I like to think of head lice as a fad, like pogs or asbestos. The extremely popular head lice fad began in elementary school and moved on through middle school, coinciding with the appearance of slap bracelets. Little kids itched their heads, slapped each other with bracelets, traded pieces of cardboard in plastic containers, and dressed up like a couple of short-skirted British chicks who used their tits to talk about feminism. If pop rocks were the drugs of elementary school, head lice was the buzz kill.
Every couple of weeks, your name would be called and you would have to head to the nurse’s office for a “check.” We all knew that a check meant you had to be strapped to a chair and prodded with a plastic comb, all the while surrounded by posters depicting brain-sucking STDs. The nurses might wear pins with messages like, “I Love Bluebirds!” and “Have A Healthy Day!”, they might speak with a sock puppet or have a jack-o-lantern filled with lollipops — but we knew what they were capable of.
Inevitably, after the checks, a few children would go missing for a day or two, their empty desks serving as the only signifiers of the terror being covered up by the administration. We lived in a constant state of fear.
And that was only one of many reasons why middle school was, like, the worst f-ing time ever. Thank God I’m in college where no one is catty or angsty, and close contact never results in infestation.
Middle school was marked by all kinds of different endeavors: I spent a lot of time brushing my freakishly long hair (hair that my mother insisted that one day other people might find attractive), I discovered feminism and made “women’s rights” one of my interests in the yearbook (a move that helped solidify my status as Most Popular Girl in school), and I wrote highly moralistic songs about teen pregnancy and homelessness (including one charming number called “The Tree of Humanity” which to this day I am still disappointed that Jewel hasn’t started covering).
And then, at last, just as we’d all finally gotten over our very last bout of head lice, the pairing off began, probably at a dance involving an intricately planned costume. First kisses. Everyone was doing it. And it was just as we had dreamed. Not awkward at all. And definitely not slimy. We all instinctively knew what to do with our tongues.
My first kiss was truly magical. His name was Wraggles, and he was most certainly not a stuffed animal. My second kiss (or first with a real live person) took place in a friend’s basement. It went a lot like this:
ME: That was my first kiss.
BOY: I could tell.
BOY: No problem. And also, I just wanted you to know, I don’t believe all that shit people say about you being a loser.
ME: I think I’m in love with you.
College has a lot of the same milestones as middle school, except everything is more ironic. First kisses are usually crammed up against a window, with one hand leaning on a dusty radiator, and the other holding on to the cigarette that you “only smoke at parties.” The conversation goes something like this.
ME: Cough. Cough. This is my first cigarette. Um, in a while.
BOY/GIRL/NON-GENDER-SPECIFIC PERSON: People are always smoking. It gets me so fucking depressed, what about you? We live in this fucking — whatever you want to call it society that sucks down these poisons, every day, huh? We suck in this death and then blow it out of our mouths into the faces of our little babies. [with added importance] Babies.
ME: I don’t know any babies.
B/G/NGSP: I am a factory of pain.
B/G/NGSP: Wanna make out?
ME: No. But okay.
There are days when I sit alone in a crowded party, next to some hipster’s eighth scarf, and I think about middle school. I imagine a montage of awkward events — as if my life somehow mirrors a Drew Barrymore movie. I think about those stuffed dogs that had puppies coming out of their velcro-ed bellies, and how that taught me a lot about reproduction. I think about changing for gym class, and how that may have contributed to me never realizing my athletic potential. I think about how much it sucked to be Baby Spice. I think about the administration discovering asbestos and the subsequent “Asbestos Days” when I would sit at home and make instruments with my mom. I think about getting extremely emotionally invested in “Dawson’s Creek” and getting really angry at my dad whenever he would ask if Pacey was wearing lip gloss.
I would never do it over. Never. I would rather have my eyelashes tortuously plucked out one by one or have lollipops attached to my hair than go back to that horrible time. But there are always a few times every semester: when I am in the midst of finals in classes that all include the words “and Society” in the title, or when I am knee-deep in adulthood (getting jobs and being responsible and “dealing”). It is during those times that I wish that I was back in middle school, reading “Catcher in the Rye” for credit, holding a meeting with my five most trusted friends to come up with the ultimate screen name, listening to Limp Bizkit and pretending I liked it, and being genuinely miserable about the state of my life, but in a completely non-ironic way.
Eli Clark is Baby Spice.