In 8th grade I still had my baby fat. I actually didn't lose it until around the 10th grade, but this isn't about my chubby cheeks it's about 8th grade; the last public school year.
It probably won't come as a surprise but Junior High was tough for me. Hell, it was tough for all of us. We were growing up and starting to settle into our personalities, our social groups and our awkward, stinky bodies. I, like the rest of America, was unsure where or how I would fit into any of these categories. I was a smart ass with low self esteem and my aforementioned baby fat. I was on the fringe of several different social groups all of which I was convinced hated me. I don't know if I can say I was bullied. Bullying isn't just Trent wanting to fight you behind the Subway after school, sometimes it's just being overlooked.
In a world where to most guys I was a poser and to most girls I was 'gay' - one girl was a real-life nice person, Ally. I think maybe she understood that this was a weird time for everyone and she decided to give me a shot. In terms of 8th grade popularity Ally was up there at the top; a smart, cute girl with a great sense of humor, a finished basement and pond in her backyard. In Ohio, it doesn't get much cooler than that. She invited me to boy/girl parties at other kids houses, to bowling and to football games. We became... friends. It was a shock - to me and to my small group, of what Trent may have called "losers", of friends.
We would walk over to her house Fridays after school, just her and I, to watch movies and eat junk. She would sit next to me. She laughed at my jokes. She was a human being. We watched weird double features in her basement: Johnny Tsunami and Porky's, The Famous Jett Jackson and Grease. We went swimming in the pond behind her house (she never mentioned my tits). Her parents knew me, and liked me! It was a true friendship and the best part was that it never crossed my mind that we should date. At lunch all my dork friends would try to convince me to act on this niceness and ask her to go out with me but I didn't want to ruin this. Also it would never happen. As the year went on things at school got worse. All the friends I had in middle school were now too cool for me, they had beers to drink and girls to feel up. I just wanted to play Worms 2 on the PC.
I had few things that kept me going that year, the first was that girl and the second was music. I had started taking guitar lessons a couple years back and finally felt like I was good at something. My guitar teacher was a great guy - he used to let me have the last 15 minutes of the lesson to learn whatever song I wanted. I'm sure it was misery for him to have to listen to "Dammit" after teaching me about Joe Pass. What can I say, Blink-182 spoke to me. Around December he told me about the school he was teaching at - It was a high school that focused on the arts and he thought it would be a good fit for me and said I should apply. So I did.
That year when we took our 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. I was excited to be able to spend a couple days out of school and a couple days with Ally. My parents gave me some spending money and instead of getting magnets of the Capitol or Abe Lincoln pencil sharpeners I bought Blink-182's Take Off Your Pants and Jacket at a Sam Goody. That album became the soundtrack for the trip. My tiny 8th grade mind was blown away. Blink-182 did it again. A whole album that spoke to me, an album that I would retrofit the lyrics to fit my own life, an album that said "Fuck" a lot. It was perfect. I listened to it the whole time on the bus and on the plane ride home.
The trip flew by, and I have barely any memories from it, except one: It was late and we had a short hour and a half long plane ride that would take us to the Toledo airport. I was nervous for the flight and Ally sat next to me. I put my headphones on and started that album over. Each song left me with a little more hope about the future, about growing up and about being okay with being me. Ally fell asleep on my shoulder while "Please Take Me Home" rang in my ears. The flight attendant came by to let us know we were landing and told me to wake up my girlfriend, I didn't correct her.
At the end of that school year while everyone was making their summer plans I did my best to hide my secret. "See ya next year" people wrote in my yearbook, they had no idea. Toward the end of the day the hallways were littered with scraps of paper and the contents of lockers. I found my way through all the kids to Ally. I asked her if she had a minute to talk. We stopped by the Home Ec room and I told her I wasn't coming back next year, asked her to sign my yearbook and made someone snap a picture of us on my disposable camera (see below). She assured me that even though I was leaving, we would still be friends, we would still hang out and watch Disney Channel movies on Friday nights. But of course we never did. I changed schools and she became everyone's high school crush.
I'm not sure if she ever knew how much she helped me that year or now 13 years later if she even cares but I'll always be thankful for her, Blink-182 and an hour and a half plane ride.
[Dylan Wise is the creative director of TMSDOTORG as well as host, producer, writer and overall fancy-pants. He is on twitter because he is very important.]