Trying to fit in can be tough. It’s something that I have always tried to do, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
I grew up in the “North Hills” of Meridian, Mississippi. In the years that I was growing up there, the Meridian Public School System was broken up a little different than most places. Elementary schools taught kindergarten through fifth grade, middle schools taught sixth and seventh grade, junior high schools taught eighth and ninth grade, and then Meridian High School taught tenth through twelfth grade.
It has since changed, but it was interesting going to so many different schools. Each school had that cliche dynamic of the older kids feeling superior to the younger kids.
Middle school was kind of intimidating as a sixth grader as I was meeting kids who went to different elementary schools. I attended Magnolia Middle School and I remember it being the first school I attended where fights would break out. Kids would swarm to watch fights and teachers would have to break them up.
Once I made it to seventh grade, me and my classmates were the older kids at the school and we felt that superiority, walking around like we owned the place.
Then it all changed back when we started eighth grade at a new school, and we were back to being the younger kids on campus again. Things had changed a little bit from middle school and now we were back to trying to fit in with the “freshmen.”
Eighth grade is a weird time when kids are growing up. Puberty and trying to break free from the parental control are part of it.
In 1996, I started school at Northwest Junior High in Meridian. I remember going to one of my first junior high parties in a friend’s cul-de-sac where there would be slow dancing … with girls! You know we had that “Kiss from a Rose on the Grave” by Seal (from the Batman Forever soundtrack) bumping in the CD player.
Things were moving pretty fast in eighth grade, I tell you. Welcome to the world of sweaty palms, getting nervous around girls, make-out parties, and speaking to friends about rounding the bases in baseball.
My days of smoking cigarettes in middle school were over and now it was time to start experimenting with beer? Yep, that happened.
My musical taste was changing to alternative rock and I attended one of my first rock concerts with some friends (we saw Fishbone and 311 at the Coliseum in Jackson and it was the first time I’d been to a show where people crowd surfed).
Some friends and I formed a little band (I played bass) and all we played were Nirvana and Bush covers. We only played one gig and got paid $100 ($25 each) to play a girl’s birthday party. We thought it was so cool!
Some of my fond memories of the awkwardness of eighth grade were the moments before school would start. Parents would drop their kids off for school, and then kids would get into their little cliques and talk before the bell rings.
At that time in my life, it’s almost like I was almost living a double life. I wanted to fit in with everybody. I wanted to fit in with the preppy kids who wore collared polo shirts. I also wanted to fit in with the grunge kids who wore band shirts and Airwalks.
The way Northwest was set up, there was a driveway that kids would walk up from where their parents drop them off and kids would have to stroll up the driveway to where everyone congregated in their little social circles.
It’s almost like whatever I was wearing that day dictated which group I would associate with that day.
Looking back, it seems silly, but at that time it felt like such a big deal. All I wanted was to fit in and have people like me. I think that’s still the case for me today.
Sometimes I feel like I’m still living in that moment. I go to social gatherings in Hattiesburg and just want people to accept me. Am I still in junior high? Sometimes it feels like it.
You may know me and think, “oh, Jamie is a social butterfly, he knows everybody.” The truth is I'm actually pretty shy when I first meet people.
First impressions can be strange.
“Hey, this is Jamie. He made up a rap song about Ward’s.”
Hey... yeah, nice to meet you too.
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah … I’m always trying to fit in. I try to be a people pleaser.
A few years ago, I took an enneagram test. The enneagram is super trendy these days, but the test said I am a type two, which is dubbed “The Helper.” The basic desire of a type two is to feel loved. The basic fear of a type two is the feeling of being unwanted and feeling unworthy of love.
I encourage everyone to take an enneagram test. It can be a good thing to try to understand ourselves more and explore our feelings.
In a year where we are being more socially distant and seeing the country so polarized politically, I encourage everyone to actually talk with your neighbors and get to know them. I know this can be a challenge, but if we actually listen to each other, we will find out that we are not all that different. We have many of the same desires.
Humans are tribal in nature and sometimes we tend to follow the herd. This isn’t junior high school, but sometimes it feels like it all over again.
Jamie Massengale is the digital and features editor of The Pine Belt News