Demons or no demons, middle school is a pretty freaky place. That’s why, every week, we’re sharing real stories from real girls who have been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.
Dancing with the Regulars
by Mélanie Berliet
Holly Randolph was a freak of nature—one of those girls who pranced through adolescence with nary a sign of teenage angst or awkwardness. It was as if the Gods of Pimples and Untimely Growth Spurts spared Holly so she could rule Saxe Middle School while the rest of us gawked in her shadow. With long, deep chestnut hair and naturally tanned skin, alarmingly proportional facial features and chic outfits procured during weekend trips to New York City, at 13, Holly embodied every girl’s aesthetic ideal.
Upon seeing her for the first time at the start of sixth grade, I remember hoping thinking: if life is fair, she must be stupid and un-athletic. But Holly was a serious dancer who studied at the elite Joffrey Ballet School during the summer months. To boot, she was a member of Saxe’s gifted and talented program, pulled from class weekly to be nurtured alongside other seedling geniuses.
Holly represented everything I longed to be, and everything I wasn’t. Biology wasn’t exactly on my side. As someone who wouldn’t get her period until 16 and a half, in eighth grade I was possibly the most gawk-ward pre-adolescent in America. At least, that’s how I felt. I was impossibly bony and my nose seemed to grow at an accelerated pace, goading the rest of my body to catch up with it. To point out the obvious: I had no boyfriend, nor any experience with the male sex whatsoever.
That means that I nodded and smiled—and secretly took copious mental notes—whenever my friends giggled over what it was like to make out or to dry hump on the sly in someone’s basement. It also meant that as the big year-end dance approached, I was totally dateless. Day after day, Mélanie’s Roster of Prospective Dates (a small list to begin with) diminished as the guys in my grade asked other girls out.
On the eve of the big event, my friend Jessie rang with some news. “Matt will totally go to the dance with you. But he’s too shy to ask,” she reported.
“So what do I do?”
“Ask him,” Jessie suggested.
An hour of encouraging phone calls from friends and several deep breaths later, I rang Matt. As the grapevine promised, he accepted my invitation.
The next day, I had fun getting ready with girlfriends. I wore a knee length black and white polka dot dress from Express over a cap sleeve white tee. For the first time, I felt relatively cool entering the decked out school cafeteria with Matt and two other couples, each of us girls wearing a corsage. Holly was holding court in the center of it all, stunning in a short pink spaghetti strap cocktail dress and silver strappy stilettos. Surprisingly, the image didn’t stoke a modicum of envy in me. This was sure to be a memorable night.
A short time later, I was in a bathroom stall when Holly and her cohorts burst in.
“Did you hear about Mélanie and Matt?” one asked. “She asked him out. As if this were a Sadie Hawkins or something.”
A cacophony of laughs, before another chirped, “Obviously he didn’t want to go with her. He told me he just felt bad.”
Legs propped atop the toilet seat to avoid detection, I stared straight ahead at the graffiti-ridden gray door before me, and envisioned myself outside the moment. I saw how small Holly and Matt and the gossipers and I all were—how insignificant this silly dance was. There was a whole world out there to know. Do not cry, I ordered myself.
A few calculated minutes after the others left, I made my exit. I spent the remainder of the evening hanging out with friends, avoiding Matt altogether. I didn’t need a guy at my side to have fun.
In the rumor roundup that followed, I learned that Holly & Company had been downing shots of vodka in the bathroom throughout the night. Supposedly, Holly’s mom discovered her in her bedroom hours later, sitting on her desk chair, pajama bottoms bunched at her ankles.
“What are you doing, Honey?” she asked.
To which Holly, in her stupor, replied, “Going to the bathroom. Obviously.”
So the dance was memorable after all, just not in the manner expected, and from that day forth, Holly and perfection were no longer synonymous. Why rush to grow up if the race leaves you peeing on a chair? Life may not be fair, but it definitely has an awesome sense of humor.
Mélanie Berliet is a New York City based writer and producer. Her work has appeared in Elle, Vanity Fair, New York, The Observer, Cosmopolitan and The Atlantic, among other publications.
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