A classmate handed me a folded note. I unfolded the notebook paper with curiosity & anticipation. It read
“Do you want to go steady
Check one box
I checked Yes of course because this was from John who was tall, had sandy blonde hair and was really smart, funny AND polite. He completely exceeded my 12 year old boy criteria. I was in complete shock I was even on his girlfriend radar. It was an unbelievable feeling of happiness and confusion as to what would happen next. I refolded the note and put it on his desk on the way to sharpen my pencil. He grabbed it and walked to the back of the classroom where all the lockers were. Upon reading it he literally jumped up and hit his head on the overhanging plywood board supporting seasonal decorations stacked on top of the lockers, laughing at himself. I smiled at him and giggled quietly at my desk.
Thursday of that week in 1976 I was pushing around the Salisbury steak (AKA rubber cement+ food coloring atop a blob of instant mashed potatoes covered in a ladle-full of brown thin liquid) on my tray and someone at my cafeteria table yelled “Jana you are John’s girlfriend now!” I was blind-sided by the fact John would tell anyone because I had envisioned a secret relationship for only us to know about, replete with stolen glances. Yes, I was super sheltered and grew up in a Baptist church so I was emotionally young for 12. Once other people were discussing it I felt immediate shame and questioned checking Yes. I turned crimson and denied it but the table concurred this was the truth. I panicked and said nothing more, just threw my lunch away and walked around until lunch period was over. I was not ready for this. My social anxiety would not allow for this relationship to be watched by outsiders. Apparently having older brothers who constantly teased me did not make me tougher when confronted – it made me more resistant to outside judgements and ultimately more defensive.
The following Monday I broke up with him in a brief scribble “I want to break up. We are good as friends.” The twelve-year-old truth was I had no idea what to do as a girlfriend and he never called me or made any plans to spend time with me outside of school. It was as if nothing had changed except classmates were verbally acknowledging us as a couple. Why that freaked me out was undoubtedly my WASP upbringing which stressed being a Good Girl and a good student but not necessarily someone’s girlfriend until I was much older. I had preempted any opportunity for this relationship before it even had a chance to start because I was nowhere near ready when that opportunity presented itself.
Luckily no one asked me out for another six years, so I had plenty of time to get over any qualms about silly gossip. I simply refused to give a damn when I realized how few and far-between amazing opportunities come along in one lifetime. Not giving a damn about society’s opinion gives me the freedom to embrace all the unexpected opportunities life has to offer, one folded note at a time.