When I was in 9th grade, I went to a public school for the first (and only) time of my life. I left a very small Roman Catholic school complete with a nun — an Irish Sister of Mercy, ironically named Gabriel, who would yank us up by our hair and smack us with rulers for speaking out of turn. I was incredibly miserable at this school, having transferred there from a slightly larger and pretty much less religious Episcopalian school in 5th grade. By 5th grade, these kids had all been together for years, the cliques were formed, the playground battle lines drawn, and besides, I was shy, bookish, had buckteeth and glasses, sported unfashionable hair, and was — most discomfitingly — not Catholic. I stuck out like a sore thumb when the children lined up for Communion. Hell, I hadn’t even been baptized yet. And the small comforts the nuns would hand out — laminated Holy Cards with a colorful Saint on one side and a prayer in tiny type on the other — were indeed small when I didn’t quite have this whole Saint thing down yet.

After a few years of trying like hell to be a Saint — spending 5th through 8th grade renouncing my interest in witchcraft and herbs, eschewing makeup and soccer in favor of picking the most austere Confirmation saint I could find on short notice, and catching up on fourteen years worth of sacraments in a couple of years — I figured “to hell with this.” When I went to high school I went to hell.

I lived down the street from one of the “cool kids,” an older guy with a mohawk who skated and knew lots of people with tattoos and dangerous hair. I would sneak out of my house at night and go to his, and sometimes his mother let him throw keg parties, so sometimes I fell rather than climbed back into my bedroom window. I insinuated myself into his circle of friends. I threw my virginity at him, too, and he eventually paid enough attention to me to notice and relieve me of the troublesome thing. And at my new school, as at all schools, like attracted like, only I was now an easily identifiable misfit with a t-shirt instead of just being bookish and bucktoothed. I had added black hair dye to my list of accessories and that sort of thing can make a big difference.

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