Being Free

Big people, the grown-ups, the grandmas, and the grandpas, always claim the middle school was (and will) always the hardest part of being junior, and being a kid. A lot of people know middle school as junior high, where the girls start to straighten their hair and shoot up a couple of feet (and inches) over the years. Junior High- where the boys still walk around, short, with their baggy shorts, backward caps, and their lame jokes like, “Why can’t your hand be twelve inches? It would be a foot!” (hahaha…)

But yet again, I wouldn’t agree to that “on my life” (not literally). Elementary school was always the hardest. Oh, sure, until third grade or so, nobody stopped teasing you if you were best friends with a boy, but in fourth and fifth grade, they really let the rockets on you. Not to mention that Arianna had stopped being best friends with Harrison in first grade. But that is not my story to tell. Not yet.

My story were the popularity ladders. The discrimination. The control. The people that were so full of hate to one another, that every word they spoke dripped with red, thick, syrupy loathing. And, finally: the ones that tried so hard to let each other down. You can tell me what you want, but middle school wasn’t like that. Girls just cared about their bodies and getting skinny, while boys just cared about winning their sport’s championships.

Third grade was my best year. Or so they said. My school had unknowingly developed a complex system of “points” and popularity ladders. It wasn’t official; it wasn’t the complete deal, but everyone knew it existed. Everyone knew that’s how it worked. The lower kids, the ones who weren’t good at being pretty, stylish, or what-else, could get messed with. The upper kids, the “good” ones, couldn’t get messed with. If you were on top, you usually stayed there. If you were on the bottom, you always stayed there. If you were in the middle, nobody really touched you, looked at you, or anything, and your popularity could eventually go either way.

Before third grade, I was always a middle kid. I cared more about books and my horse back riding competitions than I did wearing the latest trashy shirt, or texting the latest abbreviations (biffles, LOLOLOLOLOMG, which I still don’t understand). I was fine with it, since I had my friends and nobody ever teased me or cared if I did something stupid.

Then came the beginning of third grade. Where my group of middle kids got stuck sitting right next to the upper, popular, “OMG” kids. My friends started thinking that it was vitally important to somehow become one of “them”, one of the girls who could do anything, say anything, be anything, without the whole school crushing them down like boulders to a fly. I didn’t get it then, but I do now. It was simply how you survived.

Lanie, Rose, Beth, Alexa, Kim, Amanda… they were all there. Lanie, at that time, was super nice. She cared about everybody, the way Kim, Amanda, and Alexa did. Rose, from the start, was mean but popular. And rich. I don’t remember the details of it, but one day on the playground, Lanie asked me if I wanted to play. Just thought, why not? Since then, I just became one of them. Those girls. The top girls. It was, in my opinion, kind of stupid, to rocket the ranks just because of a friend, but it was that way.
After two years of being with those “up” girls, I began to question my freedom. Was I more free being someone who the whole school looked at, for advice, “promotions”, and admiration… Or did my freedom lie where I was before, in the middle level, with my own real friends, and my own interests?