Thursday, February 2

Mama Kat Prompt: When Dreams Were All They Gave For Free To Ugly Duckling Girls Like Me...

     That title is a poignant line from a song by Janis Ian called "At Seventeen" which was a top-40 hit in 1975 when I a senior in high school. It played on the radio constantly and always made me cry because I felt it described my high school life perfectly.

     I say this because Mama Kat's Writing Prompt for this week, which is "What Were You Like In High School?" and the lyrics of this song used to resonate strongly with how I felt about my teenage life.  The parts I related most to are highlighted below:

"I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew

The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth...
And those of us with ravaged faces

Lacking in the social graces... those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away
the world was younger than today
when dreams were all they gave for free
to ugly duckling girls like me..."

     To me, at that time, that song was a pretty good description how I viewed myself and how I believed my peers viewed me. I certainly had a ravaged face. Unfairly so, I felt. Most teens have ordinary acne, but not all teens get the more rare, horrid kinds of acne that leave terrible life-long mock-marks behind and you never out-grow. Lucky me. Out of 95 classmates, only I and one other guy were so afflicted. I felt like a leper and was absolutely convinced it was something in my appearance that made no one want to pick me for their team in gym or trade papers with me in class or generally befriend me in any way.
     However, kids are ego-centric in their reasoning. That means they tend to assume that are the cause of what's happening to them. The less understandable circumstances are, the more likely a kid is to assign themselves as the source of the problem, which is exactly what I did. I didn't understand that, in reality, people have tons of invisible motives for what they do that seldom have anything to do with anyone else, but that is a grown-up understanding I naturally lacked. With hindsight I also now understand that the real reason I felt so socially deprived is I just didn't know how to be a friend or make friends. Like I said in the last prompt about why Batman was my hero: I grew up way out in the country with only my two parents to relate to mostly for the first 7 years of my life. I totally lacked skills for relating to other children and this problem just followed me into high school. Plus I never joined a single club. Never belonged to any sports teams. (I couldn't hit a baseball or dribble a basketball if my life depended on it!) I never participated in anything that would have given me a basis of common interest with any of my classmates. I simply didn't know I should or even how to. I just focused on what I could do well and that was achievement through academic performance, which got me a lot of kudos from teachers and served as a safety net. I actually developed an attitude of "if you don't want me, then I don't want you," toward my classmates, a self-protective decision that isolated me even more and a self-fulfilling curse.
     In reality, I think my fellow classmates thought more highly of me then I thought of myself. There were a number of positive incidents that gradually opened me to this possibility. Most notably was the year I was hospitalized with viral meningitis for 10 days. Classmates who never talked to me much previously at school were suddenly calling me in the hospital. One of them was even a boy, named Tim, one of the top popular kids in my class and also several girls, who were likewise, all of whom I never imagined knew I existed. I was astonished.  Of course, they didn't chat me up or anything when I got back to school. Still, it revealed something extraordinary. I revealed my peers had a care for me as a person and that was an extreme revelation, one of several to come.
     Looking back, I may have felt like an ugly duckling, but I think my classmates viewed me as a nice, brainy, shy and quiet girl. Nothing more or less then that.
     Eventually I did find swan-hood.
     (Let me add as a disclaimer I had plenty of happiness in my growing up years and a couple good friends here and there, but I was just a bit disgruntled with the social aspects of my school life.)



Patrice said...

We must be twins...LOL!

May said...

I just thought of this song about 2 days ago. It was an anthem for teenage girls of the day!
What a nice realization that others were not as harsh in their assessment of you as you were yourself.

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