Eighth Grade

I met my wife under the influence of granulated sugar and carbonated water. At 13, I enjoyed video games, outdoor sports and was nervous about my first kiss.

I was also in love with a girl from my math class, Jennifer. Jennifer was sassy, snarky, and stupidly beautiful. She was known for having the longest brown hair in the 8th grade, with curls cascading off her shoulders. But one day she cut them all off; she traded in her white Toms for a new pair of Converse All-Stars, some black nail polish, and a stylish pixie cut. One afternoon after her sudden makeover, Jennifer staged a sit-in right in the middle of Mr. Bosworth's geometry lesson because she thought that finding the volume of a triangular prism was much less newsworthy than the ongoing food crisis in Botswana. It was instantly the most punk-rock thing I had ever seen, and I ran home to tell my mom all about her. But when she asked me if I was going to ask Jennifer out, I became like a cat on moving day, knowing I had to get up the courage to walk up to her but was too afraid to leave my crate.

After much convincing and conversations with my dad, I decided to confess my feelings for Jennifer at our middle school’s Halloween-themed 8th-grade dance, appropriately titled the "Monster Bash.”

The night of the dance, I took off my thick-framed glasses and soaked my traditionally unkempt hair in gel, grease, and something I found in my father's cabinet labeled "Jheri Curl Spray." The cowlick went away, but I found myself looking quite curly- imagine a pale, pre-pubescent John Oates.

It had been 20 years since my parents had last gone on a date, so it made sense for them to have no clue what was and wasn’t fashionable. My dad picked out three outfits for me, each of them including a Hawaiian short sleeve button up shirt. Between the hair and the shirt, I looked like a B-roll version of Tom Selleck, except I could only grow four tiny hairs on my upper lip. My dad was a huge fan of Magnum PI, and like him, I believed that there was nothing that exuded manliness more than a real mustache and a Tommy Bahama shirt- you know, like every 13-year-old boy.

My mom- you should hear her tell you about how embarrassed she was- dropped me off at the front door of the school and reminded me to meet her out front right at 9:00. The plan was simple; I was going to go over the snack table in the cafeteria, eat a little cotton candy and soda, and wait for Jennifer to stroll in. Then, I’d show off my overnight transformation from the nervous kid who threw up every time his gym teacher made him run the mile to the confident, still unathletic kid, with curly hair and a tropically themed shirt. I would be irresistible, and Jennifer would fall in love with me immediately.

So I waited and ate cotton candy by myself at the punch table.

And waited and drank soda by myself at the punch table.

And waited some more while eating cotton candy and soda by myself at the punch table.

I glanced at the clock. It read 8:45. I had been sitting there eating candy and soda for almost an hour, and the dance ended at precisely 9 o’clock. It felt hopeless; I got up from my chair and started to make my way towards the gym.

"Alright boys and girls, it's time for the last song of the night. Find that lucky person to dance with and remember, keep yourselves a foot distance apart; Principal Korning will be watching."

The DJ played the opening chords of All 4 One's "I Swear" as everyone began to pair up. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Jennifer. She had traded in her dark nail polish and black jeans for a soft white dress, with frills at the bottom that swayed with her every movement.

"Hey."

"Hey."

“Myles right? I like your hair.”

“Thanks.” I panicked that the song was almost over and if I didn’t ask Jennifer now, I may never have another chance to ask her. Jennifer seemed slightly distracted by Principal Korning separating hormonal teenagers who were dancing a bit too close. “Would you like to dance with me?” I asked.

She smiled and nodded. I reached out to put my arms around her shoulders as we both rocked from left to right to the beat of the song. You know that feeling you get when everything's going just too perfectly, that something is going to go wrong? Well, that something started with the light fixture attached to the DJ booth.

One second it was dark, the next, red and blue and green flashing bulbs were bursting. With every new surge of color coming from the lighting rig, I felt my eyes growing wide and head feeling dizzy. Combine that with the candy I ate in the last hour, and the nerves bouncing around in my stomach, I felt something bubbling up like the Chestburster in Alien, ready to unleash a slimy, messy hell with no regard for anyone nearby.

I stared at Jennifer and managed to get out "I'm..." before ruining her night, her dress, and All 4 One's "I Swear.”

Horrified, she stepped away from me and stared at the pinkish glob melting into her dress. Sensing a commotion, Principal Korning turned the gym lights on. Her dress looked like it could have been taken in as evidence in a murder trial at the Wonka Factory, her white frills covered in a vicious mixture of cotton candy, soda, and breath mints I was chewing on. The crowd gasped as Jennifer’s eyes didn’t leave mine. She was completely frozen. I felt my eyes start to well up - and you should know that I am not proud of what I did next- I mouthed “I’m sorry” and ran right out the front door into the blue suburban waiting the parking lot.  I refused to say a word to mom. From the repugnant smell emanating from the back seat, she knew not to say anything. We drove home in complete silence.

I walked up the driveway with my head down. I felt like Charlie Brown getting ready to kick the football, focused and prepared until Lucy moved it at the last second because she was covered in a concoction of confectionary sugar and soda pop.

I immediately ran up the stairs, changed out of my vomit-covered clothes, and locked myself in the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, I made another plan. I would pack up my toothbrush, my Nintendo 64, and some snacks so I could go and live out the rest of my life in the woods. As I was putting the finishing touches on my goodbye letter, the doorbell rang, and my mom called for me to come downstairs. Standing in the doorway was Jennifer. She had changed out of her white dress into her ripped, black jeans and was holding a sheet of paper in her hands. Before I could say a word, she crumpled it up and threw it, hitting me directly in the forehead. Without a smile, she turned around and walked back into her dad’s van and down the driveway.

As I uncrumpled up the paper, I presumed it was going to be a death threat or a promise that her older brother was going to beat me up - my wife often says all of those things were in consideration at the time. But instead, scribbled were just a few words in black ink.

And a doodle of a heart at the bottom.

That evening, my parents ended up throwing away all of the clothes that were covered in vomit, and Jennifer’s parents did the same with her ruined white dress.

As a joke, my wife thought it would have been funny if we had gotten married in a Tommy Bahama shirt and a white dress; I did not find it as funny as she did.

The only piece of evidence left from our first date is her note, the doodle, and a trace amount of vomit underneath the heart.

Garrett CarlsonComment