I was a certified tomboy by the time I reached the seventh grade. I had a brother, a step-brother and six step-cousins that were boys. I knew how to hold my own and lived in my corduroys and wallabees.
At thirteen, there was no doubt I was on the verge of womanhood and hello mom; “let’s put you in a dress and heels with a nice clutch purse for school.” Yes, I had the same look of horror a deer has when caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi-truck.
My mother is quite convincing and unrelenting when she has an idea. I stood no chance of clinging to my boy clothes. On the second day of seventh grade I dressed according to her vision. I donned the thick, wool, plaid, a-frame skirt wrapped around my chubby waist, a flowing long-sleeve butterick blouse with a tie collar, a macrame clutch purse and high-heeled, wedged shoes with far too many straps for my taste.
As I got out of my mom’s car and headed to class I had to concentrate on each step. I was not a good walker in high heels. Nor am I today. I was so focused on each step, trying to balance my school books in both hands while clinging to my fashionable clutch purse under my left arm that I didn’t notice my first period class was all wrong. I thought “All of these people look so different from yesterday. I guess this is how it goes down in Junior High.” Next thing I knew, I was singled out as being in the wrong class. My face, bright red, I quietly put my clunky high-heeled wedge shoes on the floor beside me and wobbled up until I was fully upright. I picked up my book, folder and ladylike clutch purse, put one foot in front of the other and moved toward the door in a slow methodical motion to make sure I didn’t fall. The trip between my desk and the door felt like it took an hour with all eyes on me.
Once outside the door, I breathed a sigh of relief and calmly looked at my papers to see where I needed to be. I thought “Ok, Michelle, it’s not that bad. You can do this. You got it. Only seven more periods to go.” Self-talk helped me through a lot but seven more periods until school was over seemed like two lifetimes away.
I took a deep breath and got to the right class. I made it through unscathed and alive. That was a big win.
Next, I moved on to second period English. Our teacher, Mrs. Morris, was either in her sixties or seventies, had Einstein big, white hair, spoke loudly because she couldn’t hear herself and handed out detentions like candy on Halloween. She immediately scared me, but again, I thought “I guess this is how it goes down in Junior High. It’s hardcore.”
The first few minutes of class were going well. I was sitting uncomfortably in my 1970′s constructed wraparound school desk designed strictly for right-handers doing my work. With my left-hand. I’m left-handed. In a right-handed world. Next thing I knew my pencil rolled off the right-hand side of my desk onto the floor. The only unrestricted passageway was to my left, but the last thing I wanted to do was to get back up and balance on those awful shoes, walk around my desk, bend down and pick up my pencil. That would cause way too much of a scene. Using the creative right side of my brain, I was convinced I could easily lean over my desk arm on the right and softly pick up my pencil. I was reaching, reaching, almost got it and then BAM! I completely fell over trapped in my chair with my legs straight up in the air and my skirt perfectly over my head. All I could think of was “Ok, Michelle, you can do this. Only five more periods to go.” Yeah, not helping. Through unrelenting laughter, Mrs. Morris screamed “Don’t just sit there, help her up!”
I got the help I needed and was back up in working order and my skirt was back down where it belonged. Leaning on past trauma, I knew it was my attitude that would decide everything else and I held fast to that and kept my head high. Was it easy? No, but when you believe it, everyone else around you starts to believe it too.
Eventually the day came to a close. There were a few other minor bumps in my day but nothing to spell out here. The lesson here is that I continued on even when it was hard and people laughed at me. The more confident I stayed in myself the more confident others became in me. I soon embraced the mantra if you’re expending all your energy on my failure, my success or my every movement, you’re wasting your life. But hey, I never said I don’t like the attention.