The boys line up on one side of the semicircle and the girls on the other. They leer and grin when we cross our legs and tug at the hems of our skirts. We wear panty girdles with complicated garters. We wear nylon hose to make our legs look tan. Too dark and you're a slut. Too light and you're square.
I fondle a note folded into a paper football by a boy named Max, kicked with an index finger across the room.
Max likes me. I haven't decided if I like him yet. He's cute, but his hair is too greasy. The boys like him because he has a cool mother who lets them smoke and hauls them around in her nasty old station wagon. She's fat and doesn't have a husband. The girls think Max is OK but too short, with sometimes-bad acne.
Half the class saw him punt the football note, and now they're looking at me. Mr. Adams is outlining the judiciary system on the blackboard, his back to us. My hands are sweating and my face is so hot my bangs are frizzing up.
Suzanne rolls her eyes. She dumped Max yesterday. Terry, the girl who everybody knows wears a girdle with the days of the week on it because she bends over with no grace and because her last boyfriend Harry told us all, sits in the desk next to mine, grinning. She's always trying to hook people up.
"He wants to take you to the Association," she whispers. Our town's big-whoop concert of the year. The Association's second hit is on the radio, the one after "Windy," but not as good.
I'm just about to write "yes" on the paper football when the room looks up as Mr. Adams shakes hands with a new student, ushered in by the principal's assistant.
"Class, this is Bridget. She's from England," he says, and we all die.
She slides into a seat near Mr. Adams' desk and stares at her fingernails. Her hair is short, teased and curled under, Carnaby Street-style with stiff, long bangs that hang all the way to the bridge of her nose, mingling with her black-mascaraed eyelashes when she blinks. Her lips are pearl-frosted.
She is wearing the shortest skirt we've ever seen -- a red leather, hip-hugger miniskirt with a wide black belt. When she crosses her legs, we can see the entire length of her black-tighted thigh, all the way to her butt. Her go-go boots are black. Ours are white and scuffed.
We are dying to hear her talk and the boys are trying to look cool when in walks Miss Williams, our hateful gym teacher, with her ruler in her hand. She stands at the front door of the school in the morning, staring at our skirts. If they look too short, she makes us kneel on the office floor and measures -- 2 inches above the knee is the official school limit. We bitch and complain and go to the bathroom and unroll our carefully tucked waistbands.
Bridget's skirt, complicated by her height and excessive leg length, is about 2 feet over the limit. Miss Williams is about to pop a blood vessel and insists that she go home and change clothes.
Mr. Adams goes over and talks to Bridget. She never looks up while casually explaining that her mother and father are not at home and she doesn't even know how to get there, since she just moved to Jackson yesterday. Her accent is to die for, just like Paul's.
"She'll just have to stay," Mr. Adams tells Miss Williams. She stomps out and we laugh our asses off.
When the bell rings, creepy old Max and Harry and Bob, the hoodlum with black curls and light blue eyes and a father who has been in jail, all sidle up to Bridget, acting like they don't have hard-ons and aren't noticing her legs.
We rush to the bathroom, throw down our books and roll up our waistbands. Suzanne is so skinny her skirt pooches in the back. I smooth it out and check the mirror to make sure my nylon tops don't show beneath my rolled-up double knit. We roll out into the hallway, a marching brigade of swaying hips, just as the second bell is about to ring.
In algebra, I pass the paper football note back to Max. Scribbled in big red letters that everybody can see is the word NO with 10 exclamation points. Algebra is boring and easy. I sing "Windy" silently while taking my test:
And Windy has stormy eyes
That laugh at the sound of lies
And Windy has wings to fly
Above the clouds ...
Above the clouds ...
This essay first appeared in the Independent in January 2003.