For one and only one day of the school year, I am so excited that my body works as its own alarm clock. Waaaaaaaay early in the morning, my eyes pop open. I wake up in my quiet room, with my cat purring on top of the covers and sun streaking through the window. My clothes are clean and ready, waiting for me on a hanger on my bedroom doorknob. Socks are tucked inside the shoes I'll wear. My lunch is in the fridge, and my backpack is loaded with new pens, pencils, folders, and even a few "supplies" in case my you-know-what shows up at school.
I know from experience that I will not wake up so chipmunk chipper on the 179 school days that will follow this one. On those days, my bed holds me down like a magnet and I simply can't-can't-can't move. And I don't move until my mom calls me for the third time, when her voice gets that "Jemma, I'm not foolin' around here" sound. But today, she doesn't have to call at all. I'm not tired. I'm wired. I could run a marathon or bake a cake before the bus comes. Energy runs through my body and sparks up and down each strand of my wavy blond hair. I want eighth grade to start, and start now.
BEEP! I dig through my already-packed backpack for my phone. It's a text message from my best friend, Kate.
kate: Forrest alert!
That means she's already on the bus and she's spotted him. THE Forrest McCann.
kate: camo shorts w/ blue t
me: sigh . . .
Who wouldn't want eighth grade to start right away? Eighth grade is what I call one of the "royal" grades. There are three of them. The core royal grades are fifth grade, eighth grade, and twelfth grade. Get the connection? Royal grades are when you're in the top grade at your school. In other words, you get to be queens (and kings) and rule the school that year. The top-top-tippy top would be twelfth grade‚Äîthe senior year of high school, with the prom and driving cars and all of that. But I know eighth is gonna be magic, too.
Ask an old person (like a parent), and they'll probably say there's not much difference between the first day of sixth grade and the first day of eighth. OK, it is true that any sixth grade girl at my school, Margaret Simon Middle, will . . .
1. Eat breakfast.
2. Get dressed.
3. Fix her hair.
4. Grab her backpack.
5. Hop on the bus.
6. Look for her friends.
7. Go to homeroom.
8. Open her new locker and move in.
9. Hope for the best.
But look more closely at the sixth-grade girl and the eighth-grade girl. Their first days of school are as different as Alaska and Hawaii. I should know. I've visited both‚Äîthe states and the grades. The sixth grader doesn't yet know that at Margaret Simon, headbands are in and barrettes are out. She doesn't know that you need to pick a spot before the first day of school to meet your friends in the lobby or you'll never find them in the crowd.
Our 6GG (sixth-grade girl) doesn't know to sling her backpack over only one shoulder. And unless she's what my mother calls an "early bloomer," she doesn't know that over both shoulders she needs a B-R-A. Even if you're Flatty McFlat Chest, like me, you still wear a bra. It's part of the uniform.
The 6GG will fumble and fuss with her new locker, remembering the good old days when she just stowed everything in her desk. The lockers at Margaret Simon are sea-foam green on the outside, big enough to stand up in, and the combination lock is built into the door, like a bank safe. So there our girl will stand, clutching a slip of paper with the combination written on it, backpack hanging from both shoulders, and two pancakes flying free under her shirt. The locker won't open on the first try, or the second, making the first day of sixth grade feel as bone-cold and lonely as Prospect Creek, Alaska, before sunrise.
But if you're in eighth grade, like me, you know the rules of the school. Today, a hot and steamy August morning, my headband is in place. The bra is on board. My backpack is hooked to only one shoulder. My two best friends and I had decided to meet where we always do‚Äîat the water fountain near the auditorium doors. In fact, we had even specified that if that area was too crowded (or if Taylor Mayweather was doing one of her MSTV broadcasts there), we'd meet next to the vending machine instead.
And when it comes to my locker, no sweat. I calmly head to the number they assigned me (2121) in the eighth-grade locker block. I approach my new home, already armed with a little shelf to organize my space, a mirror so I can check my teeth for food particles after lunch, photos I want to stick on the door, and even tape to get them stuck. I spin the dial of the combination lock, feeling as tropical and sunny as it is outside. And I could dance the hula after I hear the chunka-chunk that tells me I got the combination just right‚Äîon the first try, too. Aloha, eighth grade!
But that's where this story gets kind of funny. Not "someone dropped their tray in the cafeteria" funny, but funny-strange. My mother once told me that there are certain days that you just know are going to change your life. Like the day you start college or the day you get married. From that point on, she said, you know lots and lots of stuff is going to change. And you'll have this new dividing line in your life‚Äîwith everything that happened before on one side and everything new on the other. My mom is always saying stuff like this. (If your mother is also a poet, you know what I mean.)
"Don't worry," I told Mom, "I can't go to college for another five years, and nobody has asked me to marry them." (This was almost true.)
"And," she said, "there are other days that are just as life changing, but you don't see them coming. Life can surprise you."
Today was one of those days.
OK. I didn't hula dance in front of my locker, but I did swing the door wide open in a ta-dah! kind of way. I almost whacked Clementine Caritas, my locker neighbor to the left.
"Jeez, watch it!" she said, blocking the door with her perfectly manicured, shiny red nails.
Clementine was not a friend. She was the real deal‚Äîa teen model who had photo shoots in New York, Los Angeles, and on little islands that I'd never heard of. Clem wasn't pretty in the cutesy blond way that Taylor Mayweather was. Her face was all big gray eyes and sharp angles‚Äîa high and wide forehead, strong nose, and jutting cheekbones.
As awkward as it was nearly bashing the precious head of a teen model, I was glad my locker door didn't swing open the other way. If it did, I might have hit Forrest. That he was my locker neighbor to the right was another reason to hula. I had a whole year of opportunities to say hi to the absolute hottest guy in school. That is, if I could look at him and form the word hi without passing out first. I've had other crushes, but none like this one. It's a mystery to me why he still flutters my heart, when we've known each other for more than ten years and our moms are friends.
Oh, yeah, did I mention he was Taylor Mayweather's boyfriend? I wonder what she would think if she knew Forrest was my "line partner" in preschool? Seriously! When we were four, we had to hold hands all the time. Taylor didn't arrive on the scene until fifth grade, and I still haven't forgiven her for what happened that year. I'll tell you this much: It involved me, a slumber party, and a bowl of warm water.
My new locker let out a breath of cool air, and I stood for a minute to enjoy its emptiness, like a brand-new apartment all my own. So many possibilities. My mind was buzzing with all the organizing and arranging I wanted to do. But before I could reach for a roll of tape to start putting up my favorite pix, I saw it. On the back wall of my locker, staring right at me‚Äîit was the front door to another locker.
This one was hot pink and shiny. Attached to the pink door was a note:
You are now a member of the Pink Locker Society.
More details to come.
Remember that stuff about the dividing line in life? Draw mine here. I inhaled a short, sharp breath, dropped my armload of books, and slammed the door. I even thought about leaning against it the way they do in cartoons. Was somebody in there? Should I have opened that pink door? Was this a joke? All my stuff lay in a heap while everyone else busied themselves with interior locker design.
Clem looked at me coolly. If she wasn't such an ice princess, I might have pulled her down to my height and showed her the inside of my locker. Instead, I collected myself and looked away as though everything were fine. As for Forrest, he didn't notice me (big surprise) or my gasp. I tore around the block of lockers, looking for someone I could tell.