In 8th grade I had a crush on the most popular girl in school. The day she signed my yearbook I went straight to my room after school, pushed the door gently shut behind me, opened the glossy pages, and there it was: HAGS, xo Emily.
I pressed her signature to my cheek, blushed onto the page.
No one talks about 8th grade. The miserable heaven of it. The unspoken queer crushes. The beautiful, soccer-playing popular girls. The three hour romances. The two year BFF who in the 7th grade doesn’t invite me to her birthday party the week after her parents announce their divorce and my aunt dies. In the time between science and P.E. we go from Best Friends to disarmed, grieving strangers. We do not speak for a year. 8th grade is when we get back together only now she has straight across bangs and I have side bangs and I’m in love with Emily, but I think I just reallyreallyreally want to be her friend
and this is my favorite secret and I don’t tell anyone, not even myself. 8th grade is desperate, and heartbreaking, and nobody has figured out how to lie about who they are yet. The boys and the ways I want to like them, but don’t, but try anyway. Brandon or Dante or whatever adored, athletic boy brings vodka to the school dance in a gatorade bottle and leaves halfway through to get his stomach pumped and the whole cafeteria full of awkwardly shifting bodies can feel how dangerous growing up is and it makes us want it more and Eli asks me to dance and I say yes, not knowing that two months later I’ll be at Danielle’s for a sleepover and Eli will text me and my friends will steal my Verizon LG flip phone and respond for me and I will get upset and not know why, but really it will be because in 8th grade there is nothing but confusion, and shame, and graceless teenage heart-skip impulse and at the dance as Eli pulls me into his clumsy boy arms I lock eyes with Emily. She is across the room with her best friend Cassandra. I smile at her and a few songs later we arrive at the same cafeteria floor tile and there, in the sticky half-fluorescent light of our youth, she tells me I look cute.