By Amir Levi
Featured in Alef: The NEXT Conversation: Middle School Fantasies
During 7th grade, everyone was having their bar and bat-mitzvahs. I remember before each party, as I would be putting on the same suit I wore to every one, I would ask myself, ‘Will this be the party where he notices me and asks me to dance?’. A complete wallflower and social outcast in middle school, I would sit on the side watching the slow dances of the 1994-1995 season (guys putting their hands on the girls hips, with the girls putting their hands on the guys shoulders, and both parties stepping side to side in the same rhythm, no matter what the song was). I thought those dances were the first step to meeting Mr. Right and that if I wasn’t asked to dance, I would remain single for the rest of my life. Fifteen years later, I’m still waiting to be asked to dance.
I used to imagine myself as the awkward girl in romantic movies, you know, the girl with the glasses that the popular guy doesn’t notice at first, but once her glasses come off and her hair gets let down, he realizes that she’s more beautiful than anyone else he could’ve ever hoped for…and more interesting as well. I had braces, big hair, and my older brother’s hand-me-downs. I couldn’t wait for guys to dig below the surface to find that I was just what they were looking for.
I needed these fantasies. I went to a Jewish school in Atlanta where if you weren’t an athlete or a bully, you immediately became the target, not only by the students, but by some of the faculty as well. As my aspirations involved singing, dancing and a desire to hang out with Madonna and Paula Abdul (as opposed to Nirvana and Green Day), it became evident that there would be no support system in my everyday life, so I had to seek solace elsewhere. My friendships came from my acting classes, my boyfriends came from… well, the pictures ripped out of Dynamite magazines and taped to my doors. I had wonderful boyfriends: Luke Perry, Jason Priestley, and Mark Paul Gosselaar. I would kiss each of them goodnight almost every day, and I would fantasize that any one of them would come to the bar and bat mitzvahs to rescue me as I was getting beaten up while being called “faggot.”
I also fantasized about my future. While watching Fiddler on the Roof, I’d think about which groom I’d end up with, and I’d measure the pros and cons of each. Motel was cute, but a wimp; Perchik was passionate, but poor; and Fyedka… well, he wasn’t Jewish, so I wasn’t interested. In the end I’d always choose Perchik. Perchik would stand up for me and for rights of everyone around me. I needed someone who would fight the good fight and who I could believe in. I also wanted someone who would marry me under a chupa and stomp on the glass while everyone yelled “mazel tov.” I was going to be a Jewish bride and no amount of bullying from my peers was going to stop me.
After I graduated eighth grade, I went to an International School, as opposed to Yeshiva, and I was freed. I made instant friends (some of whom I’m still close to today) and I stopped looking over my shoulder for threats of violence. I participated in debates between the girls and boys of my class about whether gays were equal (boys usually voted no, girls voted yes), and I broke up with the men of my bedroom in favor of fantasies about the boys in my class.
I never doubted my Judaism. In fact, I connected with the fact that in spite of the adversity the Jewish people faced (and continue to face), we still survive and continue to thrive as a people. I needed to survive the torments of my youth because I knew that eventually life had to get better. I needed to be strong for myself, and for Perchik. After all, someday he would ask me to dance, right?