When I was in middle school I had virtually no self-esteem.
Of course, I wasn't alone. But when you're 13, it feels like it.
I had been a really cute kid. But then things drastically changed. My teeth grew in severely crooked, thanks to a gum surgery (a benign tumor was removed). My front teeth grew in sideways. When I opened my mouth I looked like a freak. I stopped smiling when I was nine.
I hadn't grown into my nose yet. It was wide and had a hump and not at all like the dainty little upturned noses my blonde peers flaunted.
My hair was long, stringy, and frizzy. The humid south Florida weather promised I would never see a good hair day, no matter how many products my mom gave me.
I was pretty damn miserable.
I had crushes on boys, but they were pretty cruel to me when they found out. One popular boy even shouted "woof!" when he discovered I had the hots for him. If that doesn't shatter a sixth-grader's self-image, I don't know what does.
I suppose you could say being an awkward, unattractive pre-teen developed my character. I became extremely sarcastic. I didn't have many friends. I holed myself away at home, spending weekends writing humorous stories and fake magazine articles on the computer, instead of going to the mall with other girls my age. The Jennifer you know today was founded on that time period.
But I desperately wanted a boy to like me. I didn't even want a boyfriend. I just wanted a boy to LIKE ME. I wanted to feel pretty. I wanted to feel like I wasn't the biggest loser on the planet.
On the first day of seventh grade, that changed.
Frank, the new kid, sat next to me in algebra class. He was cute, in a non-threatening sort of way. He didn't use hair products and he didn't dress like a douchebag. He wore flannel. He had a strange accent. He had kind eyes.
I cracked a joke in class, and while my other classmates stared at me blankly, Frank laughed. Not at me, but at my joke! I couldn't believe it! It was a miracle!
Later that day in the cafeteria, my friends and I looked up to see Frank holding his lunch tray, hovering over us.
"Can I sit here?" he asked.
I nearly knocked my milk over the table, I was so eager to make room for him.
"Everyone here seems really superficial," he said, narrowing his eyes at a group of popular girls applying makeup at the next table. "I'm from New Jersey. I'm not used to palm trees and all these fancy houses."
After the girls I was sitting with went to hang out in the sunny quad, Frank and I talked. He was so easy to talk to, which surprised me. Other than my cousins, I didn't have much experience talking to boys my own age.
We became fast friends. He ate lunch with me every day. He laughed at all my jokes. He talked a lot about New Jersey. He was clearly very homesick. I didn't mind though because I didn't know much about the east coast. I found it all very interesting. I couldn't imagine not going to Disney World every weekend. I couldn't imagine a beach without palm trees. It all seemed very odd and exciting. Industrial and cool.
We started hanging out after school. I even went to a school dance with him, as friends, and taught him the Macarena. I couldn't believe Frank had never done it before! It was like hanging out with a Martian! Even President Clinton knew the Macarena!
And of course, from the moment we became best friends I knew I was madly in love with him. I had never been treated so nicely before by a boy who wasn't a relative. He made me feel so special.
Suddenly, my life changed.
My parents took me to Bennigan's for dinner during a weeknight. I should have known something was up because we only went there for special occasions and never during the week. I was halfway through my delicious hot wings when my parents dropped the bombshell.
We were moving to Nebraska.
Haha wait, what?
My dad had been offered a much better job up there in Omaha. One he simply couldn't turn down.
I was devastated.
I awkwardly parted ways with my friends. Saying goodbye to Frankie was the hardest. He promised me he would write.
And guess what. He did.
For a month, we wrote each other once a week. Neither one of us had e-mail back then. It was all snail mail, which, looking back on it, made his correspondence even more impressive.
But I was miserable in Omaha. I thought about Frankie all the time. I slept with his letters underneath my pillow. It was torture knowing he was there and I was here. That I was in love with him and he didn't know.
So, I decided I needed to tell him how I felt.
I recorded myself singing "Don't Let Go" by En Vogue onto a cassette tape and I mailed it to him.
It seemed like a really good idea at the time. It seemed so rational!
I didn't take into account that my singing voice sounds like a dying cat. I didn't realize that my wailing "there's gonna be some LOVE-MAKIN', HEART-BREAKIN', SOUL-SHAKIN' loooOoooOoove" was severely inappropriate.
After I mailed him the tape, I never heard from him again.
I was crushed.
At the time, I couldn't figure out why. Didn't he like me back? Wasn't my message obvious? Did he not like R&B?
I was flummoxed.
Of course, looking back now, I realize that I pretty much made the worst decision in the history of the world. And I laugh hysterically thinking about it.
Oh, man. Poor Frankie. I wish I could have seen his reaction when he hit play. I must have scared the shit outta that poor boy.
I wonder if he still has the tape.