When I look back on my junior high experiences gymnastics, academics, clubs, friends and boys seemed to be the priorities of the day. Gymnastics, which I had been doing since second grade, had become a character trait by the summer of 1985. Wendy, Sharon and I all worked out during the Arlington Recreation Department's sponsored gym times and would practice wherever a gym happened to be available. That particular summer we were in the Gibbs Junior High School gym.
It felt somewhat strange being at the Gibbs, like it wasn't my time yet and I was treading on some ground I was not supposed to be familiar with. On one hand I wanted to check out the school so I would know the halls and walls when I got there in a few short months but on the other it was dark outside the gym; my imagination always took over and I never ventured out. I could sense energy in the building of the memories, dreams and thoughts of so many kids before me.
The summer between grammar school and junior high was excruciatingly hot and the gym had no air conditioning just windows that stretched almost the entire way up the wall, but only opened about a half foot. The conditions were oppressive, even to me who has always loved it hot and humid. It was difficult to stay motivated to work out so we mostly just hung out on the mats, stretched and talked.
I had no delusions that I would go to the Olympics or anything but I could spend an entire day from sunrise to sundown in the gym if I was in the mood. Sometimes there was nothing better than getting on the beam with some loud music and just pounding away. I have had dreams about getting on a beam and throwing a routine together and if I think about it, I can still smell chalk.
That summer seemed to fly by, just like most summers when you are young and wish it could last forever. Gymnastics took up a big part of our time but when Wendy and I weren’t working out, we hung in our bedroom with the radio on, or spent our money on goofy teeny bopper magazines. In September, I walked through the doors of the Gibbs Junior High and quickly discovered that the halls were not as frightening as I had made them out to be in the months prior.
The Gibbs had three floors. Sewing, Computers, Cooking, Shop, Music and the lunchroom were on the basement floor. Eighth grade, The Principal's office, Art, the gym, Library and Languages were on the first floor. The top floor was seventh grade and Ms. B's room. During the first year, I spent most of my time in the gym and Ms. B's art room.
Other than Girl Scouts, clubs were a new experience in for me so I joined Art East as soon as I could. Art East was a small group of creative minded students who enjoyed various forms of art, and it was run by Ms. Bichisecchi. With Art East we got to go to cool places like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and other locations in Boston via subway. We sang out loud on the train and while we should have been singing Van Halen or Pat Benetar, we preferred cheezy pop tunes like Mr. Sandman. When we hung out in Ms. B’s, we could silkscreen, use the light table, draw and anything else creative that came to mind. It was a nice escape from the difficulties of academics now that we were preparing ourselves for high school.
Language was a difficult subject for me but unfortunately a requirement. I wanted to take something cool like Greek, a language I knew I would use in my neighborhood, but we got to choose from Spanish, Latin or French. Spanish it was. I distinctly remember a day in seventh grade when our teacher surprised us with the fact that our oral presentations would be video taped. I had been a ham until Fifth grade, until I started going through my ugly duckling phase, and I was not especially excited to be on camera. Least of all for a subject I struggled with.
On the day of the presentation I wore a fluorescent orange sweatshirt. The color was in but I didn't want to be on camera in it. I hated not having the time to mentally prepare; my face stayed red, palms clammy and I shook the entire time I spoke. The more I struggled with standing in front of my classmates, the hotter my entire body became. It bothered me that I had become so shy in front of crowds and it would take me years to get comfortable with speaking in front of a group again.
The friends I had in junior high were individuals. None of them felt the need to be like anyone but themselves, and it was great to hang out in a group of people that were fun, funny and honest. Our group grew to include more guys and a few of my friends had even started to date. By eighth grade it was cool to let your friends hook you up so, even after my obvious geekishness on Art East trips and total shyness, I found out the guy I liked also thought I was cool.
We started dating and not only went to the year end dance together but we spent the next eight months as a couple. At age fourteen eight months is like forever. Our romance took us right into high school and really capped off such a whirlwind of the two years of fun that junior high was.
I know I am in the minority when I say that despite my awkwardness and overall geek to the core personality, I fall into the rare group of people who enjoyed these years. There was something about meeting new people, making new friends and discovering so many things about myself and the world around me in what I believe to be one of the last of the ‘ages of innocence’ that will forever bring a smile to my face.