Hey kiddo. How ya doing? I know, I know. You’re nervous about starting junior high this week. These last few weeks of summer have been ruined by that uneasy pukey feeling you’ve carried around as the clock ticks down towards doomsday. Meanwhile, you’ve tried your best to project a hard exterior. You’re telling anyone who will listen that you’re excited. But this façade of confidence is in direct contrast to your genuine terror. Classic reaction formation. You’ll never be big on Freud but he had this one nailed. Methinks the tween doth protest too much.
So now is when I tell you that there’s nothing to worry about and this whole junior high business is going to turn out swell, right?
I’m going to go ahead and just rip off the band-aid: the next three years are going to be hell. In fact, you will always look back on junior high as the worst three years of your life.
I know, I know. Super shitty story, bro. That represents a full quarter of the life you’ve lived so far. So basically it feels like you’re facing an impossible hurdle. But that’s the harsh truth. Junior high is no joke. Willy, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in elementary school anymore.
You have a few things working against you. First of all — and I don’t think I need to tell you this – you are a tiny little man. You’re barely four-and-a-half feet tall and 75 pounds soaking wet. Such an unimposing stature does not exactly lend itself to adolescent self-assurance. But don’t worry, you’re going to have a growth spurt and one day…hahahaha…I can’t even. You’ll always be short. On the other hand, at this point you’re SO small, you’re basically too small to physically torment. Even junior high bullies have some integrity.
No, most of the turmoil you experience over the next three years will be self-inflicted. Which brings me to your next flaw – you’re a self-centred little prick. Don’t be offended. It’s normal for kids your age to be full of themselves. One day you’ll even teach a university course on adolescent development and cover this stuff (oh, right… I hope you’re sitting down – you’re not going to be an NHL superstar. But being a university prof is a pretty sweet gig). So here’s the thing – there’s a special brand of egocentrism that adolescents develop as social scrutiny ramps up in junior high. First, you’re going to assume that others are more concerned about what you’re doing and how you look than they actually are. This imaginary audience will reinforce your self-consciousness about your height. It will also drive you insane as you primp and preen yourself each morning to try to “look cool.”
On the first day of school you’ll put enough Dippity-Doo in your hair to fry a turkey in an effort to plaster that wicked cowlick to the back of your scalp. Within 10 minutes of your first day of junior high, a grade niner will ruffle your hair as he walks by and will shout, “Ewww, look at all this grease!” You will be mortified and subsequently spend each morning trying meticulously to strike a balance between hair gel and your unruly locks.
But guess what? That grade niner forgot about his gentle ribbing 15 seconds after he did it. And absolutely nobody gave a shit about your hair. But you’ll act as though there is some kind of weekly newsletter about your hair. You sir, are ridiculous.
Now let’s talk about your clothes. Obviously, you’re going to start wearing jeans. After six years of wearing sweatpants, a ratty t-shirt, and a mesh cap to school every single day throughout elementary, your wardrobe must change. You’ve been put on notice by your older sisters who, despite having moved on to high school, still have reputations to uphold and can’t have their little brother romping around the neighbouring junior high dressed like a plus-sized spinster settling in for a Days of Our Lives binge watch. The first day of junior high will literally be the first time you ever wear a pair of jeans. Not much to say here. If there’s ever a time in which it is okay to conform, this is it.
Honestly, the early 90s are a terrible time for fashion. There’s a lot of neon and denim and baggy everything. Apparel for college sports teams that nobody watches is immensely popular. You’ll get a New Orleans Saints winter coat (Starter, of course) even though you don’t even know the Saints are a football team. You’re going to wear T-shirts that are too big for you tucked into Bugle Boy jeans and layered with a whole lot of flannel for some reason. Whatever. Frankly, it’s tough to look ridiculous amongst some of the fashion choices your peers will make. I shit you not there will be a week or so in which some kids at your school will wear their jeans and baseball shirts backwards to resemble the rap group Kris Kross. Those kids should never stop hitting themselves for the rest of their lives. There will also be a short-lived trend of wearing denim overalls with ONE of the two straps undone. Face palm. Thank your mom because she’ll actually talk you out of buying a pair of overalls when she takes you shopping at The Bay in a couple of months.
It won’t help that you’re going to experience a lot of changes this year. You’ll notice hair where you haven’t seen it before – like on the bodies of your peers. Haha, did you think I meant you?! No. You’re going to be smooth as a sphinx cat for another year or two. At least you don’t have to worry about all that manscaping (I guess that’s not a thing yet in 1992).
The imaginary audience will turn you into a selfish dick. Even though you are rarely the brunt of the joke, you will relish the moments when any sort of negative attention is directed elsewhere because when everyone is laughing at someone else, it means they can’t be laughing at you. And you’ll laugh right along with them (you fucking coward). One day you’ll figure out that the best people are the ones who can laugh at themselves. But your head is way too far up your own ass to realize that right now.
In conjunction with this imaginary audience, you’re going to develop a personal fable, believing that you’re the focus of a momentous drama. You’ll be certain that your thoughts and feelings are truly unique, that every challenge you face is a monumental disaster, and that nobody understands what you’re going through. News flash, bud – everyone around you feels the same way. You’re not that special. So stop giving your parents so much shit.
There will be a revolving cast of girls that you have crushes on. You will write embarrassingly bad poems about them that I implore you to never show to anyone…ever. You won’t understand why these girls don’t show any interest in you, despite the fact that you never gave them any indication that you were interested in them. Besides, you wouldn’t know what to do with them if they did, by some miracle, happen to spontaneously pursue you.
You won’t completely strike out with the ladies. You will have your first kiss (there’s just something about a band trip to Regina, a game of truth or dare, and the song “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men that really brings out the romance in you). You will attend school dances and sway to “November Rain” with a cute girl while mentally pleading with “Little Willy” to not get too excited. Speaking of school dances, you will wear silk shirts and dress pants (and, for reasons that still escape me, silk boxers, which are just the absolute worst).
You’ll spritz yourself with Colors cologne and hang out on the bleachers and wonder why school dances are nothing like how they are in the movies. Instead of a full dancefloor the bleachers will be stuffed with wallflowers during the upbeat songs as everyone waits around for the slow dances that occur every 8th song or so. Techno music is huge right now so you’ll suffer through thumping Eurotrash ditties by Snap! and Real McCoy and Technotronic until the dulcet tones of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” play on the gymnasium speaker system. When you hear that opening line, “If I….should stay….” you’ll know it’s time to find that special someone. Get used to that song, by the way. It’s like the biggest song ever. It’s such an important song because if a girl agrees to slow dance with you to this particular song you are TOTALLY IN (note: you will never slow dance to this song – sorry).
I realize I might be painting a bleak picture here. But I mean, it really isn’t all that bad. You’ll meet great people, many of whom you’ll continue to be friends with decades later.
You’ll figure out that you’re really good at taking tests. You’ll get a lot of A+’s. There will be that time you tell your Grade 8 homeroom teacher that you and your cousin in that same class are twins (thinking it is too laughable to believe) and she’ll actually think it’s true and when she meets your parents at the first parent-teacher conference she will hilariously ask them if they are the parents of “the twins” (a story which mom will gleefully retell for years to come).
There will be annual canoe trips which will be the highlights of your junior high years.
That reminds me, for god’s sake, please pay attention to the Habs this year. Because it’s going to be another 23 years and counting before you see anything like this again.
Junior high is not the end of the world but no doubt your three worst years. I suppose if these are going to be the three worst years of your life, you’re going to have a pretty damned good existence. And one thing that could be worse than looking back on junior high with horror is to look back on junior high with wistful longing. Imagine if this is where you peak? No. You have a lot to look forward to. The best is yet to come.
It’s funny. I’m not even sure if you’ll get this letter. Based on my understanding of the time-travel paradox, it would seem I should remember having read a creepy letter from a 35-year-old man just before entering junior high. So why bother writing this letter?
Around this time each year, when I see kids returning to school, I think back to that scared little boy about to embark on three awful years. And then I try to forget you. Push you out of my mind. I want to distance myself from that goofy pre-teen who barely resembles what I am today. But that’s not fair. I shouldn’t let you flail in the throes of adolescence. This estrangement has gone on too long. So I’m writing this letter to say that I’m with you, buddy.
It’s going to be okay.