I've been writing all day and night, and it still isn't right. But I'm going to hit publish anyway because it's a start, and I've told myself I have to keep writing even if it's shit. Here is another part to Lenny's story. It's choppy and may not flow as well, but I had to break it into parts because it just kept growing and growing. This is the first part, which is a lot of back story that will build up to part 2 next week. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
In eighth grade, friendship is the closest thing you will ever have to religion and faith. The simple act of being accepted by a group can make you feel invincible and give you the faith and courage to do almost anything. I was abandoned by my former group of friends two weeks into my eighth grade year. It happened so suddenly, it was like an illness that came along over night. One day were were the best of friends and the next day they were ignoring me at the lockers.
In the beginning, there were four of us, Sheila and Isabelle, who I had met in our “College Prep” classes, and Deb, who had been their friend since kindergarten. I didn’t have that kind of friendship history with anyone at that point in my life. I went to a school that was mostly populated with migrant farm worker families, and they moved with the harvest. In sixth grade, I decided I wanted to go to junior high in a different district. After years of using Esperanza's address so she could take care of me after school, Mom and I decided that Cal Valley Junior High was better for me academically. The decision broke Esperanza's heart as she had been watching me since I was an infant. Mom found herself relieved that she didn't have to rely on Esperanza as much anymore.
I met Sheila and Isabelle on the first day. We had three college prep classes together. I sat behind Isabelle in Home Room, and she was warm and inviting and oddly enough shook my hand when she introduced herself. She also looked like a fashion model. Tall and slender, her black, shiny hair hung like a curtain down her back. Her skin was so smooth and fair that it was such a contrast with all her hair. Sheila was almost as tall, but fuller around the hips and bust. She appeared more womanly than our waif of a homeroom teacher. She was loud and brash and wore her thick blond hair in a braid everyday with it falling out around her face by third period PE, which coincidentally, we had together as well. They invited me to sit with them at lunch, and that is where I met Deb.
Deb was a force before she even opened her mouth. It was the early nineties and Deb was a vision of denim and lace. She wore the right sneakers with the two Velcro strips across the ankle, and they were pink. Her jeans were cuffed perfectly and her shirt was hot pink and peeked out in the space of her open jean jacket that had white lace on the back. It was as if she had stepped out of a copy of Seventeen. Her hair was a light brown and curly, she wore it gelled and sprayed within an inch of it’s life, and instead of a boring navy Jansport backpack like I was wearing, she carried a tote bag that said “ESPRIT”.
“Deb, this is Lenny. Lenny, Deb. She can eat with us right?”, Sheila said in her almost clipped dialogue.
“Hey. How’s it going?”, Deb offered as she concentrated on opening a package of chips.
“Hi. Thanks for letting me join you”, I replied. Embarrassed that I didn’t have more to offer. I was wearing khaki pants, a floral printed blouse, and navy Keds. My hair was pushed out of my face with a headband, and unlike Deb and Isabelle, I wore no make up. Even Sheila had applied gloss after PE. I had a tube of Avon chap stick. I had a lot to learn about Junior High.
I spend the entire seventh grade with Deb and the girls. Isabelle taught me how to apply eyeliner and how to pick out the right lipstick. Sheila taught me to speak up for myself and how to survive algebra. Deb taught me the rest. She gave me my first Sassy magazine. She gave me her hand me downs, though none of them fit very well since she was almost a foot taller than me. She introduced me to Beverly Hills 90210, and we bonded over a shared love and knowledge of Saturday Night Live. Deb showed me how to watch for trends in Seventeen Magazine and on MTV to make sure we were always in style. It was easy to be Deb’s friend, and I fell under her trance. It didn’t take long for her to invite me to sleep over at her house, which was an experience in itself. Deb’s family ate at the table for every meal, I didn’t know families still did that anymore. My family never ate at the table unless we were at Esperanza’s. It was an entirely different world as Deb’s friend and I would have stayed there forever.
But slowly it started to unravel.
It started in the Summer. Isabelle invited Deb and Sheila to join her family at the Boardwalk for a weekend. It’s something they had been doing for years. Deb was more apologetic than the rest of them, telling me she would miss me and wished she could take me along. It didn’t stop her from going. That weekend yielded inside jokes that i didn't understand, memories that didn’t include me, and a weird exclusion that started to manifest in funny ways. I’d call Isabelle and invite her over to our apartment and she’d make an excuse why she couldn’t come, then I’d invite Sheila and she would say the same. Later Deb would call and invite me to meet her and the girls at Thrifty’s for ice cream. It was clear they had spent the majority of the day together. Then we got our school schedules mailed to us, and as luck would have it, I was the only one of us with fifth period lunch. Don’t worry they said, it won’t be that bad, but all I could think of was eating lunch alone.
I didn’t eat lunch alone that first day, thankfully Erin Saunders had fifth period lunch too. We had two college prep classes together this year and the last. She was sweet and quiet, but she too was fearful of eating alone. At lunch that day we figured out that many of our fellow college preppers had fifth period lunch too. Sofie Pearson and Hannah Green. Brothers Alex (eighth grade) and Adam (seventh grade) Moorehouse. Best buddies Kevin Mackey and Sam Gould. I didn’t know them all that well, but they made me feel comfortable and welcomed. We all sat together on the grass behind the gym. Laughing and talking about our summers that were mostly spent watching 90210 (the girls) and Major League Baseball (the boys). That day would turn into every day, and soon I found a comfort zone, outside of my original one with Deb and the girls.
As it turned out, my new comfort zone destroyed my old one. New friends served as the main reason I was dumped by Deb and the girls. They became suspicious of my friendships with my fifth period lunch friends. They accused me of acting differently after a weekend spent with Hannah Green and her sister Caroline. Caroline worked for Contempo Casusals in the mall and gave us a box full of hand me downs when I spent the night at her house the first Friday of the school year. I went to school on Monday wearing floral print leggings and a magenta tunic, which was met with disgust and jealously at Deb's locker. Then Sofie Pearson asked me if I wanted to walk to the "Ice Castle" after school for milkshakes the following Wednesday. I accepted and didn’t ride the bus home. Mom picked me up from the "Ice Castle" after work and when we got home the phone was already ringing. I picked it up to Deb who had a million questions as to why I had missed the bus. When I told her, she got very quiet, and made up an excuse to get off the phone. My attempts to call her back that night went bust. She was cold and ignored me for the rest of the week.
By Monday we weren’t friends anymore. Sheila and Isabelle refused to talk to me in class, which became a problem when we got grouped together for a project. I tried to start multiple conversations with Deb, but she would just look through me or over my head. I made a good solid effort for two days, but by Wednesday morning I was exhausted. I tried to fake an illness so I could get a break from all the embarrassment of losing all my friends, but mom put her foot down.
"It's your turn Lenny. You ignore them. You look past them. And when they see you with your new friends smile as big as you can", Mom lectured in the car on the way to school. I didn't think I would survive another bus ride to school with them talking bad about me three seats away. "You're going to have to put on a brave face and grow thick skin", Mom added as she kissed me good-bye. "You can do it, babe".
I spent the next few months of school wearing my brave face and growing a thick skin. I spent more time in and out of school with my lunch friends. I loved Sofie and Hannah. I loved eating lunch on the grass behind the gym. I loved the sleep overs and the study sessions and the group projects that we worked on together. Still, it didn’t make up for the ache I had for Deb and the girls. I missed them desperately. I would see them in the halls and they would giggle as they passed. I grieved the friendship that was now being destroyed by gossip and rumors about me and my mom. They told people I lived in the trailer park. That I couldn’t afford clothes, so that’s why we shopped at Goodwill. They told Sofie and Hannah about Benny, and that he was in rehab (which was usually true). They wrote notes to me that said I was a cow, that I had a fat ass, that I was an ugly four eyed bitch. All things that I already thought about myself. All things that seemed much truer in writing. All things that could ruin any reputation in eighth grade.
It seemed like a dream, but it wasn’t. It seemed that one day I had friends and faith in things like trust, passed notes in the hall, and Bonnie Bell lip balm. Then with little explanation or reason it was all gone. It was like they didn’t even know who I was. They acted as if I had never existed. They were gone, and even with a thicker skin, I still felt like I was losing.
Read all the other Musical Monday posts HERE