Dear My Eighth-Grade Yearbook Photograph,
What exactly are you smiling at?
Do you think that you and you alone have some sort of advance knowledge of the future that entitles you to say “cheese” and smile so boldly, so model-wide, for the camera? Yet this can be the only plausible explanation as to why you are there on page eighty-six with perfectly feathered hair parted straight down the middle, showing so many teeth. A Cheshire cat with the melted-down frame of a 1984 Volkswagen Vanagan bracketed on your molars for a stabilizing effect. An acne-blessed jack-o-lantern proclaiming his love for the West Coast leg of the Thompson Twins’ “Into the Gap” world-tour right there for everyone to see in a button on your bleached-denim lapel.
Your upturned polo collar is the dead giveaway as to the harrowing journey of the uncool whose gauntlet you are about to run screaming through. And FYI: hot-pink Le Tigre polo shirts with upturned collars were never the new black.
Smile while you are drenched in flop-sweat every single day in the locker room after P.E. playing beat the clock with Mr. Franzoia’s fourth-period algebra while trying to master the vagaries of pegging the legs of your Guess? jeans. It was so easy at home with Mom to help you, now wasn’t it?
Grin wildly while you learn that the 960 on the PSAT that you bragged about for a week straight at the Algonquin round table of the cafeteria is not a ticket to cupping Ah’lai McQuisten’s ass cheeks with your hands at the winter formal (theme: “Hanoi Rocks!”). Who’s laughing now, chuckles?
Laugh uproariously while you hang in stasis from the chin-up bar during the tenth concentric circle of hell, the semiannual pull-up test. Really throw back your head and giggle when you show a class full of alpha males your upper-body muscle mass has roughly the same consistency as a wet pillowcase full of egg salad. Double over with convulsions when you jump at the bar to get a running start, but Mr. Demmer tells you that it doesn’t count unless you hang for a full second. That’s one long Mississippi to you, Lenny Bruce. Yuk it up when you kick your legs into some sort of extra-chromosome palsy to help you achieve the might and majesty that is one full rep of your chin not quite clearing the bar. Not so funny now, is it?
Yeah you go right on ahead and keep laughing at some private inside joke, my eighth-grade yearbook photograph. Keep on smiling from behind the relative safety of the white-bordered and paisley mosaic background of the 5″ × 7″. I know where you live.