When you’ve got an overbite and only one real friend and you’re what grown-ups euphemistically call “a late bloomer” (meaning I’m short and skinny where I shouldn’t be skinny and I just got my period), you pretty much accept that every day is bound to be a series of humiliations, large and small.
So given the sucky reality of being me, of being Meg, it’s really something to say that in my almost sixteen years of living, despite my many episodes of blowing it big-time, this particular day turns out to be the most humiliating one of my life.
More humiliating than when I was five and going to scary kindergarten for the first time and had to be pried loose from my foster mom. I was screaming and got a bloody nose from freaking out, and all the other kids were just sitting there—cross-legged and staring.
More humiliating than finding out too late that an eighth-grade girl should never stand at the school entrance and hand out valentines to all 167 members of her class. Especially when the cards are personally signed and individually addressed.
Even more humiliating than last week, when I must have had a brain drain that erased everything I ever learned from my previous humiliations. That’s the only explanation for how I could walk right up to this guy Brendon—this popular guy with adorable eye crinkles when he smiles—and blurt out that I had a two-for-one mini-golf coupon and maybe he might want to go with me sometime. I love mini-golf—I mean, who doesn’t? But Eye Crinkles only stared at me blankly, like he’d never seen me before, even though we’ve been in a ton of classes together for the past three years.
And now his friends make pretend golf swings whenever I walk by.
So probably you’re thinking, what could be more humiliating than that?
Hold on. It gets far worse.
A brief setting of the scene. Third period. 10th grade Western Civ, my favorite class this year, even though Ms. Pallas makes you work your butt off just for a B. All the usual characters are there. Our teacher is standing to the side of the room, arms crossed, listening to our first oral presentations of the semester. I am in my usual seat—not too close to the front, not way in the back either—right in the middle where it’s easy to get lost in the pack. Next to me, my best friend, Raymond, is totally engrossed in whatever genius thing he’s writing in his notebook.
In front of the class, one of the Double D twins, Dawn or DeeDee, is giving her presentation. Not to be mean or anything, but her report on ancient Sumerian civilization is crap. I’m just being truthful. I can’t imagine that she put in any more than twenty minutes to plagiarize from Wikipedia. Doesn’t she have any pride? Ms. Pallas won’t let her get away with it.
Anyway, the thing I remember next is getting distracted by what’s going on outside the window. This is taking place in a coastal town, a slice of surfer paradise wedged between the Pacific Ocean and a redwood forest. The geography here makes the weather unpredictable: sunny one minute, and then warm air hits cold ocean, which makes the fog roll in, and that’s what happens right then. It’s like the whole classroom gets whisked to a different place and a different day without anyone leaving their seat. Poof. It’s gray, dreary, and Jane Eyre–ish, which is fine with me. I’m not exactly embracing life these days.
And I’m not going to lie. As I watch the weather change, I am trying very hard not to think about that guy with the eye crinkles who happens to be sitting a mere few seats to my right. Only, of course, my mind-control technique is backfiring. All I can do is think about him.
What’s the matter with me? Wasn’t living through that embarrassment once enough? Why do I keep replaying it? For about the two-millionth time, I put myself through every mortifying detail. The pounding heart. The sweaty palms. My own voice confessing my love of mini-golf. The condescending look on his face. The heat rising to my cheeks. My stuttering apology for bothering him.
How could I have been so stupid?
Could I have made a more pathetic cry for love?
Why did I pick such a popular guy?
What was I thinking?
Why do these embarrassing things always happen to me?
Why me? Why not to other people? Why not to him?
Just once, I say to myself. Why can’t he feel what it’s like? He should try being me for once. He should feel every aching throb of longing for me that I feel for him, and then get shot down.
I let that idea sink in very deep, and—I’m not going to lie about this either—it gives me a real charge, a jolt of pleasure, to think about getting back at him in some way. I decide to stay with my fantasy, go with it. I let myself get really worked up at him, then even angrier. Why not? Who am I hurting?
So while Dawn or DeeDee drones on, and outside the fog turns to rain—not drizzle rain, but rain rain that slaps the windows in sheets—I let myself hate that boy with all my might. I savor every sweet detail of revenge that my mind conjures up. I let it become real.
First he will come begging to me for a date. He’ll be all shy and scared, and I’ll listen as he fumbles his words.
Then … and then … I won’t answer. I’ll just wrap both of my hands around his neck and pull him close and kiss him. I’ll kiss him so hard that he won’t know what hit him.
This fantasy is so much fun. It feels so good that I have to stop myself from cackling out loud like a crazed chicken. I actually put my hand over my mouth. It’s kind of scary how good it makes me feel, but scary in a very satisfying way.
And when he looks at me, dazed with love, I’ll ask, “So, change your mind about mini-golf?”
He’ll nod eagerly, hopefully, practically in pain with love for me, and I’ll shoot him down. Bam! I’ll yawn and say, “That was the most boring kiss ever. For you, Brendon, the mini-golf coupon has expired. Permanently.”
In public. So everyone hears.
And after that …
And after that?
I don’t know what happens after that. I really don’t. Something. I don’t remember much, not a whole lot that makes sense, anyway. A light flashes and the air moves in a swirling distortion, like the whole world has suddenly tilted on its side.
And there’s music. Definitely music. Who is playing music? Why is music playing? My mind latches on to the individual notes, a series of them that rise and fall in an eerie, whistling way. I don’t know this song.
But then, I do know it. I do! I don’t want it to ever go away.
Under the music, someone is laughing. And then someone else is shouting the word hate.
Hate! Hate! Hate!
A hand cups my shoulder, but I push it aside. There’s so much power surging through me. Someone is pulling on the hem of my shirt. I slap at it.
“Meg!” Pause. “Meg!”
I hear a bell then, loud and sharp, and I tremble with a jolt, as if waking suddenly out of a dream when you have a 103-degree fever. The music is gone. An empty silence has taken over. Reluctantly, I blink open my eyes.
Not standing on the ground like your average, normal person, but standing on my chair.
In the middle of class. With my neck muscles straining and a layer of sweat on my forehead. And my throat dry and raw. And my fists clenched in tight balls at my side.
Ms. Pallas, directly in front of me, slams her ruler on my desk, and I feel the vibration ripple up through the bottom of my feet to my head. My brain feels like it’s been punched in the gut.
It all becomes clear then, too clear, and the word humiliation doesn’t begin to cover it.
It had been Raymond tugging on my shirt, calling my name. The bell was the end of class. And I was the one standing on my chair shouting, “Hate! Hate! Hate! I hate all of you.”
Text copyright © 2013 by Jill Wolfson