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[October, 1992] The Survivor Crowd

Friday, October 3, 1992

Dear Journal,

Hozumi said something today that really stayed with me. You see Joyce has had a crush on this guy Rodrigo since seventh grade. He is sort of “popular.” Hozumi calls that the “survivor crowd.” They are not really “popular” because then we would all like them. But we don’t. Anyway she said that it really sucks liking someone from the survivor crowd because they can never go out with you because you are not a survivor.

(but sometimes you do)

That is exactly the way it is with me, except Joyce is thin, pretty and talented (although she is really down on herself, which pisses me off!) and I’m just Blah!

Reed (on the bus, sometimes) is a “meatal-head.” His father died a while ago. Hozumi is also a “meatal-head” (It’s not an insult or anything). Her father is an alcoholic (she admitted it in Art). I think that this whole thing (the music, the clothes…) aside from they might like it, I think it’s an escape. From reality I suppose. They are kind of lucky, though because they have this sort of façade and everybody leaves them alone. Nobody knows what they are really thinking or anything. It’s not that they don’t have friends, they have their own group, but mostly their life is kept secret unless they want to reveal something. It’s the same with everybody else but at the same time it’s different.

I am pretty unhappy right now. I feel lazy and apathetic. I don’t really think it’s just a phase, either. I am just feeling really hopeless right now. The only time I don’t feel that way is when I’m distracted somehow, or I’m laughing. Putting my feelings in writing helps though. If I had no mode of expression I (God forbid) might do something rash. I wish things were different. I better go to sleep now. I always feel better in the morning.

Despite my inability to spell always spell “metalhead” correctly, I was fascinated with this small subculture at Hunter (who, for the record, listened to hardcore, punk, and other genres besides metal). They were outcasts, but at the same time they had their own microcosm to exist in, even their own hallway at school. I wasn’t freak enough for the freak hallway, but felt out of place among the rest of my peers and dissatisfied at the idea of being ordinary. While I had a handful of friends at school, I still felt unpopular and uncomfortable in my skin. I think many of us felt that way. Joyce certainly did, though I couldn’t understand why. I guess it wasn’t my place to understand her.

“Survivors” was a term referred to the core group of kids left over from Hunter Elementary School who attended the high school (and didn’t have to test to get in). They were usually wealthy and attractive kids and formed the root of the “popular” crowd. It was easy to feel diminished by their elitism, but when you don’t like yourself, it’s easy to feel diminished by anything and anyone. The truth is, I never really knew the “survivors” and could only imagine that they were more fortunate, their lives somehow better. In actuality, we all had aspects of our lives that were kept secret, we all had our battle scars. And maybe some were blessed with more looks, money, talent, or brains, but we were all trying to survive a challenging academic environment and the trials of adolescence.

I wish I could go back and tell my fourteen-year-old self that things would be immeasurably better in later years, but at the time, it didn’t feel that way. And besides, new struggles have a way of replacing the old ones and I had to learn coping mechanisms somehow. Difficulty and depression come and go; the best we can hope for is a strong spirit and plenty of endurance.

In a sense, we were all part of the survivor crowd back then. And we all still are today.

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[September, 1991] John Hughes Lied to Me

 

...and they never spoke to each other again...

Tuesday 9/17/91

Dear Journal,

I did it. I gave Hahn a note to give to Archie. She told me that he laughed and said, “Damiella wants to go out with me?” Well I’m taking that as a “no.” I’m telling myself it doesn’t matter because I’ll forget it ever happened. It doesn’t matter. It’s too bad, though. I was hoping it would be different this time. Sigh. Oh well. I’ll live. No big deal. See ya!

Of all the reactions you can get when asking someone out, laughter is not high up there. It’s kind of like that movie cliché where a guy calls a hoity-toity restaurant for a table that night and the maître d’laughs in derision to emphasize the restaurant’s popularity. That’s exactly how I took Archie’s laugh.

Even though I tried to hide my disappointment in my journal, it was still an ego blow and a letdown. Sure, I set myself up by asking out a guy I knew was out of my league. Back then I wanted to think it would have been possible for someone like him to go out with someone like me. I was fed a steady diet of romantically improbable fiction and cinema, and really and truly believed life could mimic a John Hughes movie. At least, I wanted it to.

The Hughes films that made up my adolescent core were Weird Science, the Molly Ringwald Trilogy (Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) and Some Kind of Wonderful. All of those movies showed that no matter how quirky, different, nerdy or unpopular you are, you can still get the hot guy or gal that will see you for who you are. In Hughes’ world, the pendulum can swing either way. Popular kids can turn out to be down-to-earth, sweet, and willing to date outside their caste (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful) and unpopular kids can show hidden talents and blossom and turn out to be rad and hot-in-their-own-special-way (Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful), or at the very least get a makeover from Molly Ringwald that makes them generic and pretty enough to catch the eye of the dopey jock, (The Breakfast Club).

In the real world? Not so much. At least not in a school like Hunter, where you were stuck with the same 200 or so kids for six straight years. I saw a few cases of extreme talent/beauty being accepted into the fold of the popular kids, or “survivors” as they were known. However, things weren’t shaping up for me to be one of those exceptions, and the sooner I accepted that the better.

[May, 1991] Natural History

Saturday, May 19, 1991

Dear Journal,

(not actual grades/what I was paid for them)

My grades are improving and so is my relationship with my parents. Especially my father. I know I haven’t been writing for a while, but I don’t know what’s stopping me. Laziness, I guess.

[It took some time to make my father realize that the string of perfect grades I got in elementary school would not be easily replicated at Hunter. Mom was more understanding, but Dad was the kind of disciplinarian who would look at a grade of 95 I proudly held before him and ask, “What happened to the other five points?” He decided to see if bribing me would produced better grades and offered a certain amount of money A’s or grades of 95 or better. Eventually, my more frequent A-minuses and B-plusses were recognized for the good grades that they were, but I could still sense my father’s undercurrent of disappointment at anything less than perfection.]

Let’s start with my love life. What love life? The guys that I like don’t know me, and there is no chance they will like me. I’m not sore, though (well, not really) because I know the right guy will come along some day. I just hope “someday” comes soon! On to other things.

[Wow, other things beyond boys and my non-existent romantic life?? What sort of eclectic topics could I possibly devote to the rest of this diary entry?]

That’s the way I am. I go through lots of mood swings. It’s really amazing how fast my feelings can change. I’m not a flake, I just go through mood swings.

[I wasn’t a flake, I was a teenager.]

One of my favorite places in New York, to this day.

Today my parents and I went to Manhattan, because I had to go to the American Museum of Natural History for school, and anyway, when I’m in Manhattan, I get this feeling of how cool it would be to be indepandent and living in Manhattan on my own.

[That’s one thing I can say in favor of Hunter College High School. Part of the rigorous academic curriculum included assignments that required us to go to museums, which I always loved doing. Not only did these trips provide overall cultural enrichment, but they helped me develop a passion for art and science. This particular exhibit I had to see and report on was about the rainforest. The museum replicated the sights and sounds of the habitat which, paired with the multitude of of specimen and sobering facts on deforestation, had me utterly captivated. As did the sights beyond the museum walls: the street vendors, boutiques, and outdoor cafes of Manhattan’s affluent Upper West Side.]

Well, I think that next weekend will be lots of fun because it is Memorial Day, and my parents, their friends, my cousin Anna and her parents, and me are all going upstate. It should be fun, chaotic, or both! See ya!

I still remember parts of that weekend. My parents’ friends had a young daughter, around nine years old. Anna and I spent much of that weekend dodging her. She followed us incessantly and at one point even ended up in tears because of our less-than-subtle avoidance (there are only so many times you can use the excuse of having “private things” to discuss before it gets taken personally). It was a tough situation. On one hand, she was bratty and immature and Anna and I did have older girl things we wanted to talk about. On the other hand, I was no stranger to being excluded and left on my own, so I could empathize with this little girl all too well. It felt only marginally less terrible to be the one doing the ostracizing.

[January, 1991] A War Has Begun

Wednesday, Jan. 16, 1991

Dear Diary,

I can’t believe this is happening, but a war has begun. The middle east is involved. I am so thankful that I have no relatives or friends fighting in this war. God, I really want peace for our world. I don’t want people to die. I don’t think that problems should be solved with death or violence.

[Trite much? Let’s be honest. I did not follow the Gulf War, and was one of the least political teenagers you could have known in the early 90’s. You want to know what inspired the above paragraph? Hearing George Michael’s “Praying For Time” playing over recorded messages to the troops from their families on the radio. No, really.]

I am such a hypocrite! Here I am saying that problems should not be solved with violence, when I go around hitting people all the time. Sometimes actions speack louder than words. Maybe war is the best thing for us after all. My father said that the only to have peace is to be prepared for war. Maybe he is right. I hope this war is over soon.

[There was a second, much smaller war going on, taking place on a small yellow bus during trips between Brooklyn and Manhattan. To be exact, the private bus my parents made me take because they thought the subway was too dangerous for their 13-year-old daughter (insert eye roll here). There were a handful of boys on the bus who teased me, and the verbal sparring became physical sparring. I’d punch or scratch them, they’d punch me back (never in the face, mostly in the arms). While I was still sharpening my acerbic wit,  I had my trusty nails which were plenty sharp. Since I couldn’t reciprocate the mental anguish back then, I had to work with what I had. Considering all the violence I was wrapped up in at the time, how could I resolve these conflicting feelings about war and its role in society? I really couldn’t, so the safest thing to do is to go back to talking about boys.]

Well things are so-so for me right now. Nothing too bad (excluding the war) or good is happening to me right now. I have no idea who I like. I think that I don’t like Tyler, but I just like to flirt with him, and smack him around a little.

[There, isn’t that much better? And as much as I might sound like a bully, I have to stress that this was all self-defense (against mostly verbal attacks, but still).]

Danny is a different story. I have no idea how I feel about him. I feel very furious with him at times and my heart melts at others. Right now I am SO MAD at him! First of all, I have only begun to realize what a major ego problem this guy has. Not to mention what a wannabe he can be sometimes. I really get annoyed by people who try to act cool. Usually they end up looking and acting like fools. Either you are cool or you are not. There is no in between. Sometimes the way Danny acts ticks me off. He can be such a putz! I guess I don’t like him anymore. Then again, who knows? -Bye-

I think we all know where I stood when it came to acting like a typical teenage boy. The only thing worse is when that typical teenage boy is one you have/had/who-the-hell-knows-anymore a crush on.

Being cool is such a subjective thing. I thought I was so cool in elementary school. I was the first girl in my grade to get a perm, wore edgy outfits like giant button-down shirts as dresses with wide belts (a trend which has since returned, I’ll have you know), and had a collection of big colorful earrings to go with my big colorful personality.  Within the first few months at Hunter, I went from being a big fish in a medium pond to a small fish in a tiny pond… full of piranhas. My big personality diminished by kids who all looked the same, acted the same, and dressed the same (Gap, Banana Republic, etc.) and made it clear that I was different–and not it a good way.

Guys like Danny started out different but tried to assimilate with the “popular” crowd. He was one of those borderline kids who was friendly with some of them, but wasn’t truly one of their own. Seeing his efforts to belong infuriated me. Back then it was the phoniness that ticked me off. Now I can look back and admit that part of it was probably jealousy, too, that he was closer to being popular at Hunter than I ever would be.

My big hair, odd outfits, and Brooklyn sass seemed to have no place in a smartypants school on the Upper East Side, but I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

[December, 1990] The Beginning of the End

Saturday, Dec. 15, 1990

Dear Diary,

I’ve decided to continue with my writing since I just got a new diary. I don’t know if I would’ve started writing if I didn’t get this diary.

no gift like the present

Today I had my birthday party (my real birthday is on December 22, in a week).

I had so much fun! I got a lot of great presents! Yanmei got me “Exclamation!” (the perfume). Myrna gave me 50 dollars (Whoa!), Nisa got me this good book and a pair of earrings (they’re okay), Joyce got me this great purple turtleneck with a white shirt with gold beads on it (She also got me socks and stockings to wear it with!), Chen-chi got me these beautiful ceramic swans (two of them in black), Helen got me this cool earring and necklace set (they are gold and in a leopard pattern). My parents got me a lot of stuff (including two Nintendo games, two movies, a walkman…)

I had such a blast! (I think everyone else did too.) Oops! I left an important thing out! Rose gave me this diary for my birthday! I love it.

I blew out all the candles on my cake and made a wish that Darryl N would like me. It was worth a shot! A lot of other stuff happened, but I don’t want to use up all the pages in one entry!

I just want to say one more thing. Tonight I found out a big secret about Joyce. She’s adopted! I suspected it before, but now I know for sure. I feel so bad for her, and I know I’m really lucky to have a pair of wonderful parents who love me. I’ll be sure not to act very different around her. I’m glad though that she has a great guardian. And I hope Joyce and me will stay friends.

This new diary I received was pale pink, with combination lock and watercolor drawing of a teddy bear wearing a bow, sitting at a window beside a tea-cup.  On the inside cover, written (a year or two later) in big letters was the following quote:

AND YOU CAN DREAM

SO DREAM OUT LOUD

–“Acrobat” (U2)

As for Joyce’s “big secret,” I don’t know why I felt the need to remind myself I not to act differently around her.  It’s not like I discovered she killed someone or had a life-threatening/contagious disease.  But I guess I was still used to more traditional family structures and had never met anyone adopted before.

This only made Joyce more exotic and fascinating to me.  And as much as I wanted the two of us to remain friends, we didn’t. While we were both shy and insecure 7th-graders, Joyce went on to thrive in athletics, becoming a track star and one of the more popular girls in our grade.  I would become…well, neither of those things.  Helen, another new Hunter friend, also became popular and quickly faded out of my circle of friends.

In fact, within a year I would lost touch with most of the old and new friends who attended my 13th birthday party.

This entry, poised on the cusp of teenagehood, is one of the happier ones in the diary, and also one of the last times I’d show genuine gratitude and affection for both of my parents for years to come. And in case you’re wondering, I’m almost positive that one of the Nintendo games I received was Dr. Mario.

[September, 1989] The Cool Group

November 2, 2009 5 comments

9/12/89

Dear Journal,

Second day of school, I got the Blob (Mrs. Feinstein). She’s o.k.

Nisa’s a BITCH!

She’s a f@#in’ $%HOLE. I saw her the first day of school and ignored her. Now she’s getting the hint and ignoring me. GOOD! I’m glad we are in separate classes. Rose is also in another class but it’s not that bad.

Since Elaine and me are in the same class we have to start the cool group.

I think Penny should be in it. Also Chen-chi. I’m not sure about Yanmei. (she should kinda clean up her act.)

Mitchell got a new hair-style and looks cool. Gotta go. —Bye—

being cool 1980s-fashion

Are you cool enough for our group?

I haven’t the foggiest idea what inspired such vitriol towards Nisa, the girl I considered my elementary school best friend.  Maybe it had something to do with her mother. The important thing is that I had enough strength and courage remaining to start “the cool group.”

If you have to ask what the qualifies one for being in the cool group, you probably aren’t cool enough to be in it. Also, I don’t remember the criteria Elaine and I set. Having big hair and awesome clothes probably had something to do with it.  Being smart was cool, but being a nerd was not. There were probably other guidelines, which evidently Yanmei was falling short of (poor Yanmei).

In case you’re wondering, no, I can’t recall what the fringe benefits of being in “the cool group” were. Probably just a sense of clueless superiority over the other sixth graders.