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. 

Thirteen Reasons Why

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Inspired by the book by Jay Asher and a page in my notebook where I was listing incidents that genuinely hurt me. Not trying to garner pity or outrage, just understanding.

(Background information: In Thirteen Reasons Why, the main character receives a box with 13 tapes from a girl who recently committed suicide. Each tape explains a minor reason why she ultimately decided to kill herself. Yes, I’m completely fine. Just thought the concept was interesting.)

1) In 6th grade, I had an elective where we made banners and posters and stuff for school events. Some people got to make locker posters for the volleyball and basketball team members. The posters were made with special paper cutouts and hole punches and was considered a coveted job in my eyes. (Paper has and will always be near and dear to my heart.) But everytime I finished a banner and wanted to work on a locker poster, the teacher would always move me away to something else, while my friends continued making locker posters.

At the end of the semester, I finally got the chance to make one. I was drew multiple designs in my diary to perfect the layout. After I finished, the teacher complimented my poster, but instead of any genuine happy pride, I could only feel smugness at finally proving that I was worthy of making these posters.

2) In 7th grade, I submitted this piece to Scholastic (with a lot of help and edits from my English teacher.) When I didn’t win anything and all my friends won gold keys, I ended up crying on the bus ride home (with those same friends sitting next to me). Someone on a nearby bus saw my tears and made funny faces at me to make me laugh. It worked temporarily, but aside from that, I received no comfort.

3) I also tried out for the volleyball team that year. (Yes, I actually knew how to play a sport not-horribly.) Again, did not make the team, but I ended up crying at home instead and similarly received no comfort.

4) The adult sponsor who runs a youth council I’m part of doesn’t know my name. Whenever we plan events and I contribute ideas, she always attributes them to someone else whose name she does know and ignores me. This has happened multiple times for multiple events.

5) I used to do my Algebra II homework during class sometimes. Another person who sat a few seats away from me also would do their homework. When the teacher went around the class after a lecture, she would generally tell the other person “Already finished your homework huh” in a ambivalent and unsurprised tone, while I received a stern “Working ahead instead of paying attention in class again?” (I spent the rest of the year not paying attention in class to fold origami and play games on my calculator. After I finished my homework of course.)

6) When I took art in middle school, I had a teacher who would ask for people to bring their works up to her to grade them. For most people, she would glance at their paper and instantly assign a 100, but for me, she’d take an extra look, pick out something minor, and dock off a few points. It wasn’t a huge deal (a 98 opposed to a 100), but I suspected favoritism.

7) When I did robotics in elementary school, my team and I were at a competition where our score was miscalculated and resulted in us not placing in the top 3. When we protested, the people organizing the contest refused to change our score and claimed that our score wasn’t high enough to place. (I suspected racism.)

8) I did science fair with a friend in middle school. We presented separately to our teacher since we were in different periods. After I presented to my class, my teacher told the class “This project got a 100. Look at this detailed notebook” and passed around the notebook for the class to look at. I didn’t contribute to that part of the project.

9) In 8th grade, a group of people created a dictionary for the people in our grade with definitions and synonyms for each person. It was something fun and not meant to be offensive.  The first part of my definition was “Someone who is constantly overshadowed by [someone else in my grade]” and one of my synonyms was “Not Quite There”.

10) When I used to dance, one time during break there was a running joke amongst all the girls in my class. Each person was supposed to tag another person, one by one, until the joke involved everyone. When literally everyone else in the class (15+ people) had been tagged, the last person didn’t choose me and chose the teacher instead.

11) My first week of high school, my French teacher personally called me out for having too much pride. She told my parents the same thing. Eventually, I just stopped paying attention in class and memorized my verbs and vocab and supposedly learned a bunch of French. Not sure if that ruined my pride or made it even stronger.

12) When I was doing a self-reflection over the summer in hopes of finding potential college essay material, after writing close to 5 pages of thoughts, I had nothing positive to say about myself.

13) When I was visiting my middle school with a classmate freshman year, we ran into an administrator. He spent the entire time talking to my classmate and barely acknowledged me.

Individually, none of these incidents are horrible, and I brushed most of them off at the time. I had always known that I don’t come across as the friendliest person at times and that my pride comes over me at times it shouldn’t. These were just the consequences. In retrospect, many of these events could be seen differently from different perspectives, but I still suspect a degree of racism, sexism, a culture that values achievement over well being, or general favoritism.

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.

 

Dissecting Middle School

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“I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how anybody does it, waking up every morning and eating and moving from the bus to the assembly line, where the teacherbots inject us with subject A and subject B, and passing every test they give us. Our parents provide the list of ingredients and remind us to make healthy choices: one sport, two clubs, one artistic goal, community service, no grades below a B, because really, nobody’s average, not around here. It’s a dance with complicated footwork and a changing tempo”

-Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

In middle school, I saw education as a chance to become as smart as possible. Learning was a moral issue– how could I dare to contribute to society without knowing how things worked? Often times, I found that if I didn’t know something, I wouldn’t simply not know it- I would “know” the information incorrectly. My education was a chance to fix up the misconceptions in my broken mind. And this was my youth, when I would absorb the information the quickest- why not take complete advantage of this? But in the reality of carrying out these noble motives, I could often only see immediate numbers and not wanting to disappoint a teacher. I got A’s in all my classes without any special effort.

However, I would get frustrated at only getting 95s on tests when my friends got 100s. (Literally, when my class made a “dictionary” with a definition of everyone in 7th grade, one of my synonyms was “Not Quite There”) I checked my grades online less than 3 times throughout all of middle school and learned to avoid the question “What did you get?” by simply saying that I didn’t know. I told myself that these tests were merely a test of accuracy, not knowledge (I made and still make a lot of stupid mistakes.)

And an the midst of Mathcounts competitions and quizbowl tournaments, as close as one can get to an approximation of a purely academic competition, I began coming up with (unfounded) justifications of why I wasn’t doing as well.

  • I don’t have teachers and coaches to teach me the fastest way to solve all the problems
  • I don’t soullessly memorize lists and formulas.
  • I actually enjoy what I’m doing.

But who was I even to say anything? (Even assuming that everything above had valid ground.) I could complain and justify my actions all I want, but at the end of the day, they still knew more than me, still did better than I did. I wasn’t willing to put in the sweat and tears they had. Any dislike I had was really just secretly jealousy…right?

…To be continued

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: “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.”