Middle school is a time of life that should be forgotten as quickly as possible. I remember middle school, but I wish I didn’t. Those were the culminating years of dorkhood for me. All that factors that go into making someone a dork came together for those few years. The orthodontia and glasses from fourth grade, combined with the lack of friends from fifth grade, combined with the awkwardness of puberty all came together in one spectacular loser. That was me.
In sixth grade I decided to spike my hair. It was what I wanted to do in second grade, but never did because I had more common sense. In sixth grade I threw caution to the wind and just did it. Unfortunately I didn’t become the coolest guy in Language Arts on Monday morning. I got a few laughs instead.
Middle school was a time of endless alliances. You had to choose your friends carefully. You had to have friends. That was usually my problem. My lack of friends meant I hung out with whoever I could, and that usually meant I was the butt of jokes. The only thing I had going for me was that I was smart and could actually do my homework. This meant others would suspend their foolery and accept me as one of their own. That is, until they stopped caring about homework and decided writing on my shirt with markers was more fun.
Middle school was an awkward time between the vast freedom and overwhelming potential of high school, and the complete lack of options that is elementary school. You were old enough to want to be far, far away from your parents, but you didn’t have the capacity or a good reason to make it happen.
You also had to worry about puberty. You actually noticed girls, and for more than the fact that they were girls. They made you feel queasy and lightheaded and stupid all at the same time. They had flowing hair, and smiles, and the beginning of breasts, and their bodies were beginning to look less and less like little girls, and just a little bit like the high school girls they would soon become. They had hands you could hold. And that was enough for any middle school puberty-prisoner.
I remember sitting in our rows in gym class, waiting for the big, whistle-blowing goon in jogging pants to start class. I sat there awkwardly in the second row, third one back, wearing an old t-shirt and shorts that felt too small. The gym aid was a seventh grader, and he sat in the first row. He had hair on his legs. Lots of it. After seeing him I’d look at my legs and wonder what happened. I could count the hair on my legs. I’d run my hand up my legs trying to make the little hair I had stand up so it looked like I had more.
I remember riding home on the bus one of my friends kept telling me that I needed to start shaving. Apparently I had the beginnings of a mustache going. I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to shave, and learning how meant asking my father, something I wasn’t incredibly keen on doing. It’s not that my dad wouldn’t have been glad to show me, it’s just that it was one of those awkward things you really don’t want to have to ask about. Like sex. Nobody wants to initiate a conversation with their parents about sex.
So rather than brave the awkward question, I sneaked into the bathroom alone and shaved off the beginnings of my mustache. It wasn’t that hard. You just took the razor and raked it across your upper lip. I didn’t use any shaving cream or water, because I didn’t know any better, and ignorance was anything but bliss.
That lasted a month or two, my friend continually pointing out the peach fuzz on my upper lip, my brother’s razor leaving a serious burning sensation. Finally I had enough and asked my dad to show me how to shave. He was sitting in the orange chair in the family room, watching TV on a week night. I stood in the living room, just out of sight, trying to dredge up enough courage to ask my dad.
“Um, dad?” I asked, my toe trying to bore a hole through the kitchen linoleum.
“Yeah,” my dad said, not looking away from the TV.
“Um… will you… I mean, I need you to… um… will-you-show-me-how-to-shave?” I finally blurted out.
Dad broke his gaze from the TV and looked up at me and said calmly, “What?”
A few minutes later we were in the bathroom and my dad was officially showing me how to shave with my brother’s razor. I learned all the intricacies of shaving cream and applying it to the areas to be shaved. It was nearly rocket science, and it was over in five minutes. I probably could have figured that out myself if I just thought about it.
Middle school is the no man’s land of adolescence. That day when I asked my dad to show me how to shave I didn’t become a man. I didn’t grow up that day, and there was no great ceremony marking my entry into manhood. It was just another minor milestone on my quiet journey through dorkhood.