The Simplicity of Seventh Grade

I was a typical nerd.  But what I lacked in cool clothes and popular friends my parents more than made up for with a wide array of extracurricular activities.  Each night of my school week was filled with you-name-it: tennis lessons, swim team practice, ice-skating, horseback riding, flute, piano, jazz dance, ballet, gymnastics and soccer practice. 

I was utterly mediocre at all of them.

While my mother patiently waited for the star athlete, Paul Taylor dancer, and professional musician to emerge, I would do what I could to plunder through the hour (or more) long sessions.

"Saleena, straighten your arms!" My french jazz dance teacher would tell me.  Classically trained as a ballerina and gifted with a body and talent that landed her in the Rockette's kickline for several seasons, she was truly the unattainable role model.

"My elbows are double-jointed." I protested, my arms flopping outward at odd angles.

"You must learn to overcome the inadequacies of the body."

"Right." I muttered. 

"Like this, Saleena!" one of the girls elegantly demonstrated.  My heart quickened. I was always a bit taken by surprise when one of my peers addressed me with kindness. 

In the dance studio, the girls were wholly unaware of my meager social status in school. For one hour a week I could wear the same clothes as everyone else, and I blended in. Double-jointed arms and all.

The next day in school I found myself sitting next to my crush, Mike. 

"Saleena, can I see your homework?" he whispered to me.  I was shocked.  Two people speaking to me voluntarily in the same 24-hour period? 

"I don't think any of it's right.  Besides, why didn't you do yours?" Our teacher was two chairs away, walking towards us with a red pen in hand, checking if we had done yet another absurd task she had set out for us to do the night before. 

Mike looks at me with wide-eyed concern, and then in a flash, takes his half-answered homework and shoves all two pages of it in his mouth.  He begins chomping on it like it is a chicken nugget doused in honey mustard sauce. 

I am paralyzed with laughter.  Mrs. Depeccio has a look of horrified disbelief and I wonder if she is contemplating the Heimlich maneuver on Mike to retrieve the offensive papers from his clenched jaw. 

He looks at me and winks, and I feel overjoyed.  Mrs. Deppicio responds by threatening him with detention for acting like a "crazed barn animal," and glaring at me and my stifled giggles.

After class, we congregate by a row of steel grey lockers. I open mine to cut-outs of Leonardo DiCaprio, Hello Kitty, and angst-ridden poetry I had written.  I feel a light tap on my shoulder, and turn around to see Mike standing behind me.

"Yes?" I stammer.

"Hey!" He is shorter than me by several inches, and I find myself admiring the top of his mushroom cut hair.

"Do you want to hang out with me?"

"Really?"  My mind races.  Was he asking me out? I wasn't allowed to date. Did he just want to be friends? Was I allowed to have a boy as a friend?  Is this a joke? Is this real life?

"Umm.... Sure." I am hesitant.  I wait for the catch.  For the laughter.  For the ridicule.


And just like that, our interaction was over.  Six exchanges of words that transformed my week.
My failing grade in math suddenly became inconsequential.  A boy liked ME!

For the remainder of the day, I didn't care if I could ever dance, kick a soccer ball, play a musical instrument, or finish a math equation. 

Because on that day-  I was officially cool.