onto a sheet of notebook paper, I packed my stuff and went to my next class, still feeling the euphoria from deriving a long complicated algebra equation and hoping that my 4th period teacher wouldn’t mind that I was late.

Two weeks later, we had to leave school right after lunch on Friday for the state competition. This was my first time staying away from home overnight with friends. As fun as this sounds for a middle school student, there was still a sense of pressure. This was when we were supposed to beat St. Johns. Something had to result from the loads of math problems and unfinished lunches.

After busting our brains through three intensive rounds of math harder than anything we had practiced, we were a bit demoralized, but still hoped for the best. Fortunately, we ended up placing 7th in the state, beat St. Johns, and all individually ranked in the top 25% of students.

There have been few days where I have felt as happy as I did when I clutched that right-triangle-shaped trophy on stage alongside my team members. But that happiness was mixed. At the same time, I knew that the state competition marked the end of our lunchtime practices, and that the sense of unity we felt as we worked towards a common goal was coming to a close. Two of our team members would be going on to high school, and I knew that the team I had grown accustomed to working with would soon change.

Math is easily the most stigmatized subject in America, even more so amongst girls, but within our 3 girl, 1 guy team, none of that mattered. I was extremely lucky be a part of this amazing experience with such a group of talented people who shared similar interests in middle school, and I’ve carried this motivation with me throughout high school.

We weren’t going through intensive training like the top schools and students did. Our sponsor merely sat back and let us learn from each other. There were no textbooks, no curriculum, no formula memorizing, no technology (even our calculator use was minimal)–we simply had problem sets, their solutions, pencils, and lots and lots of scratch paper. We were doing what we considered to be important in our learning, and we had the freedom to explore the topics that truly piqued our interest.

Stories from Middle/Elementary School: A Glance

I wrote this story in 6th grade. It’s based off a group of people I sat with in 4th grade, but some of the events are taken from 5th and 6th grade. When I submitted this story to my teacher, she recommended that I submit it to the school literary magazine, but I was terrified that people would find out who the characters were in real life, since I had written this as a love story in disguise. Nevertheless, after a lot of convincing from my friends and a secret desire for other people to read my writing, I submitted it. If you have the 2009-2010 Musings from Rogers, you’re in luck. 


 Ms. Lopez: “You’ve had these seats for too long. Time to switch.”

These are the fated words that will decide whom I can socialize with for the next few weeks. As Ms. Lopez looks around the room for potential suspects to relocate, I keep my fingers crossed. I don’t like the people I’m sitting next to, and I’ve haven’t changed seats the entire year.

Ms. Lopez: “Okay, now let’s have Amy, and…how about Fallon switch.”

I glance over at Fallon’s seat at the table closest to the door. My friend Emily is there, and Tom and Andrew, the other two guys, are about as close as you could get to “decent boys:” not too violent, played soccer during recess, and had a few good friends.

Bracing myself, I gather my stuff and walk over to Fallon’s old seat and sat down.

Andrew: “I hope you don’t make me laugh. Fallon made me laugh too much.”

What???

Me: “Why not? Laughing’s healthy!”

Andrew: “I can’t concentrate when I laugh!”

Me: “So…?”

Andrew: “I get problems wrong!”

Me: “But every time you laugh you gain 3 seconds in your life!”

Andrew: “So…?”

Emily and Tom, the other two people at our table, are listening to our conversation and jump in.

Tom: “Ok, would you rather get pretty good grades and live a long life, or get really good grades and live a shorter life?”

Emily, followed by my echo: “Yeah…”

Andrew pauses for a moment.

Andrew: “It doesn’t matter. The world’s going to end in 2012 anyway.”

Me: “True. But still, laughing’s healthy!”

Emily: “You actually believe the world’s going to end in 2012? Wow…”

Our conversation is interrupted by Ms. Lopez.

Ms. Lopez: “That’s enough changes for now. Now let me explain what we’ll be doing from now on.”

Everyone groans a little, but not too much. Just enough to let her know to make it short.

Ms. Lopez: “And I’ll try to make it short.”

Tom raises his watch and starts his the timer.

26 minutes and 39 seconds later, he presses stop.

Tom: “26 minutes and 39 seconds,”

Me: “You actually time her lectures?”

Tom: “Yeah, most of them.”

This is going to be an interesting table.

***

“Hey what did you get for #14?”

We’re working on a worksheet on how to add and subtract fractions after a lecture from Ms. Lopez on the importance of vocabulary in math and how we were the “only year” that the kids didn’t get it. We’re working on it together, talking and laughing along the way. (Andrew still has trouble concentrating).

“I’m not even there yet! You work too fast!”

“No I don’t! You work too slowly!”

“Well, Amy and I are at #12. And Andrew’s at #11. So you do work fast!”

“Slowpokes…”

“Whatever.”

“So…what did you get for #10?”

“Not telling.”

“What’s wrong with you???”

“Nothing.”

“Whatever.”

***

Tom: “Hey what’s that?” 

From my pencil bag, I pull out an origami wallet I had made from a carefully chosen sheet of light blue copy paper to hold my tickets. 

The ticket system was something our teachers had created to get us to do stuff. Whenever we answered the warm up question of the day correctly in class, our teacher would give us a ticket. Each grading cycle, the teachers chose a different currency that a ticket was “worth” and we could exchange our tickets in USD for prizes. We were disappointed when they chose the peso and delighted when it was the euro. (At the end of the year, we ended up with multiple dollars that went unspent)

Me: “Oh, just something I made to hold my tickets.”

(Yes!!! Someone finally noticed!)

Tom: “Whoa that’s so cool! Can you make one for me too?” 

Tom gives me a sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper. Instead of paying attention in class, I make all the familiar folds, and discreetly hand it back to him.

Emily: “Hey that’s not fair. Make me one too.”

Emily hands me a sheet of copy paper. A few minutes late, I give her a completed paper wallet. 

Word spreads, and two weeks later, nearly everyone in my grade has one of these “pocket folders” stored away in their pencil bags. I become popular. I cut up notebook paper to fit my “folder” and delicately cut out tabs to organize all the important 4th grade ideas circulating in my head. 

A month later, the fad passes. I still keep my pocket folder in my pencil bag. 

***

Me (whispering): “Andrew! What are you doing?”

We’re doing a long division worksheet and supposed to be showing all our work. I sneak a look at Andrew’s notebook. He’s randomly doodled all over the page.

He shrugs and giggles.

Andrew: “I don’t know…” 

Tom: “Hey, I just realized, Andrew, you’re the only right handed person at this table. Emily, Amy, and I are all left handed.”

Andrew: “WHAT? How did this happen? This isn’t fair!” 

The rest of us laugh at him. 

***

The next few weeks are a blur.

We build a marble roller coaster together with just a posterboard, masking tape, and the side of a table, debating over design and how to mount the base on the ground. 

We argue over who “stole” the idea of using Comic Sans for our typed (!!!)  science fact write-ups. 

We refuse to tell each other the answer to the daily warm up but then share them so we can get our tickets.

Andrew has to erase a letter from the “RECESS” board because we talk too much in class one day, and we share the shame of being the only table to not receive 5 tickets.

When we grade our math homework in class, we cheer when we got questions wrong and act angry when we get them right. In hindsight, this must have been obnoxious, but it’s hilarious to us at the time.

And we still tease Andrew for being the only right handed person. 

***

Whatever connection I had with that table disappeared once we stepped out of the room. We were only friends within the confines of Ms. Lopez’s room. At least that’s what I thought.

***

I’m sitting in Ms. McIntosh’s class. Tom’s at my table, but Emily and Andrew are at the other side of the room. 

Ms. McIntosh: “I don’t want to see you rushing on your work anymore. We are not playing the ‘imo hurrup n git thru’ game.”

The class cracks up as she writes “imo hurrup n git thru'” on the whiteboard.

However. 

This time is different for me. 

I start giggling.

Sneak a glance at Andrew. 

See that he’s laughing. 

And then really start laughing. 

***

This is just the first of multiple glances that I give Andrew during class every time before I laugh.

And maybe this is just me…

really just me…

maybe…

but…

I had this feeling he glanced back at me.

(It was probably just me, ok?) 

***

It’s the fateful day that we change seats again in Ms. Lopez’s class. 

She moves everyone away from our table except for me. 

I guess we did talk too much. 

I try to get used to my new neighbors, but I know that it won’t be the same. 

Andrew and I still exchange glances at each other from across the room.

At least I think so. 

Or…

Maybe it really was just me. 

Stories from Middle School: Stalker

I’m not too sure when I began noticing him. I think it was when my friend mentioned “some guy” in the grade above us she knew in Pre-K, and I wanted to know what he looked like. My intuition led me to notice one person who I thought could be “that guy,” and so I kept observing him. Turns out, he wasn’t my friend’s former friend. But that didn’t matter for some reason.

Early on, I was sure this was going to turn into a crush, and I didn’t particularly care. I just wanted to know about this person I had discovered. All I knew was that he was a year older than me, as well as his appearance; and his face wasn’t exactly someone you’d notice. Yet I did.

First of all, I wanted to know his name so he wasn’t just “the guy.” The school yearbook hadn’t come out yet, so that wasn’t an option, and I was afraid to ask any of my friends. They’d think I was just weird. Plus, they wouldn’t know. (This would have been much easier with Facebook.) I decided to keep calling him “the guy,” until I happened to hear someone call his name. Which was practically impossible unless someone was screaming at him from halfway across the hall.

Meanwhile, I kept asking myself why I even cared about him. And the truth was, I didn’t know. I just had an inexplicable urge to know what he was like. And maybe he was kind of cute. Kind of.

I started looking for “the guy” at lunch in hopes of learning something, anything more about him. There was just one kind of huge problem. He would eat in the cafeteria, and my friends would eat outside. Sometimes, I would try convincing my friends to eat inside, but I had no reasonable explanation why, or at least a reason that I was willing to tell them.

However, we were forced to sit inside whenever it rained, and on those rare days, I would notice a few things–he would always sit at the same place with the same people. We never sat close enough to his table to hear what they were talking about, but he seemed interested enough in what the people around him was talking about.

And after a few months of keeping my ears open, I finally learned his name. As I was walking out of a teacher’s classroom at the end of the day, I heard someone call his name.

“Timothy?” He turned around.

Yesyesyes. I finally knew his name. I “casually” hurried out of the room, secretly excited at knowing more information about newly-named “Timothy.”

The name “Timothy” would constantly run through my mind until it rolled off my tongue as a word with a unique rhythm. Not that I ever said his name in public.

The rest of the year was filled with random snatches of scenes thatt I could pick up– calling out to a friend, walking into a classroom, changing binders at his locker, anything that I saw him doing.

Soon, the school year was coming to a close, and I was confronted with the reality that I wouldn’t see Timothy for three months. The last few days of that school year, I tried soaking in every detail about him, hoping I could retain a somewhat accurate image of him over the summer.

Surprisingly, Timothy didn’t occupy my thoughts that much during the long break, although I occasionally wondered what he was doing. Then again, he was never a huge obsession, just a name constantly at the back of my head, one of my unsolved mysteries.

The following August, I roamed the halls looking for a familiar blue and grey jacket. However, when I found him, now an 8th grader, reality settled in. Over the summer, my mental picture of Timothy had changed to something better than he actually was, although I barely had anything to base “better” off of. This disappointment wasn’t enough to stop me though.

As the year progressed, I memorized his locker location, and I would pause in front of it whenever I was alone in the halls, staring at the plain Master lock restricting access to its contents.

I tried compiling his schedule based off the classrooms he walked into, and when I was finished, I memorized it. (Yay for schools with one hallway.)

A teacher would sometime come around with a list of students who hadn’t shown up for lunch detention and ask if we had seen any of them. Timothy’s name was sometimes on it. I never said anything.

Once, on a “cold” Houston winter day, we were waiting outside to be let into the main building at the end of lunch. Out of nowhere, Timothy and two of his friends in the crowd start hopping up and down, three bobbing heads among the masses. Perhaps it was to warm themselves up, perhaps it was for some other reason; without context, I had no explanation.

The whole time, I would be reminding myself that Timothy was just a normal person and that I probably should stop noticing his life in such detail. I felt kind of like a fangirl whenever I thought about Timothy, although my case wasn’t as pitiful. Or you could call it more pitiful, considering I actually had the chance to talk to him, but I just…couldn’t.

A one-sided stalker relationship got boring after a while though, and I wanted him to notice me as well. So I would exaggerate my actions whenever Timothy was anywhere close in an attempt to catch his attention. Laugh a little harder, speak a little louder, wave my hands more, all while stealing glances in his direction. No response.

From what I could observe, Timothy was a quiet person who kept a small group of friends. If anything, I had to get him to acknowledge me by not being outlandish and crazy, unless I wanted to be perceived as an insane 7th grader. On the other hand, he had no reason for noticing me unless I stood out in some way, say, being outlandish and crazy.  (Nevermind actually, like, talking to him.)

In the middle of the year, I promised myself that I would go to the same high school as Timothy no matter what. However, this was based off some assumption that he would be going to the high school that I was expected to attend, and so when he chose to go somewhere else, I declared that promise broken.

With the hope of a common high school gone, I somehow had to make the best of the few remaining months we had together in the same building. Timothy still had no idea of my stalking ways, and I even began feeling sorry for him. If someone were massively stalking me, I’d like to know about it,  yet I was hiding everything from him.

Once again, I made another vow that would never be fulfilled: If I ever saw Timothy in the halls alone, I would tell him everything, no matter how weird or stalker-like. And just to my luck, he never appeared alone in the halls.

By the end of the year, Timothy had become a dull part of my life, something I routinely looked for as I walked through the halls every day. Even so, I felt a slight panic at the thought of not seeing him on a regular basis, and I wanted more to hold onto before he left.

What was there left to know about him though? Had more than a year of stalking not given me enough information? Ignore the fact that I never actually held a conversation with him. As I mulled over this question, the last day of school came and went, and I was left with no choice but to leave my memories of Timothy as they were.

The next year meant a school without Timothy, and I had a strange acceptance of his absence. I claimed his former locker as my own and he came into my thoughts every now and then, but aside from that, he was officially gone from my life.

To this day, Timothy has no idea of my former obsession over him, and I haven’t seen him upon entering high school.

…Something tells me that this is one of those stories best left in middle school.

Stories from Middle School: “The Emily Story”

“Hey, what did you get for number 8?”

We had just walked out of the room after taking a history test, and the post-test discussion of questions  officially begun, despite out teacher’s warnings that this was considered cheating.

“Huh? Was that the question with the weird graph?”

“Yeah, because there were two answers that made sense, and I wasn’t sure which one to put, since the firs-. ”

“Oh my gosh Emily,” my friend Jessie cut in. “You don’t need to be worrying! You’ll probably end up getting like a 105!”

“No I won’t!”

We all looked at her.

“Seriously!”

We kept looking at her. It was pointless trying to deny the truth.

Every once in a while you meet someone who is better than you at everything no matter how hard you try. Throughout middle school, Emily was that person. Getting all the best grades, becoming the teachers’ favorites, good at sports, music, art, and everything in between. In essence, she became a virtual standard for us– the standard of perfection that only she could reach, leaving the rest of us only able to look up to her and marvel.  Every time report cards came out, people would instinctively swarm over to Emily and ask, “What was your lowest grade?” to gauge themselves against the hard-cut standard of grades and to see how far away they were from the ideal.

And about that history test. Despite her worries, Emily only ended up getting a 100, which actually had a negative impact on her grade, pulling her average down to a 102 in a class that offered practically no extra credit. As her friends, we found this very frustrating, as our grades weren’t nearly that spectacular. It would often feel as if we were leading a rebellion against her perfection.

“Why do you have to be so smart? You make us all feel bad!”

“This is so depressing! I just figured out that I messed up in like 5 places!”

“I know! Me too!”

“Emily, you know what? You’re too perfect for your own good!”

Perhaps one of the more clever remarks we made regarding her perfectionist tendencies was “Being too Emily-like is bad for your body!”

Her response? “It probably is…”

To top it all off, she never flaunted her intelligence or grades. And she was nice. How many other people do you know like that? (Answer: None) Was it really a surprise that we lauded her as perfect?

Eventually, our inability to see past her flawlessness led my other friends and I in a quest to find every single imperfection about Emily: a word she said, something she did, anything, as long as it wasn’t “perfect.” (which we never officially defined) The list grew amazingly fast, considering that we put super high standards that declared virtually everything as“imperfect,” including but not limited to, 1) saying “It makes me happy!” in a 5-year old tone, 2) using the word “dude,” or 3) typing “idk” in chat.

This must have been far more annoying to Emily that constant bombardments of “You’re so perfect,” as every aspect of her life was under scrutiny by unforgiving middle schooler eyes, but the rest of us saw these lists as the only way of proving Emily as human.

Thankfully, we stopped this practice after a while, although we were still left  unsure as to how to cope with such…perfection in the world.

…And thus temporarily ends a story that I do not yet know how to conclude. My original conclusion was inclusive in itself, and I feel like this is a story better left unfinished.

Note: This story was originally called “Perfect,” but the name was changed since I would refer to it more as “The Emily Story.”

Stories from Middle School: Partitions and the Quadratic Equation

The instructions  from our coach were simply to “review the problems we did yesterday.”  To our Mathcounts team, this came as a surprise. We had sacrificed nearly a month of our lunches to work on math problems, and we were used to reviewing each set after we finished.  But an entire lunch period for reviewing? That worked too.

The four of us, three girls and a guy, grabbed our papers, sat down at random desks in the room, and began going over the problems we had missed. However, this didn’t take very long, since most mistakes in Mathcounts occurred because of two reasons: 1) carelessness, or 2) a failure to recognize one clue that would unlock the entire question.

After a bunch of “OHHH”s and “NOOOO”s (or maybe they were all from me) we had finished “reviewing,” except for one question that none of us knew how to solve involving something called partitions.

Usually, when this happened, our coach would pull out the solutions manual, show us their brilliant way of solving the problem, and we would all be enlightened.

This time though, their solution was to make a  list. The brute force method that was always looked down upon. Not that we never used it, but in an official solution? No.  We weren’t satisfied. (or maybe it was just me again)

So we set out to find a pattern instead and crowded around the chalkboard as one of us began listing partitions. (The only way to find the intelligent method was by using the stupid method first, right?)

A few minutes later, we had filled up the entire board with partitions and supposedly spotted a pattern. Now we just had to keep testing it.

“Let’s go list the partitions for 8!” I exclaimed, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

“Yeah!” my friend replied. (a little  overly eager as well) She grabbed a sheet of paper and a marker, and we sat down and began listing.

 “Ugh, you guys are such nerds!” one of our team members told us as we methodically said partitions and wrote them down.

“Dude, you can’t say that since we’re probably all nerds,” our other team member pointed out.  He picked up the chalkboard eraser and started erasing our beautiful list of partitions.

“I’m going to derive the quadratic formula.”

 I’m not sure if that was supposed to come as a surprise or not.  I mean, I know middle schoolers typically don’t derive long algebraic formulas in their spare time, but my friend and I were the ones listing partitions. Neither of us were really better off.

So we stuck to our list as he wrote ax^2+bx+c=0 on the board.

Our team member who had called my friend and I nerds walked over to watch him, and I couldn’t resist calling out, “Who are you calling a nerd now!” Which maybe was slightly misdirected, but it  felt nice to say.

Anyways, our “pattern” for partitions ended up not working, and there wasn’t much we could do about it since finding a new pattern would be too difficult . We decided to leave our partitions and go watch the derivation of the quadratic equation that was taking place a few meters away.

At this point, I had no idea what was going on, but I watched as the left side of the equation gradually got smaller and smaller and the right side got more and more complex. And soon, the left side of the equation was just x and the right side was negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4c. All over 2a. We had the quadratic equation!!!

No wait. We didn’t. We almost had the quadratic equation. An “a” was missing in the middle.

incorrect derivation

Because I can, and because my handwriting is kind of horrible

For some reason, this cracked all of us up. Here we had this brilliant board of algebra with beautiful process and beautiful everything (ok maybe the handwriting was a little questionable, but still) and all of it was invalid because of a puny little “a” lost somewhere. Oh the irony.

“Where’s the ‘a’???”

“How do you forget an a?”

“Where’s the ‘a’???”

“I don’t know! We messed up somewhere!”

“Where?”

“WHERE’S THE A???”

Anyone walking in on us these next few minutes would have seen four hysterical kids chanting “WHERE’S THE A???” every few seconds in front of an algebra-filled board that obviously had many a’s written on it.

And that’s exactly what happened when the lunch bell rang and next period’s math class started coming in. They probably thought we were maniacs. But we didn’t really care. We just had to find that “a” (if that weren’t obvious enough already)

Our coach came up behind us and said “I see where the mistake is…”

“Where?” I immediately asked. “Wait no don’t tell us!” I wanted to find it ourselves.

But it was ridiculously hard to find a single mistake in a huge sea of algebra, (especially when we were laughing our heads off)  and our coach finally had to point out the line where we messed up.

We spent the next 30 seconds staring at the middle of the board, still saying “Where’s the A???” and still being partially hyper.

Then…I saw it.

“I FOUND THE MISTAKE!!!” I gasped in between bouts of hysteria. ” Right there! If you multiply the bottom by this then the whole fraction’s supposed to be changed because of that rule, you know, the –THERE! That’s where the a is!”

No one could understand me. They went back to searching.

A couple more seconds passed. The late bell rang. None of us moved.

Then…

“I SEE IT!” the original person doing the deriving exclaimed.

He managed to sanely explain the problem to everyone else and changed the string of mistakes it had led to until the “a” was restored to the last line. And we had it– a step by step derivation of the quadratic equation!

“YES! I FINALLY GOT IT BY MYSELF! I have to write this down!” He did deserve most of the credit. The rest of us were just watching him and getting lost. (or was it just me?)

That didn’t stop us from telling each other and the class looking at us weirdly, “WE FOUND THE A!!!”

Except there was another problem with our success. We were late to our next class. So as the beautiful derivation was being copied, my friend and I hurriedly ran out of the room, hysterically laughing, and hoping that our next teacher wouldn’t mind too much.

Stories from Middle School: The Yogurt Ritual

My friends and I were eating lunch one day when one of us pulled out a yogurt and a spoon. Nothing special, until my friend wondered aloud, “Hey! Let’s try poking holes in this!”

And thus began one of our most bizarre lunch traditions.

After attacking the yogurt with the back of her spoon for a few minutes, my friend eagerly tapped me on the shoulder and exclaimed, “Look, look! My yogurt!”

She had poked holes onto the lid to form a face, complete with two eyes, a nose, and a wide grin. I smiled back at her.

Then she started pouring key lime pie yogurt out of the happy face. Globs of smooth yogurt came out of the Yoplait container as it happily regurgitated its green contents.

The whole scene was pretty gross to look at, but we couldn’t stop cracking up as the yogurt kept drooling onto the spoon and kept cheering on the yogurt until the last drops finally dripped out.

IMG_1579

Hopefully, this is the only drawing you’ll ever see by me.

A few days later, another one of my friends brought a yogurt for lunch.

We all chanted, “Poke holes in the lid! Poke holes in the lid!”

So we did it again, but with a couple variations. Instead of only pouring yogurt out of the mouth, we tried the eyes too. Now our yogurt was draining slime out of its eyes like a Halloween skull.

After a few more faces stabbed onto yogurt lids and excitedly spilling out their colored guts, we started referring to this as the “yogurt ritual” and we performed it religiously every time someone brought a yogurt.

This so-called ritual also had weird side effects. One of my perfectly sane friends would innocently proclaim, “It makes me happy!” in an angelic voice every time this ritual was performed, as if it were normal to enjoy watching yogurts throw up on a weekly basis.

Finally, one of us was civilized enough to realize the horrors of our actions and started complaining, “Stop doing that! It’s disgusting!”

We still did it.

However, over time, the ritual lost its…uniqueness, and then one day, my friend that started all this held her spoon in one hand and a yogurt in the other and declared, “I’m going to eat this the normal way today!”

“Yippee!” we all cheered. No more, “It makes me happy!” (even though it was pretty interesting) and “That’s disgusting!”

And there was the end of our historic yogurt ritual.