While I usually have a lot to say on the joys of childhood, I don’t have much to add to the topic of the joys of middle school. For there wasn’t any. At all.
I don’t have a lot of luck venturing out in the winter weather. Either I have to spend eight hours of my day in soggy shoes and socks or I have to look at the tatters of my once new-looking tights – a victim of falling on the slick sidewalks. I’ve had many bruises, scabs, and even a stitched-up chin from the icy ground. Yet with all my sob stories on the subject, none come close to the sordid tale that my 13-year-old self had to endure.
It was seventh grade. And while I wasn’t unpopular, I also wasn’t a standout. And in my ability to become invisible, I had found one outlet that I excelled at. Maybe being first-chair clarinet in band isn’t the most coveted of positions, but for me, it was. I could play scales like it was my business and was lucky enough to be chosen for quite a few honor bands during that time period. Something I incessantly bragged about to my other classmates who could care less.
On a slushy winter day, my friend Katie and I headed to Simpson College for one of those events. I had prepared night and day for this competition. And after nerve-wracking tryouts for chair competition, I was able to secure the top spot of all clarinet sections.
Wasn’t this a highlight. Waltzing into the college cafeteria, I felt pretty important among my counterparts. For there was third-chair girl in the second section, and lookie-here its fourth chair in third-section boy – how disappointing for them.
As depressing as it might sound, it was my time to shine – for about an hour and a half. Katie and I both sat at the “popular” table that day, as we both had made good impressions with our fellow band nerds.
It was after lunch that things suddenly soured. There was a large hill outside of the building, covered in snow. Some of the boys in their dress clothes dared others to slide down the hill. At that moment, I was not lacking in confidence and wanted to savor my cool factor for as long as I could. I boldly declared that, I, Carrie Olson, would roll down the hill. And I did. Into a gigantic mud pile at the bottom.
My hair was coated in mud, as was the rest of my body. In seconds, I had become a mud monster clawing up the hill to get back to my comrades. But they had all scattered, back to the rehearsal hall for practice. Into a bathroom I went, were paper towels sopping in water and soap could not wipe the humiliation or compacted dirt away.
So I went wandering around the deserted campus. After failing to find my band director, “mud girl” desperately ran to the car we had traveled to Des Moines in. A pair of extra clothes was sitting in a bag behind the locked windows. For a moment, I pondered the implications of slamming a rock through the window – but quickly found my bearings.
After defeat, I wandered back into the music building’s public bathroom, locking myself in a handicapped stall with my soapy paper towels. It had been a good 45 minutes, as hot tears flowed and my embarrassment got the best of me. I wouldn’t be remembered by my musicianship but my mud.
A couple college-aged girls entered the room and while fixing their make-up, talked of how campus police were searching for a middle school student lost at the college. In my foolishness, I hadn’t realized that not showing up for practice would worry the adults at the event. Bursting out of the stall, I yelled, “It’s me!”
Surprised, the girls ushered me, all blurry-eyed, to an instructor who had been in charge of finding me. It was then that I was able to get a hot shower and borrow some sweats before my parents finally arrived with new dress clothes for me to wear for the concert.
After a pep talk by my mom and dad, I went out and performed decently. I tried to get the trauma out of my mind. It was quickly relived as a boy came up to me after the competition in line at a local Wendy’s, saying to me, “You’re the girl who sat in the mud …” “Shh,” an adult woman said to him quietly. “She’s probably embarrassed enough.”
Reality set in. I would be ‘mud girl ‘to these people. Not ‘good at the clarinet’ girl. Popularity over. Sigh.
Most people will look at this moment with a smile and talk about how hilarious it now seems. And it is, to some extent. But what I most remember about that moment was the complete humiliation that I had to endure. This wasn’t the first (and definitely not the last) time that my self confidence had soared, only for me to get knocked down peg or two soon after.
Did I get any insight from this situation? Did I learn anything? Not really, just don’t be an idiot. Be a bit smarter. And damn you, snow.