“The person may have a scar, but it also means they have a story.”
–Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller
Like most people I know, high school doesn’t necessarily bring pleasant memories. But as someone once said, “Memory is a cruel mistress with whom we must all learn to dance.” So, as an adult, I’ve learned to dance with the fact that my high school years brimmed with awkwardness, frizzy hair, acne, metal braces, and chicken legs. I often heard people say, “She could be so pretty if….”; fill in the blank, it was probably said.
So, in my Sophomore year, when a boy from my science class and I agreed to attend our Sophomore Banquet together, I was so shocked that I had to ask him to confirm twice! I went home and told my parents, called my cousins, and relayed the story to my sisters, all of us giggling with middle-school-giddiness. Preparations were under way almost immediately; my mom gladly took on the responsibility of purchasing, designing, and sewing my dress (which came out beautifully); and I started booking appointments for hair and make-up.
The day of the Banquet finally arrived and my parents, my little sister and I waited in the living room for my date to show up. Mom and Dad bought a video camera specifically for this occasion. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, so I remember my mom taking extra shifts at the local department store and my dad having to do what mom had to do at home, just so they could purchase the video camera and have this night for me immortalized digitally. My mom created my date’s lei out of tea leaves, elaborately hand-made that took several days to complete because of the exquisiteness of the rose-shaped leaves she would craft into it with baby’s breath flowers. I remember my mom working all night making his lei with her painfully arthritic hands, not complaining one bit because she, too, was excited for the occasion.
Video camera on hand, we waited.
Five minutes passed.
Ten minutes turned to 30 minutes.
I called his home and his mom told me he had left nearly an hour ago. I stepped outside to see if my date’s car was wandering around my neighborhood. Maybe he was lost, I thought. When another 30 minutes passed, my dad joined me outside. He stood next to me and remained silent as we both watched the Maui sun start to set. We both knew I wasn’t going to a banquet that night, but I was too upset to cry; I needed to keep my dignity intact. Mama always said that boys weren’t worth crying over.
“Let’s go get ice cream,” my dad finally says.
My Dad starts walking to his car and I can’t help but see how this hurts him. My parents had me late in their life. As the 6th child of 7, my dad was 45 years old by the time I came along. As a small child hugging his knees or asking to be carried, I always saw him as a tall, large figure full of authority and respect. But on this night, he seemed frail, defeated…and small. I followed his slightly hunched-over body to his car, walking silently behind the slight shuffling of his gait; he carrying the weight of my embarrassment and disappointment; while I carried the long part of my dress, as if going out for ice cream with a dress like that, full make-up, and flowers in perfectly coiffed hair was entirely normal.
At 16, that night was the first time I had seen my father cry. I could tell he was trying his best to hold back the tears. He told me weeks later that he felt bad that he wasn’t in the position to comfort me with words. I told him he had done more than words could ever do. I know he grieved that night: he grieved for my self-esteem and for my memories—possibly wondering if I would still remember this moment like it was yesterday and commit it to paper like I’m doing now. I wonder if he thought I would ever allow that moment to define me.
Dad, if you’re reading this, know that it didn’t.
I found out the following Monday morning that JerkFace ended up taking someone else to the Banquet in my place; someone with long, silky hair, perfect skin, straight teeth, and with legs that went on for days. I won’t lie. I felt inadequate. I went through the rest of high school knowing that I couldn’t get a date because boys thought I was never pretty enough. It was the thing that led me to my passion for reading. If I could pretend to be the heroine of the story and bury myself in my imagination, I didn’t need to have silky hair or be pretty. Rather, books let me pretend to be someone I wasn’t: popular and beautiful.
I skipped the class JerkFace and I shared that afternoon—my first and only offense in cutting class my entire academic career. I holed myself up in the bathroom stall and wept. I knew I would eventually have to go back to class and face him, but I just couldn’t that day. My parents were notified of my truancy, but they let it slide. They understood. When I went to class the next day, I didn’t get the apology from him that I expected, and I didn’t kick him in the nuts in front of the class like I imagined a million times in my head I would. I forced myself to just simply move on.
So, where is JerkFace now? I know that some of you reading this may have hoped for a vengeful, karma-filled ending: perhaps JerkFace gains 100 pounds, gets himself a bad case of cystic acne, frizzy hair, and metal braces. Unfortunately, that is just not the case. I looked him up on Facebook recently, and judging from the few photos I saw, he is still fit, still handsome, appears to be happily married, and has several children. He still lives on Maui and appears to be doing well.
But don’t be dismayed, Reader. I got a pretty good hand in life. This experience exercised my ability for “discernment”; a process where I carefully picked and chose who was suitable enough to date. If you knew me in high school, throughout my young adult and college years, you would know that I only made myself available to a worthy few.
I am happy and loved. I love freely and without abandon. I fall hard, and I get back up again. I have a family that stands by me through thick and thin, despite my shortcomings and faults, and I have friends who allow me to make mistakes—they cry with me and they triumph with me. It’s all I can ask for. I am undeserving of these blessings. The least I can do is smile!
To all of you who are reading this who went to High School with me: I am certain you all are trying to guess who JerkFace is. Guess away. I’LL NEVER TELL.