Wednesday, August 31, 2005

reader requests: tales of a sixth grade nothing, part the second

(Part of a continuing series of requested stories)

Last we left our bespectacled, stirrup-pants-owning protagonist, she was sitting in her lederhosen dress waiting for Franklin to pick her up for the prom, in what might be considered the first real "date" of her young life. This was (now switching back from the second person) kind of a big deal, and despite playing it too cool for school, I had made much of it to myself and in my diary. What would Franklin be wearing? Would be bring me flowers? Would he tell Biff "Hey you, get your damn hands off her" and then punch him in the face to defend my honor? These were all possible scenarios.

The one scenario I didn't envision, however, is that Franklin would show up to my door with another girl on his arm.

A word about this girl Mieko. She was this tiny little Japanese girl in our class who, if there were cheerleaders in elementary school, probably would have been captain of the squad. She was perky, popular, impeccably dressed by her mother (who bought many of her clothes abroad), and had this long, thick black hair with--it pains me to note--no bangs. She was also indescribably mean. We were actually good friends for a brief time; when I transferred into this elementary school following my six years of sheltered public school education, I kind of latched onto her, mostly because she was one of the first people to take a friendly interest in me. This, I think, was largely because we were the only two Asian students in the class, so there was some sort of kinship there. Whatever the reasons, we were friends. Then, sometime around sixth grade, she started to turn on me for some inexplicable reason. But why do 11 year-old girls do anything, really? She would taunt me, make fun of me, pointedly talk to and share things with everyone but me, your standard girl-on-girl slow-torture techniques. Luckily, I was together enough to recognize that she was just being petty and manipulative, and fuck it, in a few months I would be done with this school and I would never have to see Mieko again--but until then, group situations in which we both participated were somewhat uncomfortable.

And now here she was on my first date.

So it turned out that Mieko's date had bailed on her. Seems she had applied so much pressure on Alfred to ask her to the prom that he decided he didn't really want to go at all. So he called her last minute and told her he'd much rather stay at home and watch "The Cosby Show" instead. This left Mieko dateless, which, while a perfectly acceptable and tolerable situation under normal circumstances, could in no way fly given that I, her randomly designated arch-nemesis, was going to the prom with a boy. So what did she do?

She called my date and demanded that he pick her up--on the way to my house, mind you--and take her to the prom.

Now, some of you may be wondering, "What the hell, man? Why did he say yes?" And those of you may not understand 11 year-old boys. They are pushovers. Yes, they may be stubborn with their parents and have bad skin and smell funny, but have a pretty little 11 year-old girl call them up and start demanding things, and they are putty. Plus, did I mention her hair? And her clothes? And her meanness? Her wretched, eye-clawing, cackling on a broomstick meanness? Yes, well, she was hard to stand up to, is all I can say.

Hard for me to stand up to as well, apparently. I unquestionably accepted the situation, didn't complain when Mieko monopolized my "date" (I have to put it in quotes, because really, you should have seen the two of us, it was like a Space Camp reunion) all the way to the prom, pointedly excluding me. The prom itself was exactly what you would expect. Cupcakes, punch, 80's music echoing to the point of unrecognizability in the high-ceilinged gym. A few brave girls dared to dance (in a large circle of course, shifting from one foot to the other and clapping, as was the style at the time), but Franklin and I just stood around awkwardly, made stilted conversation about how weird and lame everything was. And then kind of ignored each other for the rest of the night. Ah, l'amour.

So the prom ended without casualty, we graduated from elementary school, and that would have have been the end of it. Would have been the end of it, except that at some point between the prom and the end of the summer, I decided that Franklin and I were IN LOVE and that just because elementary school had ended didn't mean that our torrid interracial affair had to. So I wrote him a letter. That's how we did it in those days without e-mail, but when the thought of an actual conversation was just too much to handle--we wrote letters, with paper and everything. I composed what was probably my first love letter (though "awkward crush letter" would have been a more appropriate label) in my bedroom one afternoon, while Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting" played on the radio. Did I mention that it was 1989? So all is forgiven here, right?

I expected some sort of response to my letter--a letter in response, maybe a phone call--but after weeks, nothing. NOTHING. Oceans apart, day after day, and I slowly go insane. Finally, close to the end of the summer, I got an invitation to a pre-starting-junior-high-school summer party at Franklin's house. It wasn't a special invitation just for me, and there was barely anything personal on it aside from my name on the card, but I was happy all the same. Reunited, at a party at his house! Surely we would be married before the year was through.

The party was your standard preteen affair. Chips and soda, TV and Keds as far as the eye could see. (I actually think I had the Chinatown knockoff Keds, with the fake small blue plastic tag at the heel fooling no one.) Several of my classmates were there, including Mieko, but everyone seemed to be getting along and having a good time, with very little awkwardness.


Near the end of the party, Franklin and Mieko disappeared into his room, and returned to the party with a small envelope in hand. It was the letter I had written him a couple of weeks ago. Mieko looked at Franklin meaningfully, smirking a little bit, and in front of the entire party, Franklin handed the letter back to me, coyly drawling, "Does this look familiar?" He was giving me back my love letter. In front of EVERYONE. Oh, the horror, the mortification. I don't think anyone else there knew what was actually in that envelope, but I could tell from the look on her face that Mieko clearly did. I stuffed that sad little letter in my pocket and shortly after stuffed my sad little self into my parents' car to go home. I never saw Franklin again.

I did, however, see Mieko on the street many years later, when we both were in high school. She didn't recognize me I don't think, but I recognized her, mostly because she didn't seem to have grown an inch since we were in sixth grade together. At least not vertical growth, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. And that's all I'm going to say about that, expect to add that I had a mean little twinge of satisfaction about that.

The incident at the party, which at the time I thought would surely be the most humiliating experience of my life, has of course faded and colored over time to the point where I think it's kind of funny and can slap it up on the internet for all to enjoy. Everyone has their "Welcome to the Dollhouse" moments, and that was one of mine. In the end, I lived. I got me some contacts, ditched the leggings, and survived to be a respectable member of society who when on to have moments of humiliation on a much, much grander scale.

I still can't listen to that Richard Marx song without cringing, though.

Currently reading: "Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules," a new short story anthology edited, though not written by, David Sedaris. I like short story anthologies the same way that I like movie soundtracks. It's kind of like getting the sampler platter at TGI Friday's, with a little bit of everything.

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