2: I’m Not Thirteen Yet

2: I’m Not Thirteen Yet

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

I’m Not Thirteen Yet

A true friend reaches for your hand and touches your heart.

~Author Unknown

Sixth grade was a tough year. Some days, walking the halls was like trudging through peanut butter—nearly impossible. I had entered the world of teenagers, and I wasn’t even one of them yet. Lynette Gardner had always been my best friend, until February, when she turned thirteen. I wouldn’t be thirteen until August.

Lynette started bringing new thirteen-year-old friends to our lunch table. Then Lynette and these new girls began holding thirteen-year-old clubs after school. Obviously they were far more mature with the word “teen” attached to their age. It wouldn’t be long before there was tape down the middle of the cafeteria, dividing it in two. If you weren’t thirteen, you dared not enter the thirteen-year-old side. If you tried, the lip-gloss army would hurl you back.

Gradually, Lynette stopped inviting me over after school. One day, on my way into the girls’ bathroom, I overheard Lynette and Shelley Abrams discussing their after-school plans at Dale’s Ice Cream.

“This afternoon is going to be so much fun,” said Lynette. “It’s going to be you, me, and the rest of the ‘Fab Thirteens.’ Just remember, no twelve-year-olds.”

I heard a toilet flush and scurried into an empty stall. Their giggles felt like needles. I heard the sinks running and knew they were tossing their locks in the mirror. This couldn’t be happening. But I was quickly getting the picture that it was.

With spring turning to summer, the rift between the twelve- and thirteen-year-olds grew worse. What if by September, when I was finally thirteen, they had fourteen-year-old clubs?

One day, I came home from school and Mom gave me the news that she had signed me up for summer camp.

“Oh, like a day camp?” I said.

“No, Honey, I signed you up for two weeks at Camp Shenandoah.”

My backpack fell to the ground. I stood there with my mouth open. Two weeks stuck at some bug-infested camp where I didn’t know anyone? What was she trying to do to me? Make my life worse?

“I talked to Margaret’s mom,” she said. “Margaret will be there at the same time as you. Maybe you can be bunkmates.”

I could have shaken her. Margaret Bowman was a thirteen-year-old who wore bras and was a bona fide member of the “Fab Thirteens.” My mom knew nothing. Margaret wasn’t going to be my friend.

Three weeks later, I reluctantly boarded the bus with all the other Shenandoah-bound kids. Just before I stepped on, Margaret’s mother and mine asked to take a picture of the two of us. I wanted to throw up, but smiled graciously as the camera flashed and our moms grinned.

Two hours later, as the buses pulled in to Camp Shenandoah, I saw crowds of counselors jumping up and down, singing and cheering—all for us. I was immediately a bit less nervous.

As the first day turned into the third, I still missed home. I made friends, but not with Margaret. I chose the bed farthest from where she slept. I figured I could avoid her for two weeks, no problem.

However, one evening, Margaret and I wound up on the same team during a color war. We didn’t talk, but when our team won, she gave me a huge high five. I was taken aback. Shouldn’t she be rubbing her thirteen-year-old glory in my face?

After the game, we had an ice cream party in the dining hall to celebrate our victory. I sprinkled my last spoonful of chocolate sprinkles and walked toward a table.

“Hey Jamie,” a voice called, “come sit here.”

I swore it sounded like Margaret. It turned out it was Margaret, and she wanted me to sit next to her.

“Ok... thanks,” I said and took a seat, probably with a confused look on my face.

“I love the way you arrange your toppings, in perfect order from ice cream to fudge and chocolate sprinkles. You’re a great sundae builder,” said Margaret. “Look at mine. I can’t even keep it together.”

We both laughed as I looked at Margaret’s sundae, which slightly resembled a Leaning Tower of Pisa that someone got sick on.

From that day on, Margaret and I curiously became great friends. Sometimes I forgot about her being in the teenage club back at school, but I also wondered what would happen to our friendship in September.

During the last few days at camp, we had a soccer tournament against the boys. I played forward and Margaret was on defense. We started on the field in the glitter T-shirts we made the night before. I was never an athlete, but I had a newfound confidence lately, and I think camp and Margaret had a lot to do with it.

It was mid-game and I felt energized. I saw the ball making its way toward me and went in for it. Richard Neeland had the ball. I ran up and kicked it through his legs. A surge of adrenaline ran through me. I could hear all of my teammates screaming my name in excitement. But before I knew it, I was flat on my face, grass in my eyes and up my nose. Richard had tripped me.

Right away, Margaret was kneeling next to me. “Are you okay? Are you okay?” she asked. “Richard, you big jerk, what were you thinking? This is my best friend, and if you want to mess with someone, don’t pick her. Oh—and you stink at soccer!”

At this point, I was lying on my back, and my head shot up when I heard the words “best friend.” I squinted and saw Margaret standing above me. She extended her hand. She was ready to help me up. She grinned. From then on, I knew who my best friend was. She didn’t care what age I was, and never would. To this day, we both have the framed picture of us at the bus stop that first day of camp.

~Amy Bernstein

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