POV 2008. Grade six was not my year. I Kissed a Girl was making waves on the radio. Anyone who is anyone rocked Dunlop Volleys. My Asics GEL-Contend 5 Running Shoe couldn’t compete, my flat feet and podiatrist made sure of that. The cool girls carried Country Road bags, and they all one-strapped it. I lasted a year, but my chiropractor remains my longest running relationship to date. It was cool to shave your pits, wear a bra and not care about anything. I was hairy, boobless and spent every lunch time stacking shelves as a library monitor. Honestly? The Scholastic Book Fair was the highlight of my year.
I was in a composite class with seventh graders at one of the dodgiest primary schools in Brisbane (my parents had money, but I think they wanted to keep me humble). I was just shy of 11, yet I was surrounded by 13-year-old boys who were simultaneously cracking into long division and destroying my life. Some of them were even beginning puberty, and I was terrified. Please don’t make me interact with them, Mr. Deighton.
I had one best friend who stuck by me through everything. She shared my love of horses, had a mouth full of metal (it was actually a plate, which brought me a great deal of delight) and wore headbands in the school colours halfway down her forehead. I don’t think she realised she could’ve been way cooler without me and our Saddle Club lunch time re-enactments. (Thanks for never leaving me, Olivia).
Grade 6 brought its trials and tribulations, but I managed. Mr Deighton let Olivia and I pick out our favourite songs from the Top Forty, and he would upload them to a USB for us. I grew increasingly closer to all of the Korean students and taught their parents English in exchange for fried chicken. I finished the entire Mary-Kate and Ashley: So Little Time book series. I was getting on. It’s always times like these when something horrific pops up, isn’t it? You’re finally making some bank? Car troubles. You’re finally getting along with your dad? “I’m leaving your mother”. You’re finally enjoying sixth grade? You’re publically humiliated at Splash ‘N’ Play Adventure Park.
I don’t know who decided to take ninety tweens and three staff to a mediocre waterpark, but I hope they know I’ll be forever disappointed. I had never really been bullied before (looking back, I’m not sure why) but the day that I was has stuck with me forever. I remember so vividly – I was standing close to the top of The Big Tunnel Slide in a tasteful red one piece and was desperately scanning around for Olivia. “C’mon, c’mon,” I chanted to myself. I had thought she was behind me, but in the manic push and shove of a waterpark queue (if there was a prize for shittiest queues, waterparks would win every time) we had lost each other. I was squinting, having trouble seeing anything further than my hand. I took a deep sigh and looked down. I knew what had to be done. As nonchalantly as possible, I placed my goggles firmly on my face whilst remaining in the queue on dry land. It’s just like wearing sunnies.
My eyesight had been rapidly declining ever since I turned eleven. The problem was, at the time I had only just gotten braces. Ugly Betty was all over prime-time television, and I had refused to complete my final transition to a doppelganger of Betty Suarez. Instead, I begged my mum for contact lenses. Given the choice between pairing glasses and a waterpark or stumbling around in a blur, we all know what an insecure 11-year-old girl would choose, every time. Mum wouldn’t budge on the lenses, but she did present me with something that, in my opinion, should never have been invented: prescription goggles.
So there I was, my goggles and I, standing with my back to everyone in an attempt to shield my newest accessory. Not surprisingly, I heard the kids in front of me snickering. And when I turned around, I could also unfortunately see them. At least the goggles worked? One boy leant over to his friend and did a pretty poor job of whispering, “Can you see that dork wearing goggles?” They all laughed in unison. Prepubescent me was turning bright red, tears welling up. More had turned to look at me. I kept the goggles on, and let the tears comfortably fill the sockets.
I was officially back to square one as my eyesight had once again turned to blur. I remember thinking, ‘do I empty them?’ But, like the trooper I was, I bucked up, kept them on and pushed on as the queue continued to move forward, Olivia still nowhere in sight. The lifeguard signalled me (I think? I couldn’t tell at this point) to step into the slide, and so I did, tentatively. He gave me the thumbs up, and down the slide I went. Alone and travelling at a steady 10 kilometres an hour, I had finally given myself permission to lift up the goggles. Tears spilt out. I quickly splashed my face with the chlorine infested water (God knows what else was in there) in an effort to hide my emotions from the worst twenty-five minutes of my life (so far).
I still remember coming home that day and asking Mum if grade six was meant to be “this hard”. Hilarious. Grade six wasn’t my year, so what? There are worse things in life – like isolation with your family and hitting on boys in the Centrelink line.