Middle of Nowhere
They say middle school is
Everyone says this.
(Everyone also says literally.)
Mom’s new best friend stopped by to say this thing just tonight.
The night before the first day of
Are you excited? she asks,
all lit up,
in the middle of dinner.
Are you ready? she asks five minutes later,
in the middle of my sentence about
NOT BEING READY.
Did you pick out a new outfit? she asks,
middle of dessert.
I roll my eyes.
A new attitude? she asks, looking at me out of the sides of her eyes.
Mom’s new best friend is a yogi,
a person who teaches yoga and wears yoga bracelets,
and leggings, and leg warmers that go all the way up to the
middle of her thighs.
Middle things everywhere.
Mom’s new best friend is Jasmine Allen,
also known as
Jackson Allen’s mom.
who is one of FOUR ANNOYING BOYS
who made their way through all of elementary school as an ANNOYING gang of finger-slamming people who made fun of any other person
middle of it
Jackson is super excited, she says.
He’s at his dad’s tonight, but super, super excited.
I wish I were at MY dad’s tonight, I think
middle of her third super.
Middle school is not
THE WORST, I think.
Quinn Mitchell is mostly worried about not knowing anyone all over again.
But you know ME, I insist,
thinking I am more than enough.
Dad always says I am A LOT.
And you know Lilly, I say,
putting my arm around good old Lilly’s neck.
Lilly, who has two ll’s where there should be one, like the flower. Lilly, whose second l turned out to be the least of her quirks.
And you can open your locker, Lilly says,
doing her part now.
Think about me! I scream,
Think about your poor friend Izzy, who is--
I fake a sob--
I fall in a heap on the floor of her room.
I have become an actress in the last year,
says my mom,
who made sure I got extra singing and acting lessons after I sang and acted in
Free to Be . . . You and Me
in fourth grade,
a part given to me at the last minute by good old Lilly
and only because she got sick that day.
Quinn and Lilly and I became the best of friends that year, a little late in the game--
partly because Fiona and Sara had taken up all my friendship until then,
left me behind
in part for soccer and dance and
in part for
too many other things to count.
Lilly turned Quinn and me from a twosome into a threesome late that fourth-grade year.
Partly I felt guilty for stealing Lilly’s song, and
partly I did not,
because I see now we were meant to be.
Three people who didn’t fit anywhere
in particular but together.
in three parts.
The lunchroom is loud and there are long tables everywhere, waiting to be filled up with long groups of sixth graders
and their lunch trays,
their water bottles
spilling out of
insulated lunch bags.
But there are only two of us standing here,
insulating each other.
We won’t take up more than two-twelfths of a long table.
One-third of us is in another lunch period.
One-third of us is Lilly, with two l’s and only one of everything else,
who has to fend for herself, and it is hard enough to do this in twos.
I see a long table filled with
girls I have seen before,
girls who look more alike than not alike,
girls who have flashy smiles and bounce around each other before settling
into their spots, where they
I picture them with a
bracket around them.
12 into 12
We don’t fit.
We are divisors without a
We will stay 2 at least until recess,
leaving space enough between our table and their table to remain
one whole number,
prime for whatever comes--
Senora Navalon speaks with feeling,
even when she writes
¡La clase de la Senora Navalon!
in dry-erase marker on the first day of Spanish class.
She bangs the marker so hard against the board that it
shakes a little,
rattling the other markers
in their holder.
Rattling me awake too.
Spanish, I find, is the opposite of Hebrew,
which is the only other language I have ever tried
and which doesn’t even try to resemble English.
Hebrew looks to me, early on a Sunday morning,
at some uncivilized time,
when I can barely speak any language
more like the hieroglyphics I learned about last period,
in social studies.
Social studies. Where we will study
where we will learn to be civilized ourselves,
through ballroom dance,
of all things,
marking the first time social studies will actually be
But Spanish looks like English--
with beautiful little arty swirls and marks that do you the favor of
accenting the important part of a word,
making it seem festive,
when Good morning always sounds very grumpy and
when I wander into the kitchen,
into my cereal,
wishing for accents and art
I was the leader of my wagon train in fifth grade,
braving the elements with my supplies, my team,
my good sense.
It was an imagination assignment, a game we played
hardy har har--
imaginary person cut his
imaginary hand off with an imaginary ax,
because it was so horrifying
and fake and we were in fifth grade and most everything is funny
in fifth grade.
Sixth grade is a real expedition.
My wagon train is a bus I ride with James,
a bus, when I have only ever had my two feet to carry me,
because I used to be a walker,
just a couple stretches of sidewalk between my house
and Salem Ridge Elementary.
I could practically
my arms from my street
and touch it.
Could count on my one and only classroom teacher,
when now I can count on nothing
except not knowing where I’m going
or which teacher--one for each subject--
will be mean,
will be nice,
will be something else new.
Can’t count on seeing my Salem Ridge friends either.
Just maybe catching a glimpse of them in the hallway or in gym class, some of them in my actual classes--
annoying Jackson in social studies,
Fiona of first-friend fame
Quinn at lunch,
Lilly (with two l’s) in absolutely nothing with me,
out there roaming these
wide and lonesome halls
on her own.
Lonesome is the word.
At the end of a long day where I hardly speak,
except to ask Mr. Kaye for the math sheet because
he skipped me by accident.
I realize he did not see me, because
I am invisible.
Sixth graders are invisible,
heading out each day,
our provisions strapped onto our backs,
heavy with books and snacks,
The elements torturing us--
the breath of thirteen-year-olds
pushing back against us,
the spraying spit of an eighth grader ricocheting off the floor
and onto my arm.
I tread lightly
in these hallways,
I may be no leader here,
where the earth is sticky with sports drink,
but I have instincts still--
I feel a pit in my stomach,
in knots from a hard-to-digest lunch period,
that we may not all survive intact.
We are invisible and exposed
all at once.
Copyright © 2018 by Beth Ain. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.