The following is an excerpt from "Welcome Back Chaos," Andy Nowicki's upcoming memoir/manifesto.
by Andy Nowicki
My mind also flashes to a different memory, of events which took place during the school year which followed the summer of WarGames.
There was a girl in my seventh-grade class named Suzanne, a skinny, beady-eyed girl who always faintly repelled me. I had no idea why I felt this way at the time, but looking back now, I think it was because she was, in general, a pretty scary child. In today's parlance, one might call her “psycho,” or perhaps more benignly, aver that she “has issues.” I do not mean to be unkind in my assessment of Suzanne, who perhaps was the product of a broken home, or the victim of child abuse. Some trauma had surely warped her psyche, to the point where now, on the brink of young womanhood, she had become prone to bizarre fixations and obsessions which would take root suddenly, as if from out of nowhere.
In any case, greater context is necessary in order to tell this story properly. At this time, I still found myself prone to embarrassment whenever anyone brought up girls and sex-related matters. It was more or less the same mania for modesty that led to my intense dislike, previously discussed, of being teased by cheeseball photographers about “smooching purty girls.” Because of this propensity of mine to blush and become horribly uncomfortable, many of the more aggressive and obstreperous girls in my class used to take a kind of delight in pretending to come onto me, all for the payoff of seeing me squirm, glare into space, and roll my eyes, desperately attempting to seem non-mortified by their assault of fake flirtation.
Their manner of patter would usually go something like, “Hey Andy, how are you today? You sure look good in those corduroy pants, Andy. Gosh, I wish you were my boyfriend, Andy.” It seemed that the repetition of my name, a set of stock, corny “Hey big boy”-type phrases, and a sultry sotto voce tone was the entirety of their repertoire. For my part, I knew well enough that the act was not only a joke, but that it meant the very opposite of what it seemed to mean. The fact was that my desirability was so inconspicuous as to be nonexistent; therefore, flirting with me—spotty, gaunt, unfashionable, corduory-pantsed, nerdy me—was the ultimate comically absurd stunt, kind of like putting a chunk of dirt in your mouth and pretending it’s delicious. So I felt doubly stung by this teasing, since it at once discomfited me with its frankly sexual overtones—which rendered manifest that from which I would have preferred to remain oblivious, as well as making me aware of my patent undesirability in the eyes of others, i.e., at being the butt of a rather mean-spirited prank.
|Makin' me blush, though I know it's a hoax...|
Yet somehow, in the midst of all of the teasing, this one girl named Suzanne somehow in some sense grew actually to “like” or “fancy” me. Against the onslaught of faux-flirtatious come-ons that these girls regaled me with, which I tried to ignore, though my face reddened with embarrassment and shame—Suzanne’s appeal became, or seemed to become, sincere, even pleading. At the end of one school day, she was actually crying because I had responded curtly, and did not reciprocate her professed affections. Other kids, drawn by the “drama,” suddenly reproached me in all seriousness for being so “mean” to Suzanne; why wouldn’t I just go and talk to her? How could I be so heartless? I, however, remained convinced that this crying routine was all an elaborate ruse, designed to trick me and thus enhance my own experience of humiliation. Also, my vague sense of leeriness and revulsion towards this unfortunate girl fed my vehemence; I couldn’t have wanted her, even if she had truly wanted me.
In any event, Suzanne showed up the next morning in a skimpy little frock, and sat down next to me. I didn’t look up. We dwelt together in silence for a long moment, and as the seconds ticked past, the blood coursed to my head once more, as it had the previous day; my heart thumped madly, and I wished to be anywhere in the world other than where I was. Presently Suzanne spoke: “I wore this dress just for you, Andy,” she said. Again with the silly sotto voce; again, the gratuitous repetition of my name. In response, I muttered something vaguely dismissive, causing her immediately to snap out of middle-school “sexy” mode and turn mortally offended. “Fine! Be that way!” she huffed, then got up and left.
And with that, Suzanne’s brief obsession with me came to an abrupt end. In fact, she never bothered me again. Reflecting on the events now, I’m still inclined to wonder if this psycho- in-training (and a training bra) hadn’t all along simply taken the same joke of the other girls—razz shy loser Andy—a bit farther, to the point of actually pretending to be distraught over my refusal to fake-flirt back to her, and then dressing up to fake-impress me after fake-bawling over my very real rejection of her. Or maybe she had actually grown unaccountably smitten with me for a few hot hours. I’m honestly not sure which explanation—faking it to such an extent, or suddenly becoming obsessed with scrawny, geeky, unappealing 13-year old me—is weirder or more disturbing. In any case, the unsettling experience—l’affair Suzanne—certainly did nothing to inure me to my ongoing sexualization, much less the sexualization of everyone around me.
It was in seventh grade, of course, that everything in school came to revolve around the issue of “popularity.” Suddenly a rather rigid caste system developed among my peers. Boys who had previously been my friends abruptly started to shun me and hang out with a different group, in order to improve their social standing. Just a couple of years before , no one had really cared how “popular” he was; a child’s natural sense of hedonism (as opposed to an adult’s debauched one) extends merely to gravitating towards fun stuff, and avoiding activities which are painful and boring. Children don’t care about who they are “seen” with, or whether being friends with such-and-so a person is good or bad for their social image; children simply play with kids they find enjoyable to be around.
So it was in the Edenic days of yore. By seventh grade, however, in the midst of full-throttle puberty, things had grown vastly different. By then, it was imperative to avoid looking like a loser, if at all possible. As a gawky, ugly, awkward, poorly-dressed geek, I couldn’t avoid this fate, but then it would also be fair to say that I never really thought even to try, since the whole puberty ordeal pretty much snuck up on me. Even though I knew it was coming, I didn’t comprehend the full range of ramifications it would have when it finally struck, and I certainly didn’t realize that one of the consequences of puberty would be that former friends would now reject me for not being “cool” enough. Yet before I even knew it, this very thing began to happen.