The other day, while searching for the most dangerous gun I own, a hot glue gun, I found my stash of teenage-year photos. While my childhood photos are pressed onto sticky pages in photo albums on the other side of the country, and my adulthood photos on Flickr, the photos from my pubescence were in my closet sharing a box with the glue gun.
I remember getting rid of most of the photos in which I looked like a zitty goblin, but I still have all my student transit discount IDs featuring my official school portraits.
My ninth grade photo, in particular, has a little backstory:
In Canada, except in Québec, high school begins with grade 8 and ends with grade 12. Eighth graders are typically 12 or 13 years old. As my birthday is late in the year, my scholarly mugshot happened before I was even officially a teenager.
The summer before I began high school, I bought a jar of Punky Colours in Lagoon Blue. 1996 was the last year I had unprocessed hair. For the first 2 weeks of summer, my hair (and scalp) was a deep green-blue. For the rest of the year, my dirty blonde locks had a viridian tinge. The snobs of Grade Eight told me my hair looked like seaweed, which is when I realized I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was.
On school photo day 1996, I had a face full of zits, greenish hair, and my adult teeth were still trying to figure out where in my mouth to sit.
I don’t think most eighth graders realize how awkward they look in their school portrait until the following year, but I knew as soon as I pulled the samples out of the paper sleeve. I had a face only a mother could… purchase prints of.
I begrudgingly returned the order form with a cheque to school; upon receiving the photo package which included the 8″x10″ option. I demanded that my mother keep these photos for herself. “DO NOT GIVE THEM OUT,” I threatened. But I had no leverage.
She mailed them out with all the holiday cards, effectively ruining everybody’s Christmas, especially mine. My hair was green, but boy was my face red!
The next year, my face was still struggling with the effects of puberty, but I was now smarter. I was 13, a real teenager. I was an extraordinarily responsible teenager (more on that a bit) but I was a crafty little fuck.
On school picture day, I wore my rattiest sweatshirt. In 1997, technology allowed for a choice of 5 different background colours. After a year of unsuccessfully ridding my hair of the green, I had gone dark. For the background, I chose the colour that matched my sweatshirt. When the photographer gave the command to “smile”, I went all out:
Mom was aghast when she realized that she couldn’t sandwich my face, completely surrounded by drabness, inside the 1997 holiday cards.
Still shook from this incident, she chose to forgo the 1998 options even though my brat-face managed to produce a decent photo that year:
By the end of grade 11, my face had become acceptable enough for guys to be attracted by:
In other words, I got a boyfriend.
Now, being deaf and having deaf friends who I had grown up with meant our parents interacted. I know my parents weren’t friends with any of my siblings’ friends’ parents, so my brother and sister were able to lead a double life outside of home. Me? Not as much.
The parental grapevine meant Mom and Dad knew which of my friends got shitfaced at a party the previous week. They knew which of my friends smoked pot and tripped out on acid. They were even privy to our sexual activities! Argh. But their saintly daughter, me, abstained from all that.
The boyfriend, my mother thought, was going to spoil my sainthood. Seeing how I was literally a virgin who couldn’t drive, and he lived 50km away in North Vancouver it was going to be a slow process. He and I were able to see each other once or twice a week in the summer, but our relationship was predominantly ICQ-based which meant Mom’s biggest annoyance was having to hear modem noises every time she picked up the phone to make a call.
Several months later, I had some mystery illness that required a visit to the doctor’s office. As medical interpreters weren’t a thing at the time, Mom was my makeshift interpreter. I don’t remember what I had, but it required a bunch of pills. “Any questions?” the doctor asked as he raised his extremely bushy eyebrows.
With hesitation, I asked, “Uh… would this interfere with birth control pills?”
dot dot dot…
This was when Mom discovered that I had been taking birth control pills behind her back for months. She was probably thinking, “I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.” (Yes, 5 years before Anchorman was even released.)
Here’s what was involved in getting on the pill:
My parents didn’t allow me to ride the bus alone. (That’s right: all these student transit passes, and I wasn’t even allowed to use them!) I had to figure out how public transportation worked.
In 2000, public transit timetables weren’t published online. I had to go to the public library to grab a paper timetable for my neighbourhood. I didn’t even know you could just stand at any bus stop and the bus would stop for you (funny how I understood how birth control worked better than I did the buses) which meant I walked a kilometre to the nearest stop listed on the timetable.
The one walk-in clinic I knew of was the one my school bus would pass by (before I got kicked off this bus but that’s a story for another day).
As Mom was a teacher assistant and would nearly always be at home at the same time as me, I waited until there was a Pro-D day (this was a day for teachers to attend workshops while students could enjoy a three-day weekend) to take the bus alone for the first time to a walk-in clinic I had never visited before.
Unlike now, I rarely ever had the need to communicate with a stranger in-person in writing. I walked into that walk-in, flashed my provincial health card, and was escorted into an exam room where I had to request the pill in writing.
I didn’t have a job, only an inconsistent weekly allowance of ten dollars. A pack of birth control pills were about $20 at the time.
THEN… I had to hide the pills somewhere and discreetly take them at the same time every morning.
I waited at least a month for them to “kick in” to ensure my body was fully babyproofed.
Within a week of finding out that I had snuck behind her back to get a prescription for oral contraceptives, my friends’ parents were probably gossiping about me. “So, Laura does do drugs after all: norgestimate with a hint of estradiol.”
“You mean the same Laura who sabotaged her grade 9 school photo with some grey-on-grey asshattery? The Laura who spends the whole day chatting on ICQ? Is her boyfriend even real?”
Even now I have a hard time believing I was THAT Laura. More bizarrely is how these memories were triggered by the excavation of a glue gun from a box of photos.