I loved High School. At first. For once, I was not the Tallest Thing That Roamed The Earth. Older boys were everywhere and my eyes darted until they zeroed in on Blake. He was a Senior with shiny black hair and a shiny yellow muscle car. He got my attention.
Kris and I made Cheer Squad again and we were excited for our first pep rally in front of 800 kids. Our fall uniforms were borrowed from the prior year’s squad but were still cute. It was the best to be The Fresh Young Things; all eyes and attention upon us. “And now, our Freshman Squad!” We popped up off the benches and ran towards our mark on the gym floor to face the Senior class. Halfway there, my feet failed me. I tripped on my Nike shoelace and fell face first. Splat! Right in front of Blake, God and everybody.
It was a key moment in life. At 14, I had to make a split-second decision- run for the girl’s bathroom and hide or Face This and carry on. The Brit in me stood up and made a joke about myself and carried on through the continuing laughter. It was memorialized in the school yearbook and I thought about that moment many times later in my life.
Drama class was a fun release from growing tensions at home. I could escape and be anyone-even Maria from West Side Story. I couldn’t wait for that 45 minutes each day to be anyone except me.
PE class was hell. I was gangly and uncoordinated and a Real Disappointment to the coaches who saw Tall and expected Great Things from the daughter of a coach in all Sporty Sport Sports. Volleyballs and Basketballs sailed past my astigmatic eyes. “Jesus, I swear that ball was Right There!” Herein dubbed by the other coaches as “The Other Daughter”.
After sweating our minds out in PE, we had to face The Showers and be watched by a tall grey manly woman named Helga Mockton who disliked me for being The Other Daughter Without Talent. I always fretted about how to handle the whole dressing thing around my Hammock of Shame, hoping to not be Stephen King’s Carrie in the shower or locker room. Carla Mack was one girl in the Lockerroom Bully Gang. She had headbanger cool hair and would sometimes gather around me getting dressed with her cronies in a circle and ask questions or stare at my womanly body that had debuted seasons ago at age 10.
That fall offered some good distractions since school was ridiculously easy again. We learned algebra from Miss Bellevue; short, thin with spiky red hair. She parked her spine on her hips as she spoke, blinking through gigantic glasses and always had opaque white spit at the corners of her mouth. “Who cares about f(x)?! Here’s a Kleenex to wipe your mouth!” It was grossly distracting and would take me a decade later to learn about graphs correctly. For homecoming, it was customary to have a town parade and make a float. Most of us still in the throes of puberty, had to attempt to work as a team to make our Freshman Float. Only some of us could drive-I had missed the age 14 cutoff as the baby of the class, so we divided duties and constructed at various locations for later assembly. I would make the chicken wire Husky dog head out of papier mâché and the others would do the float bit. My dad helped me shape it because I lacked the physical strength to bend wire. We spent spare time slapping paper and glue to make the dog head on the front porch sidewalk. Across the street, I saw Blake’s car. His cousins lived there.
Homecoming arrived on a beautiful October Friday when The Cottonwoods were snowing and smelling like honey and we geared up for the daytime parade. Most of the town came out to watch alongside storefronts on the main streets. I marched alongside Kris and the two other freshmen cheerleaders, the band played at the front, and the floats and old timey cars and Kiwanis brought up the rear. It was heaven, all that attention. After the parade, I was told that the Seniors had taken our Husky head; specifically, Blake. Now I was less mad about it. Our headless float came glittering and gliding up in the stadium lights at that night’s football game, followed by the upperclassmen and the Seniors and Blake, holding the Husky head high as a time-honored trophy to much cheering and laughter. The homecoming royal court were announced at halftime-The Best Guys in tan suits, The Thinnest and Prettiest girls in long pink gowns with corsage flowers. Those were the girls on the babyfood diet I bet. The Homecoming dance must have been amazing. I saw my twin’s and friend’s pictures of it.
I looked out at the big lawn and remembered going toe to toe with the town’s drug dealer the year before to try to save my friend, Felicia, who was addicted to pot. I cared about her and stood my ground. I was tall but the dealer was taller. “Maybe I’ll get my girlfriend to come beat the shit out of you.” He sneered, looking down. “YEA, You WOULD need a GIRL to come do your fighting for you, wouldn’t you, asshole?!” I dared. Kris pulled me away.He walked off. I was 13.
I had my eye on Blake, so I started writing him little notes and putting them on his yellow car parked in Seniors parking right in front of the school; my heart pounding each time I did. -Signed “A secret admirer”. I was only interested in boys taller and bigger than me. I don’t remember him asking me on a date, but he did and again, I convinced my parents that I was more mature than I was. That a 14 year old could date an 18 year old boy-no problem. I hated my height but sometimes I could use it and my scholarly prowess to advantage. Blake pulled up in front of our house in his yellow car and honked the horn. He must have been so excited to get going as I was and couldn’t be bothered with something as old fashioned as meeting parents.
We went to the only pizza hangout in town, ate and played some Ms. Pacman. Another senior named Shayna kept trying to get Blake’s attention. She was anorexically thin like most of the others and had square eyebrows. “Let’s get outta here!” Blake grinned. Romance was on my mind. Maybe we would fall in love like in the movies! We drove to the town overlook, he put on some Boston via cassette tape and we kissed. I was head over heels as he drove me home and couldn’t wait until the Grubby Skip dance where girls asked the guys. It would be my only formal school dance in high school aside from a Homecoming at another school as Strictly Friends and me asking my twin brother to my Junior dance and my brother asking me to his Senior dance.
Tensions at home were rising and our orange carpet was made of eggshells. Our store had long since been sold and Dad’s Dream of being his own boss was replaced by Big Potato Corp having him work their refrigeration issues an hour away. That hour could often be covered in slick snow or banks of fog when the winter inversion set in for months across the low valley. His reprieve was in the fall as it was for most guys in the valley. The schools allowed All Boys 3 weeks off for hunting with their dads with the premise of feeding families venison. Mom continued teaching and soon became restless. I enjoyed the peacefulness of hunting time-the quiet and lack of tension.
I was obsessed with Blake. I forwent going to Canada with my family to go to the Grubby Skip dance with him. I bought matching white tee shirts with sunset scenes and cheap too-high collars. The night seemed dreamy, having a pro photo to commemorate and dancing until 11. At Christmas, Blake gave me “Babe” perfume and my sister and I drove in the snow to the next town over with our new Christmas clothes-a fluffy sweater and Pat Benetar boots to drive by his house. How exciting!
Basketball season was underway in the second semester. One Friday night, I waited in my winter cheer uniform for Blake to shower and change. It seemed to take forever. We drove to a desolate place near the Payette River- The input bridge-The place where Kris and I and friends would put our inner tubes in the river in summer to float down and burn our skin. The night with Blake was cold and soon we fogged the windows kissing. A police car drove up and soon a knock with a flashlight on the window. I assured the cop that I was ok. Kissing was enough for a 14 year old girl but not for an 18 year old boy. I let him touch me a little and felt awful, dirty and weird. I wasn’t ready for that and told him so. He took me home. The next week he broke up with me on a Friday in his car while Pink Floyd’s “Wall” played on the stereo. We drove in circles around the park and he took me home. I sat in disbelief for a long time before getting out into the cold snow, feeling ridiculous and ugly in my Pat Benetar booties, one of which slipped down and filled the heel with snow. My face stung and so did my heart and my head began to buzz again.
Kris drove a sweet ride-a cherry coloured 1966 Mustang that used to belong to my ex boyfriend, Ernesto. I had seen it before. Kris and I would drive to Roe Ann burger drive in and cruise town because she had her drivers licence. One Friday afternoon, she offered to drive me home the back way on Wardwell Avenue. One block North of the high school I saw them: two cars drag racing toward my passenger side on 3rd Street. I saw the face of one of the girls look in horror at me and I at her. Both cars T-boned the Mustang and flipped. We spun in circles forever, my short life did flash before my eyes. I remember saying “Please God, make it stop, make it stop!”
All 3 cars were totaled. All 6 kids were injured. A chunk of the church’s sidewalk was gone. My left knee hurt. Kris’s parents took us to the hospital. Minor injuries. The doctor insisted on touching Kris’s boobs. He tried that with me and I refused saying “My boobs aren’t broken!” “What WAS it with men and boobs?! Sick!” There was a rumor now that Kris and I had died over the weekend. I only wished it were true.
That Monday I had to limp past Blake and his new girlfriend, Amber to get to my locker. They were kissing, I was mortified. All the guys loved Amber. She got lots of dates and went to every dance despite her snaggled teeth. I heard a rumor that Blake and she “did it” on top of his car. I tried to imagine, and realised it would be too cold for that.
When the snow melted, I started to run. Down the hills, up the hills. I promised myself that rain or shine, because Hammocks of Shame technology had improved, I would run 3 miles every day for the rest of my life. And I did for 20 years until the last surgery did me in and I moved to urban areas where it was no longer safe. Running was my solace. It was always there, though I started out doing it wrong, tilting my head to the left for some reason. I was told that someone saw me running and “they thought you were a re-tard!”
In drama, I was invited to go to a weekend regional competition and do a monologue. On the bus to and from Boise, I would listen to Journey’s “Don’t stop Believin’ ” and dream of a school in a big city far away. “Just a small town girl…livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere…” and I dreamed of that “city boy, born and raised in South Detroit…”
Prom season was upon us. Maybe if I ran enough and didn’t eat so much I would be asked. Maybe. I dreamt of wearing a pretty dress and dancing. Maybe Blake would come to his senses and want love after all. Only Junior and Senior boys could ask the girls. It was unusual for Freshman girls to get asked. Some of the small, cute ones or ones who would drink on weekends got asked. A group of us were not invited, so we decided to have our own party at Martina’s house-watch movies on laser disc and “pig out” in her basement with pizza and cookies. We thought about crashing the dance but we didn’t have anything pretty that we were wearing.
In drama class, we had a talent show. I signed up for several acts- a comedy routine, a puppet show, and an aerobics routine that I had learned the summer before when we won 1st place. That evening before the show, a family friend didn’t see our dog, Grover, while skidding away from our house. Grover chased cars and this time, his luck ran out. Dead dog. Dead dog lying in a black and grey muppet lump on the gravel street of Melrose Drive. As the sun began to set, Dad picked Grover up and cradled his lifeless body inside before the night shift. I had a few hours to grieveand prep for the show.
On stage during my comedy routine who should be in the front row but Blake and Amber holding hands and groping. For my first act, I was encouraged to do it in blackface and a brown wig and a dumpy outfit, similar to what I saw on the Gong Show in the 1970s. I wanted to die. Could Hell be worse? My third act had sound problems and played the wrong Footloose song and I forgot the routine, making it up on stage as I went. I got an honorable mention.
Summer finally came and my job that year was The House and Grocery Shopping. Mom was excited to take science workshops in McCall and dad continued working nights with the corn picker when the temperature was cooler. Jimmy worked bailing hay and picking rocks with a guy who called cucumbers “kookumberries”. It stuck. My older sister was a morning person and rose each morning at 4 to pick berries before 10 AM when it got too hot and the cicadas started their taunting. Some nights we would go swimming in the irrigation canals with her guy friends. She was a tomboy and they loved her and our house. I was shy and sometimes I would hide when the boys came over when our parents were gone.
Being called “The Other One” or my very popular sister’s name became such a joke in our house, that one of my birthday presents was a long sleeved tee with “I’m Suze!” hot pressed in fuzzy letters on the back.
I learned to cook more things from our Betty Crocker cookbook and even tried making sugar free cookies with Sweet and Low. I bought diet pills at Albertsons and was determined to be a Size 3 ( size 0 in today’s US sizes). I cooked and cleaned during the day and ran at night. I don’t recall many dinners around the table. Everyone was busy. No one ate, including me. A “good” day consisted of a pot of black coffee and 2 saltine crackers and running 3 miles at night when it had cooled from 105 degrees.
One night, I fell in love. Not with a boy but with Jane Goodall on PBS. I watched her interact with animals in a kind and gentle way. There was a whole huge world out there and I would apply my smart but damaged brain! Forget boys, I was going to BE her someday and leave this place!
As the school year drew nearer, my thoughts became more distorted and my head buzzed. Because of a Billy Graham event in Boise, I glommed onto religion as if my life depended on it and learned to spout scripture. Boys didn’t love me but God did! I didn’t blame anyone for not wanting to be around me. Kris tried so hard to get me to go out but the starvation monsters had me trapped in my ritual and in my house. I was in such a dark pit and didn’t know how to get out. “Just eat!” or “Cheer Up” could not help a bipolar2 anorexic bible thumper. Kris and I began to drift.
I wasn’t looking forward to Sophomore year.