Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Tomorrow is the last day of school. These past few weeks, full of 8th grade dances, awards ceremonies, hugs, and tears, have made me remember the last days of my own middle school experience. My 8th grade year took place before it became so fashionable to have “graduations” from everything, so we merely had an awards ceremony. I will be honest with you. I won a lot of awards that night. Mostly highest averages. I had a lot of highest averages. I won so many that one of my classmates later made some remark about wallpaper and how I was going to have plenty of it. I didn’t know him very well. I have always wondered if he actually thought that I was so much of a nerd that I would put them on my wall. (I might not have been THAT much of a nerd, but I bet I am such a nerd that I still have all of them somewhere.) While I was happy with all my certificates that proved I was the smartest, I was disappointed that I didn’t win the award for most improved on the softball team. For the record, I still happen to believe that I was the most improved. (I had nowhere to go but up, and I really shone in right field.)

The last day of 8th grade, I turned in a bunch of my reading points for candy. I had earned more points than anyone else. Of course. I did this by reading books such as A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter, and . . . wait for it . . . Anna Karenina. Would you like to know why I read Anna Karenina in the 8th grade? When everyone else was reading Newbery winners? Because it was worth the most points. Obviously. What a brat I must have been. I don’t remember a whole lot of Anna Karenina, and I would like to revisit it someday. But I at least understand references to it. Thanks, 8th grade Kari, for making that possible.

So, anyway, I turned in my points for candy, and at first I refused to share (the candy that I had earned by reading classics while they were reading Newbery winners). But some of the other kids made me feel so bad about the sheer volume of candy that I had earned that I offered to share with them. I actually handed one of them the bag and told him to split it up with the whole class. It was good candy, too, but I was tired of fighting and tired of always doing the wrong thing. He looked at me and handed the candy back without taking any.

And then it was time to ride the bus home, to finally leave the school where I never really fit in, the school I would not miss. As I looked out the window at my teachers waving, tears suddenly started rolling down my face. I was surprised and embarrassed to realize I was crying. I wasn’t sad to leave the school where I had been so lonely and friendless. And yet I felt a great sense of loss, as if my heart was more aware of what I was leaving behind than my mind was ready to comprehend. I would no longer experience the relative safety of my small middle school. Instead, it was time to move on to high school, to locker combinations and football games and phone calls with boys. I did not know what was ahead of me, just as I did not know why I was suddenly sad to leave any of it behind. The bus pulled away from the front of the school and the teachers started walking back in the building. I dried my eyes and opened a piece of candy.

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