Human Parts
Published in

Human Parts

Escaping Middle School

Boxers vs whitey-tighties and an encounter with the impossible—my first grey hair.

Two weeks ago I was sitting on a picnic table eating fruity ‘ice-freezes’ with my lovely lady-friend. We were in my hometown of Sacramento, CA for the weekend—I had a show there and took it as an opportunity to show her the town I grew up in. A few minutes in to our freezes, she paused from carving ice-peels of lemon and watermelon and mango, looking at my head with an odd grin on her face. She laughed and said “uh oh.” She asked me to turn right as she reached with her fingers and plucked out a single grey hair from just above my ear. My first grey hair.

Oh, god.

I took a moment to collect myself.

Grey hair? Me? Impossible. It was perfect irony that I would be in my hometown, sitting in the same place I had sat so many times before, having frequented the spot in middle school—the pinnacle years of youthful ignorance.

For me, middle school was two years of no boner control and many attempts at sneaking glances up girls’ skirts. I picked up magic as a hobby (the art of deception, not the gathering), created fruit-based code-names for all my friends, and fantasized extensively about romantic gestures I could pull off in order to convince girls I was kissable. I wasn’t, turns out, but that’s ok.

When I was in middle school, my dad really wanted me to play basketball—not as a ruse to make me cooler, but because he played growing up and sports were (and still are) a big part of his life. So he bought me nice basketball shoes, a basketball, a hoop for our driveway (even a jockstrap, though after putting it on I decided that wasn’t happening)—things his parents could never afford to give him. He had been talented enough to play in college but had to stop after two years so that he could work to pay for his tuition; above everything else, my dad is an extreme pragmatist. All function, no form—except, of course, with your followthrough. He doesn’t care in the slightest about fashion or style or aesthetic. In my entire life I’ve never seen the man wear jeans, not once. He prefers sweats because, as he’ll quickly point out, you can wear shorts underneath and when it begins getting warmer out, you can just take the sweats off and be perfectly comfortable. Remember zip-off pants? My dad was all about those. And so at twelve, I was too.

Among all sorts of exciting firsts like having a locker and six different classes, middle school was also the first time I had to change in front of other people. PE class. On the first day of school everyone was given identical green mesh gym shorts and a grey t-shirt, and told to change into them—sweating in our own clothes would be unhygienic, I suppose, according to the school boards. I remember being nervous, but wasn’t too worried until I saw all the kids around me taking off their pants and seeing a different type of underwear underneath—a type I didn’t even know existed! Until this moment I had been going through life under the assumption everyone was, like me, wearing whitey-tighties under their pants, but alas, no!

All around me I saw checkers, stripes, patterns, cartoon characters, super heroes, boxers of every possible kind on the kids to my left and right. Suddenly I felt alien. What were these miniature, colorful under-shorts? It was like I was of a different species! I felt my off-white whitey-tighties under my pants, the elastic tight against my hips, and I knew that when I took off my pants I would forever be a pariah—a lost soul, a loser, a baby. I felt my face get hot and I started sweating, fearing for the inevitable, looking for an escape, but there was none. A few minutes had passed and most of the kids around me were done changing or close to it. I knew I was running out of time. Soon I would be asked why I hadn’t changed yet and then I would surely be ruined. So, with one glance at my surroundings, like lightening I ripped down my cargo shorts, the white of my undies surely blinding everyone like a high-intensity halogen buttocks beam! I threw on the mesh shorts as fast as I could and looked around. No one, it seemed, had noticed.

I let out a sigh of relief. I had survived. Or, I thought I had, until one of my classmates pointed out that I had put my shorts on backwards.

We each struggle with the need for approval, the need for inclusion and acceptance and respect—and not just in middle school. We all latch onto groups to define ourselves; our identity is linked directly to our memberships in those places we feel we belong. I’m a athlete, I’m a writer, I’m an artist, I’m a engineer, we think, in order to carve out our place in this confusing world. We also tend to define ourselves by what groups we don’t belong to. And we make them our enemies. Maybe it’s Liberal vs Conservative, Science vs Religion, or Vampires vs Werewolves. It’s just so simple and so convenient to think in Black and White or Good versus Evil, Us versus Them. It seems that there aren’t really two kinds of people but one: the type that loves to split up into groups who gang up on each other. And the frightening thing is how little control we have over what groups we fall into.

Our self-claimed membership in our groups ultimately affects almost every aspect of our lives, from who we choose to hang out with to what kinds of clothes we wear. Every time we step out of our door in the morning, whether the businessman or the thug, we speak to the world in the way we walk, talk, dress, and treat the people around us. Each of us is a representative sample of each of the groups we claim membership in, which together create one unique identity.

It’s a paradox, though, that our human condition includes not just the fundamental need to be connect with others and belong in some way to groups but also the intense desire for personal freedom.

I went straight to my mom after that first day of middle school and forced her to buy me boxers immediately, and in the end I’m probably the only one who remembers what will forever be branded in my memory as ‘The Tighty-Whitey Incident of 2002’. It’s important to remember that these types of events certainly aren’t restricted to our 12-year-old selves; every day we are in positions of power—the power to include and exclude, to see and treat others as enemies or friends. Perhaps it would be beneficial for us to realize that nothing is black and white; that in the end, we’re all pretty much just shades of grey—a truth as immutable and inescapable and inevitable as the grey hairs that eventually sprout on each of our heads.

I’ve kept checking over the past two weeks for other wayward greys popping out of my oversized noggin, and have been happy to find my search fruitless. I know they’ll come back—of course they will—I’m just hoping my girlfriend was being honest when she said that grey hair would make me look more refined.

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