Middle School. Do those words make you want to run away screaming? Probably. I am a middle school teacher. When I tell people that, they have one of two reactions: 1. “Ugh, you’re a saint!” or 2. “Ugh, why?!” (Some days, I ask myself the same question. At this point in the year, I ask myself that pretty much every day.)
Anyways, this post isn’t about my job. It’s about middle school me.
I’ve mentioned middle school Becca a few times on the blog. (If you’ve missed them, my favorite is the letter from my 13-year old self.) In case you’re unfamiliar with her, middle school Becca was of course, the cliche awkward, but she was also sensitive and desperate to be “cool.”
I had a group of friends at school, and in our class of 28 kids, we thought of ourselves as the “cool girls.” Really, we were the “mean girls.” Of our little group, I was probably the Gretchen Wieners: I was part of the group, but I was also picked on within it.
I mean, I was an easy target. I was gangly, flat-chested, unsure of myself, and eager to please.
But, again, this story isn’t really about that.
It’s about Robert.
Robert was the loner in our class. He was shy, quiet, and he read really slowly when we head to take turns reading out of the textbook. He sort of hung around with the other boys because he was kind of sporty, but he was always trying a little too hard to fit in with them. (Hmm, kind of sounds like me, actually.)
For some reason that I can’t remember– I’m sure I wrote about it in my diary. I really must get into my parents attic to try to find it– my friends thought it would be funny to tell Robert that I liked him.
They thought it was brilliant and hilarious. I was mortified. I didn’t like Robert! And I didn’t want him thinking that I did!
At lunchtime two of my friends were across the room, talking to Robert. I saw him glance over at me, and I immediately looked down at my food. I could feel my cheeks heating up. I was notorious for getting red when I was embarrassed, especially around boys.
My friends came back over, giggling.
“What did you tell Robert?” I demanded.
They continued giggling. “Come on, guys!” I pleaded.
“Just that you like him,” one of my friends said nonchalantly, picking up a Cheeto and popping it into her mouth.
“But I don’t like him! Why would you say that?” I was starting to get upset.
“He’s going to ask you out at recess,” my other friend said, smirking.
“Oh my God!” I put my head in my hands. “What am I going to do?!”
“Maybe you do like him!” one of the girls said. “Your face is all red!”
“Because I’m embarrassed! And it’s mean!!” my voice was getting even higher-pitched than usual at this point. I looked up at my other two friends who had not been part of the telling. They just shrugged.
One of them said, “Whatever, it’s not that big a deal, Becca. Just say no when he asks you out.”
I pouted down at my oatmeal cream pie. It wasn’t that easy. Plus, Robert actually thought I liked him! And the other boys probably thought I actually liked him, too! I couldn’t believe my friends were torturing me in this way.
We went outside for recess, and my heart was pounding. I was so nervous that Robert was going to come over and talk to me, or worse, ask me to be his girlfriend!
My friends and I always just stood in a huddle at recess, talking
about everyone else and trying to stay warm. I had my hood up because it was kind of cold out, so my peripheral vision was compromised. I saw two of my friends looking just beyond me when I felt a tap on my shoulder. My friends started giggling, covering their mouths to try and hide it. My heart dropped. I turned around.
It was Robert. Oh no, it was happening. He looked nervous. My heart was threatening to jump out of my chest, I could hear the blood rushing in my head, and my cheeks were on fire. For a moment, I felt frozen in place.
I quickly looked down at my feet, so I wouldn’t have to look at Robert, and before he could utter a word, I blurted out, “I’m sorry… no,” and I turned back to my huddle of friends and closed my eyes.
“Is he gone?” I asked after a couple seconds.
Their laughter was enough of an answer.
I didn’t even let him ask the question! He didn’t say anything– not a word. I thought I was saving him the embarrassment of asking.
“Oh my God, Becca!” my friends were all shouting. “You didn’t even let him ask you! That was so mean!”
“You shut him down before he could even try!”
I felt horrible. Because it was mean. But it wasn’t my fault, at least in my brain. “You guys were the ones who told him I liked him when you know that I don’t!” I shuffled foot to foot, feeling guilty. They kept saying how mean I was, but I wasn’t the one who had tricked him into this situation.
I don’t think I was ever able to look Robert in the face again. Not that we ever talked, prior to this debacle. I don’t think we had ever had a conversation at all. After we graduated and went to high school, he would sometimes talk to me on AIM (ugh, God the good ol’ days of AIM), but that was it.
Robert, if you ever read this, I’m sorry I did that to you. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. And I mean that sincerely. You’re probably off making the big bucks, laughing at all us fools who did stupid shit like this in middle school. I hope you can forgive me.
(Full disclosure, I just looked him up on Facebook. He’s not a CEO or the next Mark Zuckerberg, but he looks like he’s doing just fine. I did not send him a friend request, though. I don’t know if he’d appreciate this story…)