On Easter Day in 1995, I received a diary in my Easter basket. I was 11 years old. My parents probably had no idea if I’d take to the concept of writing, so I’m sure they were pleased when I fingered through the pages upon receiving it and wrote my first entry later that night.
Or they didn’t care one bit. They were juggling four kids. Someone was bound to hate their basket, love their basket, and have a meltdown in pursuit of finding their basket. There’s a good chance they met to give that diary to my older sister, but upon filling our baskets the previous night and stepping back to ensure fair quantities were given, noticed my basket was lackluster and moved a diary – a bulky filler item – to my basket.
Who knows? I’d ask my mom today, but she’d probably make that hemming and hawing sound parents so often make when they think their child is being dramatic.
On April 16, 1995, I wrote:
Today is Easter! The best thing I got in my basket is you.
Love at first scribble. For the next 15 years, I remained pretty diligent in my writing, jotting down what was happening in my life, kind of. What I considered important changed almost annually, if not quarterly, so it’s difficult to trace a specific topic from start to finish. It honestly leaves me feeling very unresolved at the end of the day.
In my early teens, I’m boy crazy and fearless. I put little focus on major topics, like family turmoil. I’d kill to read those inner thoughts today, but instead, I find myself reading about the school dance and how I asked not one, not two, but three different boys to dance. They all turned me down, yet I seem entirely unfazed.
I’d lie to my diary sometimes. I’d say I was friends with cool people that I most definitely was not. I’d use cryptic descriptions to explain what coming into womanhood felt like instead of just coming out and saying it. That almost makes sense to me, just in case my sister or mother found my diary and read it. But I don’t know why I’d lie to my diary about my friends.
Sometimes there are large time gaps between entries, and I wonder what took me away from my writing back then. Was it because things were going well? Or particularly horrible? Did I feel like I had nothing to say or was too busy to bother saying anything at all? This brings me to a particular event in my life when I was 14 years old. An event that’s typically a great party story because humiliation is one of the best party tricks out there.
I was telling my husband the story and thought, surely I wrote about this in my diary. I wondered what my thoughts were on it at the time. That’s the beauty of documenting your early life. We forget things so quickly, warp them in our memory to fit a mold less embarrassing, and then sweep them under the rug for no one to find. My diary is my accountability coach, reminding me I was that stupid, and I did, absolutely, act out of selfishness.
So one summer day, I leafed through to see what I had to say about this event. Here’s what I find:
February 22, 1999, age 14, I write:
Me and a group of friends tried out for the school talent show and we find out who’s in tomorrow.
I’m talking about the middle school talent show, and on this day, before the countless hours of dance practice and mixed tape splicing, I was giddy over the idea of making the cut. But the anticipation was not what I was now looking for. While oblivious and nervous at the time, I now know that everyone makes the cut for the middle school talent show. The ruthless pulse of public school waits till high school to crush your dreams. But at the time, I thought I was up against the girl playing Hot Cross Buns on the violin. In reality, no one wanted to witness either of us.
So on February 22, 1999, I found the time to tell my diary that I tried out for the show. I didn’t go into detail on the act itself, who my friends were, none of that. I must have had boys on my mind.
I flip to the next entry to see how things turned out for us. What did I think about what happened on talent show day, in front of the entire school and a panel of judges consisting of a couple of teachers and a celebrity judge, a girl from the MTV show, The Real World? The angles were endless. I could have been overdramatic, unknowingly insincere because no one has a grip on their emotions at that age. I could have been angry, blaming everyone but myself, a fine tactic I found myself using well into adulthood. I could have taken this entry many routes.
A gap. I answer it with a gap in time. My next entry jumps to June 2, 1999, a little over a month before school lets out.
No mention of the talent show.
I’m baffled because I remember this talent show vividly. It was nothing short of a fiasco, but I guess at the time, it didn’t seem so. It seemed normal. There are many parts of my childhood self I’m happy to leave behind, but my incredible no f*ck attitude back then, man, I’d kill for that today.
So allow me to document this, finally, 20+ years later…
It’s the day of the middle school talent show. Six girlfriends, myself included, have been diligently practicing our dance routine for months. And I’m not lying. We were nerds. We were into school. We did Odyssey of the Mind. Most of us were late to get braces. Needless to say, we had time on our hands. And we were into boy bands. N’Sync and The Backstreet Boys, to be exact.
It’s worth pausing here for a moment. When I say we were into these boy bands, we were INTO. THESE. BOY. BANDS. We once stayed up all night listening to them, video recording our shenanigans every hour to prove our devotion, and sending the tape off to the Rosie O’Donnell Show in an attempt to meet them. I wrote to Oprah asking to meet The Backstreet Boys and have the denial letter to prove it. And somewhere in the universe is a VHS tape of me performing the entire choreographed dance of Rock Your Body, sent to the MTV show, Fanatic, in hopes of fulfilling my very dyer dream of meeting (and marrying) Brian of BSB.
While none of these attempts came to fruition, we still powered on with our undying love for boy bands, and of my merry girl tribe, we were split 50/50 on our fatal attraction. Half of us would give our right hand for N’Sync, while the other half would sign off our firstborn for BSB. Me? Well, Backstreet all the way. And to honor this mix of prepubescent lust, we decided to perform a dance-off. That’s right; we developed a ‘you got served’ dance routine before it was even a thing, mixing a cassette tape of 30-second intervals between N’Sync and BSB songs. Each group of girls would swarm center stage for 30 seconds of themed dance moves, creating a dance battle met to symbolize the agonizing tug and pull between these two bands.
The tension! The passion! The theatrics of it all!
I have no shame in saying I was the best dancer in the group. It’s not saying much, to be honest. But as someone that hates losing, even in a predetermined dance battle where no one wins, I had to up our choreography. Which to me met one thing: we need to use props.
So I pulled inspiration from the Backstreet Boy song, As Long As You Love Me, securing folding chairs for team Backstreet and me to use in one of our 30-second segments towards the start of the dance. A lot of sitting, standing, and dealing of imaginary cards, just like the video! But to end it, we were met to step onto the seat of the chair, place our right foot on the back of the chair, and lean forward, forcing our chair to collapse under us at the perfect time, leaving us all standing in front of the chair, a crowd gasping with amazement. It was going to be magic.
It was never going to be magic. It was always going to be a bunch of clunky moves and sounds of folding metal chairs collapsing, and that would have been bad enough. But at that moment, the moment of chair banging climax, the chair of one of the girls prematurely collapses, and she comes crashing down, bracing herself for the fall and snapping her wrist in the middle of the performance.
She’s in shock, fumbling around the stage, saying she can’t see anything. Unaware her wrist is broken, I think to myself, ‘Who can see? We have show lights on us! And the show must go on!’
So I yell for her to dance! Just dance! Dance through the pain! Dance like your life depended on it! Dance like this is an unbiased, no-winner middle school talent show, damnit!
But she couldn’t. She was in shock and kept saying she couldn’t see anything. We had to have about 2 minutes left in the performance, and I’d like to say we stopped the show. I want to say we put our crazed delusion of importance into perspective. But we actually just… danced around her.
When our act was over, she was rushed to the hospital where she received a cast that we’d later all sign, I’m sure saying stupid shit like “BSB4EVA!”
We didn’t win the talent show, but neither did Hot Cross Buns girl.
But what’s most amazing, is we moved on so effortlessly. I don’t recall it being a hot topic at all. Not only did I not mention it in my diary, but I didn’t even allude to it in some secret code to acknowledge the incredible embarrassment that ensued.
And it’s probably because I wasn’t embarassed. I was probably super impressed with my ability to press on. And I can’t tell if that made me completely unhinged or just a teenager, but I’m gonna go with the latter.