October 31, 2007
by SJ Alexander
Age 12 at the time
I grew up in a small town outside of Chicago where the summers were so hot it felt like your skin was about to melt off and you would be happy because you suspected you would be cooler that way, and the winters were so cold your freshly-washed hair would freeze solid at the bus stop.
This was the end of the eighties, during the last gasp of the big poodle hair craze. In the eighth grade I had my crazy tangle out front teased up until it could ensnare low-flying bats. I was so proud of it! This, combined with my tendency to carelessly leave the house with the back of my hair still wet, and my fetching gigantic hoop earrings that could double as a belt in a pinch, meant I wasn't one to wear a wooly hat. So, I was sick all the time, all winter long, and I tend to think that there was a relationship between my constant sickness and my habits.
Despite being smart overall (other than the hat thing), I was in the Math Facts for Complete Morons that year, which felt like torture to me. There was not a bone in my body or a dusty, forgotten corner of my brain that could make me retain math, I'm sorry to say. Even in college when I was required to take algebra and I did every extra assignment, studied hard, and stayed after to get help from the teacher, I barely squeaked by with a B. Now I'm pretty good with "practical" math, such as grocery store deals and restaurant tipping, but I was hopeless in those days. So there I was for the 4,000th time, studying basic math facts again.
Fact: I was deeply, deeply bored.
Fortunately, I had something else to focus on: I was completely in love with the boy who was across the room from me. I could stare at him for the whole hour, because our desks were broken up into two groups of rows that faced each other, with a big aisle down the middle. I was almost right across from him, but one row over, so lucky for me no one was blocking the view of his utter handsomeness.
Rather than fussing with fractions, I studied this boy. I noticed how many times in a week he wore his favorite sweater (orange with a snowflake pattern) and if he had gotten is hair cut (bowl cut to shorter bowl cut). Once he was out sick for three days, leaving me alone to twist and fidget in my seat as if I was being burned at the math stake.
Yearly, usually in January, the whole school would be hit by that coughy-phlegmy plague that lingers for weeks. I had an unsympathetic mother who would pretty much only let me stay home if there was good, solid evidence I was currently bleeding from a major artery or nonstop rocket-style vomiting. So there I was in my math class, at that stage of the cold where you feel like you need to sneeze constantly.
Fact: Middle school girls often find normal bodily functions embarrassing.
The whole class sat quietly, working on some math problems that were assigned in-class. I had the most tortuous tickle -- it was as if the entire contents of my head were trying to escape. If only I was at home and could sneeze and blow until I felt better. But no. If I did that in class that would mean my classmates would know I was human, and did disgusting things like sneeze. If I couldn't even sneeze, then noseblowing was ABSOLUTELY out of the question.
I kept holding my sneezes in, making pathetic little "Eep! Eep!" noises as I held them back, feeling more and more as if my head would pop. I would not be caught dead carrying something as practical and grandma-like as tissues, so even as I began to wish I had some, I continued suffering in squeaky near-silence. Some people, bored to death of their basic math facts, leaned over to whisper, "Bless you." My math teacher had even thoughtfully provided a box of tissues on the corner of his desk for student use, but there was no way I was going to parade across the room in front of the boy I liked and fire up the schnozz trumpet.
Desperately, I began to consider my options. Could I make it up to the front and whisper for permission to go to the bathroom? I didn't think so. My eyes were so watery that the math problems on the paper in front of me were beginning to blur and swim. I was going to ... OH NO.
Fact: I was totally hosed.
"WHAA-CHOOOOO!" I lost it, breaking the heavy mathy silence that blanketed the classroom. I clapped my hand, covered with the too-long sleeve of my sweatshirt, over my upper lip, mouth, and chin which were all now densely covered with a shiny snot goatee.
I froze where I was, and glanced around furtively. A couple more "Bless yous" were tossed my way. No one seemed to be paying attention. Even the teacher was busy marking our pop quizzes from that morning. With trepidation, I looked across the room. There was the object of my secret love, brows knitted, working away at his math problem. Whew. Sleeve still in place, I hunched down over my work and tried to figure out what to do next as my face burned. At least I could see my paper again.
I scraped off a little bit of the snot goatee at a time. To this day, I think it was probably the most fluid that has come out of my head, ever. I thought, could I hide under my hands and ask for permission to go to the bathroom now? No. Even more embarrassing now that my face had exploded. I kept working away at it a little bit at a time. To my horror and deepening panic, the part of the sleeve I was working on became totally saturated and I had to roll the snot up inside my sleeve. I turned to the other sleeve, lamenting the fact that it was my favorite sweatshirt (I thought it was hilarious: "I think, therefore, I party," plus it was big, warm, and comfortable). Would this ruin it? I still kept glancing up at the boy I was crushed out on across the way, who, as usual, did not notice I existed.
Finally, my face was dry again and my sleeves were rolled up almost all the way to my elbows. I was saved! I didn't think there was anything left on my face, but I touched it repeatedly to make sure. I congratulated myself on my cleverness.
Then, setting his pencil down, my crush nonchalantly slid his chair back and stood up from his desk. He strolled across the room and took a tissue out of the box on the teacher's desk and quietly blew his nose with his back to the class.
Oh, DISGUSTING. How could he get up and blow his nose in front of the whole room like that? It was at that moment that I noticed he had kind of a funny-shaped head and ... was that a boil next to his nose? I, the girl with her own snot ensconced inside not one but both sleeves, discovered that I did not love this boy as much as I thought. Love is fickle that way, I guess.