Yesterday's me looks back on eighth grade me and sneers, "What a nerd". Today's me bops yesterday's me in the head. I point out that in eighth grade me's time there was no such term as "nerd". Hell, even pocket calculators were very expensive novelties.
It is true I became a tongue-tied red faced mumbling moron if a female even looked in my direction. It is possible I failed to answer a direct question from a girl out loud for a number of years. I am sure every response to Lynn Taylor and her gang of tormentors was a mumbled, stuttering squeak.
I was not completely a social pariah. I got along fine with the guys of my age. I wasn't a jock, but despite my diminutive physique i was not the last guy picked for dodge ball in phys-ed either. In a race I was usually a middle-of-the-packer. I had been a decent Little Leaguer and rarely backed down from a challenge. I ran track and wrestled. It was equally true I sucked beyond all reason at basketball. I would never be cool.
I got along fine with what we called the 'hoods' too. Those were the tough talking, fighting types who hung out down by the bridge smoking cigarettes before and after school. I was on a nodding acquaintance with most of those guys, and rarely was I singled out for bullying.
I suppose I was viewed as a complete nobody, a sorta-smart fellow who would let a guy copy last night's homework in a pinch. I am certain for every social strata of the school I was not thought of highly or poorly. Mostly I was not thought of at all .I bet that was true even for the teachers and coaches. I was Jack, the Average Joe.
Lynn Taylor did think about me. She must have spent nights thinking up ways to make my face turn its trademark tomato red in her presence. She would walk down the hall until she was opposite me, move in close and then drop her books with a crash. As notebooks and textbooks skittered across the crowded hallway between classes she would shout red-faced with anger "Jack, why did you knock the books from my hands? What is wrong with you?" I would mutter and stammer an unheard defense while crawling to pick up her stuff. "Do not put your creepy paws on my things" she would scream. As she bent down to get her books she would snicker in my ear and whisper that I was a big pussy.
Dani North was the second or third best looking girl in school. She was completely a toady. Dani was Lynn's minion and best friend. It was in February when Dani started waiting on me to get in the lunch line, moving behind me. Dani would wait until I had a full tray and then would sweep my feet with her leg at just the right time to trip me flat on my face. Even if I kept a precarious balance the tray inevitably fell to the floor, leaving me the center of attention and the laughing stock of the lunch room. I tried to look out for her, but she managed to hide from me every time right up until inevitable trip. She did this about once a week. Lynn and her gang of Harpies even took to shouting "Have a nice fall" when Dani executed her signature move. That drew even more laughter.
As the cold days and weeks of that winter clattered by in a succession of spilled trays, I counted the days until spring break and relief from the torment. Lynn Taylor looked at Spring Break as a whole week of school-free days to badger me.