Here’s what I wish I could say about my summer vacation:
Working in the city was every bit as glamorous and exciting as I anticipated. My dad and I bonded over executive lunches and spent our train rides to work gossiping about our coworkers. The awkwardness that usually colors our conversations fell away, and my dad was proud of how I blossomed in the workplace, leaving my issues behind and functioning like everyone else. Down in the mailroom, I met the kids of other lawyers, and we engaged in the types of shenanigans you would expect from a bunch of teenagers experiencing their first taste of independence. On our last day, my new friends and I exchanged tearful goodbyes and promises to keep in touch online. I left work feeling ready for the new school year, knowing that the losers who torment me at school are just unsophisticated hicks who lack the intelligence and social graces to behave like decent human beings.
Here’s how it actually went:
My father and I rode the train to work in silence. He read the paper or sent emails from his phone while I played Angry Birds on mine. Each morning, we parted at the front doors, where he gave me a heartfelt pep talk along the lines of Work hard and don’t embarrass me. While he headed up to his posh office, I headed down into the bowels of the building, where a bunch of overprivileged kids pretended to work. I was greeted on the first day with about all the instruction I received all summer: do whatever the suits tell you, look busy no matter what, and what happens in the mailroom stays in the mailroom.
After that, I pretty much spent the summer walking the fine line between working hard enough to look busy but not hard enough to make my coworkers look bad. I’d finish my duties by lunchtime and then spend the afternoon hiding in a back corner of the mailroom, reading and fantasizing about how to transform myself into an Alaska Young or Margo Roth Spiegelman.
While my dad ate fancy lunches with clients, I snuck out to buy sauerkraut-covered hot dogs, devouring them right there on the street before scurrying back to the mailroom. I don’t know where the other kids went. Most of them were the children of partners, and they looked down on me because my dad is just a regular lawyer. They moved together like a flock of birds, twittering away as they passed my desk each day at lunchtime, carefully avoiding eye contact. I’d watch them go, struggling to fill my lungs with air while the weight of loneliness settled itself on my chest.
So basically, what I learned about the world of work is that it’s depressingly like high school. There are still cliques, everyone does the least amount of work possible to get by, and the beautiful people are in charge.
Aren’t I a ray of sunshine?
The thing is, I know there are people who have it worse than me. I don’t have a terminal illness, I’m not homeless or hungry, my parents are still married after a gazillion years, and I’ve never had to go through losing someone I love.
I keep reminding myself that things could be worse, but there are shades of gray, you know?
I do suffer from terminal loneliness, I’m so far from popular that the light from popular would take a million years to reach me, my parents fundamentally disagree about how to parent a kid like me, and I’ve never experienced love, because I’m apparently invisible to boys.
But on to the current crisis: tomorrow is the first day of school. Tenth grade.
I hate school. Which is ironic because everyone thinks I love it. I’m a straight-A student (booknerd) who always tops the honor roll (loser) at Sir John A. Macdonald High School (Seventh Circle of Hell) in our quaint little Southern Ontario town (hickville) in the great country of Canada (where everything is more expensive and less cool than in America).
It’s not the idea of course work that has my stomach aching and my hands shaking. I have my fellow classmates to thank for that. Tomorrow I’ll be thrust back into the same space as Courtney Williams and her pack of wolves. Tomorrow I’ll be Lezzie Longbottom again.
I blame Vogue magazine and Harry Potter. That’s how it all started.
It was a Sunday in November of seventh grade, and my mom was caught in the grip of mother-daughter bonding enthusiasm. She’d bought a stack of fashion magazines in a thinly veiled attempt to make me into someone cooler, and we were sitting at the kitchen table flipping through them and brainstorming about a makeover. That’s where I found the picture of Michelle Williams and her Mia Farrow–inspired pixie cut. I was obsessed.
It took two weeks of pleading and an hour in the stylist’s chair to remove my long brown hair. While my mom’s hairdresser worked her magic, I sat there imagining how sleek and sophisticated I’d look, and how impressed my friends Courtney and Larissa would be when they saw my daring hairdo. But when the stylist turned the chair around for the big reveal, I looked nothing like the adorably feminine Michelle Williams. I looked like a boy with a bad haircut.
I spent that afternoon in tears, convinced I’d be the laughingstock of my school. I finally called Courtney that night, desperate for reassurance. As I tearfully explained my predicament, I heard laughter and voices in the background. “Do you have people over?”
“I’m having a sleepover,” she announced, as my heart flopped out of my chest and onto the floor.
“I didn’t know,” I said lamely.
I spent Sunday tugging on my hair, willing it to grow even a little bit. I practiced styling it in front of the mirror and putting barrettes in to make it seem more feminine. But no matter what I did, I looked like a pudgy little boy. A vaguely familiar-looking pudgy little boy.
Which is where Harry Potter comes in. On Monday our teacher went home at lunchtime with a headache, and the staff rushed around trying to find a way to occupy us. Someone found the first Harry Potter movie in the back of our supply cupboard, so we settled in to watch it.
My humiliation became complete on the train ride to Hogwarts, when Neville Longbottom appeared onscreen. That’s when I realized who I looked like. Sadly, the rest of the class did too.
Whispers of “Longbottom” started immediately, but it wasn’t until recess that I became Lezzie Longbottom. It was at recess that Courtney declared me a lesbian and said that I’d cried about not being invited to her sleepover because I wanted to see them all naked.
I’ll never forget the way I burned with shame on the playground. I had nowhere to go and no one to talk to. The girls turned their backs on me and whispered about how I’d looked at them like I was interested, while the boys chanted “Lezzie” and offered me money if I kissed Co...