The “caterpillar-to-butterfly” effect

One proverbial autumn in my youthier youth, the mango-fruits of a transformative summer vacation shattered my reputation as a weirdo loner — the cruelest denigration, amirite? — in one fell swoop.

Behold! I returneth’d to school a provocative, blonde sex ornament and my contemporaries gaped, all, DAMN, SHE GOT HOT. Then, in retaliation for their prior ostracism, during a retreat to my stoner classmate’s secluded cattle ranch, I slaughtered them one by one.

Shit — that’s the plot of 2006 slasher movie All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. My bad.

I jest! My high school experience was … distinctly unsexy. I didn’t date/party/drink/smoke (or formulaically murder my affiliates). Honestly, not much happened.

Guys-(un)wise, I remember jonesing after upperclassmen and one individual who resembled a young Cary Elwes, about whom, in eighth grade, I kept what I now affectionately refer to as “stalker diaries.” (Sample excerpt, verbatim: March 14, 2009. During lunch, I saw Josh* give away his Oreos. He was also drinking water and eating Junior Mints straight out of the box.) To those who find this behavior irrational, quoth Jeffrey Eugenides, “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.” Once I procured my driver’s license, I performed drive-by “recon” missions past this Westley doppelgänger’s house. (Sorry, Josh.) We never spoke.**

… in striking disparity against the romantic realms of film/TV, where cliques of 20-somethings in slick greaser jackets broke into choreographed song about summer flings (Rydell) and gorgeous boys revered bookish waifs with Sméagol eyes (Stars Hollow High).

From my mathematical deductions, the equation replicated by a beehive’s worth of asinine representations of the quintessential American high school experience includes the following criterion: a) a token geeky girl’s overnight physical “minus braces plus bust size” metamorphosis that multiplies the oh-so-coveted attention of b) the inane popular jock/prom king, who proves to demonstrate unforeseen emotional depth (but not till the story’s end!).

(Back then, I doubted the depth of my school’s batch of star athletes, infuriated by the free-ride scholarships worth $200K in tuition granted to my brawnier counterparts, who were worshipped to a nauseating degree, based solely on their ability to, say, brandish a lacrosse stick. But I digress.) (Can ya tell I was a li’l acerbic as a teenager?)

As I recall/like to think, I kinda orbited outside the bogus constructed social hierarchy, declining to attend most non-mandatories that forced me to consort with my cohorts (homecoming, prom, football games). But, HEAVENS TO MURGATROYD, I also felt all incarnations of awkward/angsty.

The mental healthcare I needed to subsist healthily was a non-factor in mein leben because — PAY ATTENTION, CLASS, THIS WILL BE ON THE TEST — I lacked language to articulate the ruminating brain-fuckery (exhausting, endless overanalyzing and a smidge of paranoia, like an unscratchable cranial itch) that drove me far into my own deluded headspace and, coupled with a crippling lack of confidence, alienated me from my peers. Colloquially, anxiety. [I was not diagnosed/medicated for this (or other) affliction(s) until years after graduation.]

However, despite its heap’a thematic inconsistencies — Millennial offspring-of-the-Internet I was/am — pop culture consumption was therapeutic to me & my bizarre-o mind. Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Fairytales album, esp. “Posters” = the soundtrack to my senior year. I behoove you to Google The Slits’ 1979 single “Typical Girls” (“Typical girls feel like hell”). Go.

I devoured books such as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Christopher Reeve’s memoir, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn and a biography on Edie Sedgwick, outside the belles-lettres I was assigned in/for lectures.

Fast-forward to present day. Paperboy, my personelle novel-in-the-works, chronicles a nameless, genderless protagonist and his/her/their immortalization (and dismantling) of a heart-palpitation-inducing classmate — a concept spawned by my erstwhile adherence to a self-prescribed dichotomy in which I placed boys I was lustin’ after on pedestals and myself on the inferior end of that spectrum. (I do not recommend this mode of thought.)

I want to write a narrative that captures the essence/truth of my history as a high-achieving yet highly self-critical high school student … which often sucked. I want to write what I needed to hear as I scouted, scanned, searched amidst the horde thronging our gym’s bleachers for a single inviting face during a pep rally as a freshman: To cop the simple yet poignant eloquence of a dear next-of-next-of-kin, “You are not alone.”

And for fuck’s sake, quit stressing over Josh and his Oreos.


* Name has not been changed.

** Read this National Geographic article for research on the [adjectival form of “neurotransmitter” — neurotransmetric?] parallels between infatuation and obsessive-compulsive disorder, another jewel from ’06. Which pseudo-explains my aforementioned absurdities, oui? Like, what I was contending with was mental illness manifesting itself as a fetching fella whose ass looked nice in corduroys.

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