When You’re 12

Middle school: It can leave scars.

Miles run today: 11

Age of my firstborn baby today: 12

Interesting people I’ve interviewed so far this week: 2

My baby boy turns 12 today. He is 5’5″, wears his father’s running shoes, and his most common question is, “Are you gonna eat the rest of that?”

I am hopeful that 12 years old will be everything wonderful for him: the year he gets braces, the year he starts earning money on small jobs in the neighborhood, the year he finally gets a cell phone so he can stop browsing cell phone websites like they’re offering a year’s supply of Cadbury’s chocolate.

For me, 12 was the year when everything died.

When I was 11, I skipped a lot. I danced to Michael Jackson’s Thriller with my best friend, and we pretended like we were in Coca-Cola commercials.

Then I turned 12.

Within two weeks, my rabbit had died; my grandmother, who had been living with us while she battled cancer, died a couple of days into the school year; and then my cat died in a freak accident.

It all felt very epic, as so many things do when you’re 12.

Coincidentally, English class was also very dark and epic, which suited my mood perfectly.

Presiding over the room was our English teacher who we christened No-Neck ____. Her hair was light and fluffy like a chick’s, and her shoulders met her head in a way that kept me fairly distracted.

No-Neck was the perfect person to teach us about Miss Havisham, because No-Neck herself felt a kinship with the dark and twisted character: at her advanced age (probably 52), she had never married, because she had had one true love, and he had died in a fiery car crash not long after they were engaged.

Her tragic past informed each of the equally dark and twisted selections we studied that year: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Raven,” “Great Expectations.”

I don’t recall being depressed that year, but the realization that death could come early and often was never far from my mind. Whether one was bricked up inside a cellar by a raving lunatic or ensconced in a house with a rotting wedding cake, death was coming for you. Get ready.

We also read a short story by O. Henry called “The Last Leaf,” and an old person who is dying says she will die when the last leaf falls off the tree outside her window, and an artist paints a masterpiece leaf that fools the old person, and I figured she probably decided to live forever at that point. I sat in my old, withering middle school English classroom with cinderblock walls and windows that pushed open at the bottom and watched the leaves blow around outside.

Death.

I felt very old and jaded as my classmates quibbled over who stole whose pen and whose friendship notebook with all of those secrets inside was read aloud in the middle of science class.

But the best part was that I didn’t die.

I kept jumping around to music and practicing cheerleading and giggling about boys. It was the year I got a black Member’s Only jacket for Christmas and went to sleepovers and thought “Back to the Future” was the greatest movie ever.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

And sometimes, I am simply glad I lived to tell about it.

Happy Birthday to my 12-year-old! I tell him that pretty much everything will be better than it is right now: it’s all sunshine and happiness after you clear middle school.

Back me up on that if he asks you for confirmation, my friends.

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