You ever keep a secret so big you’re dying to let it out? I’m going on a Guinness World Record here keeping a twelve-year-long secret that only I know. That’s right, I haven’t told a soul. I’m not dying to let the world know what the secret is exactly; I’d prefer that the world doesn’t know. I’m just tired of holding it in. So this is my way to release it. This story may or may not be your typical “happily ever after” hurrah that people drool over but, it will be a story. We can find out what the “ever after” is together, but to get to that, we’ll have to rewind twelve years to when I was in the seventh grade at Pellman Junior High.
You see, when you’re someone like me, you have to be careful. What you do and what you say can and will be used against you in the court of law. Just kidding; not in this case, but let me tell you, middle schoolers love gossiping as much as adults love taking naps.
I didn’t figure out who I truly was until my second year of high school, and that’s what makes my junior high experience that much more special...
I’m a five-foot-six-inch caramel-toned black girl with pigtails. I’m sure this is hard to imagine, but that was me in the seventh grade. Picture Darla from Finding Nemo, make her light-skinned, give her dark-brown eyes and hair, remove the braces (add them back next year), and there you have me. Cute, right?
It was the only first day of school I will never forget: the first day of seventh grade.
I remember walking into school with my schedule in hand, nervous because I didn’t know if I would have my friends in my classes. This was a big deal; you would pretty much just drop dead on the spot if your friends weren’t in your class. Pretty dramatic, to say the least, but it was an unanimous decision made by all junior high students in America.
My first class of the day was English with Mr. Turner. How cliché, when is English not the first class of the day...
“Okay, class,” says Mr. Turner. “We are going to start the day with a fun exercise so we can get to know each other.”
Of course, we are. Oh, and by the way, my friends are not in this class, so please understand my wholehearted excitement to do this exercise.
“Grab a partner,” he says, shutting the classroom door.
Yes, music to my ears, especially with my archenemies in this class. Wait, I haven’t explained this—
“And stand next to them back-to-back,” he continues.
Okay, so now everyone is grabbing a partner. I failed to mention that our grades are split into two “teams” at this school, just a fancy way of splitting our grade in half since we have so many students. Last year, there was 601 and 602; I was on 601, the best team you could possibly be on. Naturally, we became a family and 602 became our archenemy. This year, I’m on 701, and I kid you not, it feels like the entire 602 has invaded 701, so I’m in what feels like prison. I can only think, “How could they let these peasants invade our territory?” By the way, if you didn’t already know, I’m very dramatic and I’m pretty sure the teams are chosen at complete random.
Anyway, class finally ends after what feels like an eternity. How do fifty-minute classes feel like six years? How is that possible? I thought I’d rot in class with how excruciatingly long they are.
The bell rings, thank god. Everyone grabs their things and runs out as if the room just burst into flames. We have a five-minute passing time that feels like fifteen seconds compared to the eternity of class. All the while, you have teachers yelling at you to “Get to class!” as soon as your pinky toe steps out of the previous class.
“Yo, Marley!” I hear as I’m trying my locker combination for the twentieth time. I turn to see that it’s my best friend, Teagan. I can smile and breathe again.
“Teagan!” I yell. “Dude, let me see your schedule right now.” I begin comparing, and I realize the heavens must have seen my disparity because Teagan and I have every class together except for first-hour English and our electives. I can live with that. We celebrate for a mere three seconds before we are told to get to class. We happily oblige.
For those who don’t know, electives are your fun classes. Like P.E., home ed, art, and all the good stuff that we truly go to school for. This is a joke, kind of.
Lunchtime came around, and I finally get to see more of my friends. Teagan and I are the first to find a place to sit.
I met Teagan last year in my science class. Meeting her was different. She was new to Pellman so she didn’t know anyone coming from Pellman Elementary like a lot of our classmates did. I would catch her staring at me in class, and after a few days, I finally decided to ask her why in the hell she kept staring at me. She told me she thought we should be friends. Talk about the beginning of a serial killer novel. Now that I think about it, being eleven, that sounds like a pretty normal start to a sixth-grade friendship, but eleven-year-old me had my eye on her in case she decided to throw me into the janitor’s closet and suffocate me one day. I watched a lot of Disney Channel, which doesn’t exactly correlate, but you get my dramatic fiction.
We turn to see Dakota running up to our table. I have mixed feelings about Dakota. We’ve been archenemies on the basketball court with our summer teams, and this is the first year we will actually become teammates. Joy.
“Hey, Dakota,” I say. “Ready for basketball this year?”
“Of course, I’m ready. I stay ready! I’m going to be captain,” she says with a Cruella de Vil smirk.
“Great,” I’m thinking.
Teagan chimes in. “I’m so excited to play with you guys; we are going to be so good.”
Dakota replies, “Teagan, do you even know how to dribble a basketball?!”
“Yes, I do, Dakota,” says Teagan.
“We will see,” says Dakota as she laughs uncontrollably loud.
I sit in silence; I usually don’t talk much when I don’t feel comfortable. I didn’t know Dakota all that well other than when our AAU teams would go head to head what felt like every other tournament.
We spend the rest of lunch talking about our summers and the upcoming basketball tryouts. A few more friends sneak over as lunch goes on. Yes, they sneak because, you see, when you find a place to sit in the cafeteria, you cannot, by any means, move to a new table or you’ll be detained on the spot. Slightly dramatic, but our lunch monitors are like S.W.A.T.
Lunch is over, and it’s finally time for the best part of the day: electives.
My first elective is art. I walk in to find that the seating isn’t the classic row-by-row seating chart. There are only chairs aligned on the walls of the room. Weird. The chairs fill in with classmates and class begins.
“Hiya, folks. I’m Mr. Blake, and this is art. If this class isn’t on your schedule, let’s have a look so I can get you where you need to be.”
I look down just to double-check, and it turns out I’m not too shabby of a reader because I’m in the right class. Okay, so far so good.
“Okay, let’s do a roll call so I can give you a quick background of what we will be doing this semester. After I call your name, tell us one thing we should know about you,” announces Mr. Blake.
Oh god, now I have to actually talk. Have mercy on me.
Mr. Blake begins roll call, and I begin overanalyzing how I will say my “here.” Or should I say “present?” Shit, I should probably clear my throat.
I try to clear my throat without sounding like I’m clearing my throat just to say, “Here.”
All bad. Overthinking how in the hell to say “here.” Have I already hit rock bottom on the first day of school? I hate talking in front of people; I get nervous when all eyes are on me.
Not paying attention, because, well, I’m hyperventilating inside my head on how to say “here,” my classmate taps me on my shoulder.
“Marley,” Laura says, grunting at me.
I look up, confused. “Yeah?”
She’s giving me the look, so I look up at Mr. Blake. He’s
apparently called out my name twice so far. Kill me now. If all eyes weren’t on me before, they are now.
“Are you Marley Waters?” says Mr. Blake.
“Yeah,” I say as I feel my body overheating.
“Perfect. What’s something you want the class to know
about you?” he asks.
I reach for my go-to in times of emergency. “I-I play basketball,” I stutter.
“That’s awesome; do you plan on playing on this year’s team?”
I’m thinking, “No, no, no, please stop talking to me.” Dying inside, I respond, “Yes, I do. I’m excited.” “Great, I can’t wait to see you play,” he says, marking on
his notebook. I’m assuming he was checking that I’m present in class.
“Thanks,” I say as I look back down at my pencil.
Mr. Blake finishes roll call and begins explaining what we will be doing and learning throughout the course of the semester. I hear something about woodburning, which sounds pretty awesome; for the rest of his spiel, I was daydreaming.
I have a reputation for being an awesome basketball player and super athletic, which got annoying as I got older because I wanted to be seen as more than just a basketball player. Being in art made me feel different, as did being enrolled in advanced math.
The bell rings, and this time I’m upset because now time chooses to fly by. Yeah, I was embarrassed earlier, but I enjoyed the sense of freedom in here. So, I tell myself, “until tomorrow” and get my things together.
I begin walking toward the door, and in that moment, a classmate drops her binder. Her papers fly everywhere. A few kids laugh and keep walking. I look at them and shake my head, and go over to her to help her gather her things. I kneel and start grabbing papers.
“Oh, thanks,” she says.
“No problem, it happens to the best of us,” I reply.
We don’t say much else until we grab them all and align
them back through the rings.
“All right, last one,” I say as I close the rings. She stands. “Thank you again,” she says.
I grab my binder and push myself off the floor. Before I can say, “You’re welcome,” I look at her for the first time and my entire body goes numb.
She has tan skin and short brown hair. But I am absolutely mesmerized by her honey-glazed brown eyes. She’s staring straight at me.
She smirks and says she’ll see me tomorrow.
I spend the rest of the day thinking about that encounter.
Who is she? Something about that felt different...
“Today actually wasn’t too bad. This year might be the best year yet,” Teagan says as we walk to our lockers after
our last class.
I can’t stop thinking about art, so I don’t hear her. “Mar?” Teagan says.
I snap back to life. “Yeah? Sorry, my bad,” I respond. “Are you good?” she says.
“Yeah, sorry, just thinking about all of this work we’re
going to have for math,” I make up on the spot.
Teagan laughs. “Don’t worry about any of that, we’ll take
it one day at a time.”
I’m not worried about math at all. I love math, and I excel
exponentially in the subject. Teagan knows this, but I had to make something up, right? What could I have said? “Oh, I ran into this girl in my class and I thought she was heaven on earth.” Yeah, no. Absolutely not. Plus, I’m not into girls. I’m into guys.
We pack up our things and go downstairs to the bus lines. For some reason, I find myself searching—looking over every person as we walk to the lines.
“Bus seventy-one,” calls the bus monitor.
“That’s my cue,” I tell Teagan. “See ya tomorrow. I’ll talk to you on MySpace!”
You see, it’s 2008, and texting is a thing, but like not a thing. Most of us can text, but there are limits or they cost extra per text, so we use MySpace.
“Okay, bye, Mar!” replies Teagan.
On the bus ride home, I can’t stop thinking about the girl I ran into. I mean, wow...I’ve never been so starstruck like this. I can’t wait to see her again.