A weird high school memory. A story about growing up. Maybe.
Unpublished (For now…)
Written 26 July 2021. Adapted from actual journal entries kept at the time of high school.
Featured images are stills from the music video of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ by Wheatus (c)2000 Sony Music Entertainment and ‘Love Me Like You’ by Little Mix (c)2015 Columbia, Syco.
CW: Sexual harassment, sexual references
To me, the school socials of my affluent, Catholic, single sex high school were both a coming-of-age event and a time capsule of gender norms of the 2010s.
The scene of the girls in ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ flocking to the windows and doors to catch a glimpse of visiting male students is no joke. This was a regular occurrence at my school, culminating in one incident where Ido Drent of Shortland Street fame, after giving a pro-Abstinence speech at assembly, was mobbed and cornered by crowds of students on the way back to his car before being rescued by the maths teachers.
In our world in the peach castle, learning about male students, as friends or more, were limited to family friends, orchestra and concert band practice.
Our puberty and sex education were lacking, only taught on P.E days or learnt through the romance novels and fanfics students read out loud on the bus. So to many, the best way to learn was the School of Life.
As such, the school social where other single-sex schools were invited, would be the event of the year for baby me and the cohort. When my only options were a primary school crush who ghosted me on Facebook and the Spanish class penpal who sprayed his letters with Axe Body Spray, I was prepared for my Cinderella night of the Real World.
Fairy Godmother arrived in the form of Valleygirl, Supre, and Diva. This was the era of neon colours, chunky statement necklaces, Peter Pan collars, snapbacks that said #YOLO and Rihanna red hair.
On the night, I discovered that the social were just as much the discovery event for the guys as much as they were for us. Calling out to girls, groping, and pulling at dresses happened. At the time, we thought this attention was ‘flattering’ in hindsight, it was uncomfortable, given all we were underage. Many of the guys had not had interactions with girls, so to navigate the unfamiliar world, they would cling on to what they might have thought made them ‘manly’, leaning on braggadocio, harassing behaviour and Element hoodies.
The first time I had been touched by a guy was at one of these events. His friends grouped around us to laugh, as he tried to tug fabric at my waist to make the neckline of my dress fall. I stormed out of there, as the speakers were blaring Snoop Dogg’s ‘Wet’, Snoop oblivious to my plight as he sang “I wanna make you wet! Uh uh uh uh! Doo! Doo!”. Somehow, the teachers carrying around metre rulers in jest, to separate students, were no match for the early-teen boys chanting ‘giggity’. Looking around, students were wearing the adult costumes from Look Sharp. I felt disoriented and head out for fresh air and to find my friends.
That night, when I got home, I wrote a journal entry like no other, saying that I wished I just stayed at home, watching C4 on the analogue TV in the attic. Did my future heartache person catch the Dudesons episode I missed that night? Does he also sing ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ on nights like this? Would he eat the discarded pickles from my hamburger order? They’d be out there, but not at the social.
On the way to my room, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and had a good long look. I had chunky eyeliner and green-gold eyeshadow. And I thought that no matter what happened, I did not need anyone else to think I was beautiful if I thought so myself.
I smelt a trace of my friend’s Mariah Carey Honey perfume on the mirror and thought back on the day. The night might have been bad, but the feeling of bussing to a friend’s house after school, walking around the neighbourhood singing loudly out of tune, getting ready with your friends, painting nails and doing makeup with Jungle Book playing in the background…maybe that’s what growing up was all about. No-one’s attention gives ‘growing up’ to you.