In the ninth grade I wore an ultra mini-skirt to school, too short to for the dress code. My finger- tips didn’t touch the hemline when my arms hung down by my sides. I knew it was too skimpy when I left the house, but I figured I could maneuver around the rules quite well. For the most part, I thought rules didn’t apply to me, and I expected, for some unreasonable teenaged reason- I was charming enough-, to be exempt from the dress code. I applied, even as a youngster, my ability to circumvent directives by either, refusing to accept them as applicable to me, or by persuading the enforcer to excuse me from the consequences. If neither of these tactics worked, and I was indeed held accountable for my actions, I would detach from the punishment, as if the problem wasn’t mine to own. In my mind, the trouble was the false hope of expectation someone or some institution held me to without my consent, not my actions. I was both the expectant, (by expecting to get away with wearing the skirt,) and I experienced what it was like to have things expected of me.
That morning in the kitchen, I bounced around to a local radio station, pleased with my costume for the day, while toasting a frozen blueberry waffle. My dad had already left for work, which meant the coast was clear for my legs to reach out of my clothes like a video-vixen’s. I was waiting to be picked up by my neighbor. Our ride to school consisted of smoking cigarettes and listening to the cassette version of Guns N Roses, “Appetite for Destruction.” My step-mom walked in and almost spoiled my plan, “Shan, are you sure you can wear that skirt to school?” I said, “Yes, look, it touches my fingers,” as I slightly bent my arms before reaching down to the base. At that moment, my toddler brother called, which distracted her from my outfit. I was free to go, and out the door.
I knew the panty-breeze length wouldn’t be offensive to the coach who taught my first period class. He was one of the Varsity football coaches teaching freshman health, or anything else for that matter, just to coach ball. He was my stereotype of the typical high school coach, a ladies man, and all the cheerleaders loved him. I also had a feeling my second period, over-weight keyboarding teacher would overlook my discrepancy based on her lack of mobility around the room. I could hide in the corner with my back to her.
By the time I made it to third period, I was confident I was going to make it through the day without interruption. I tied a long sweater around my waist while I changed classes, and carried my books in front of me while I walked. My next class was English, my favorite part of the day besides lunch. I hated school, and failed miserably, except for English Literature. I loved going to class and talking about the books we were assigned to read. I remember feeling so informed and thrilled when we dissected the different characters in the reading. That day we were discussing the role of Ms Havisham in Charles Dickens’ novel, “Great Expectations.”
I was fascinated by the unrealistic qualities that made her character so memorable. She was stood-up by her fiancé’ right before her wedding, and lived out the rest of her life trapped in that moment, waiting. She wore one shoe and her wedding gown; she stopped the clock and left the untouched, celebratory meal on the table for years. Eventually, she adopted a young girl and molder her to be a calculating heartbreaker. She did this to redeem the pain she felt from her rotting hold on her expectation to marry. She ended up dying a tragic death when a piece of her threadbare wedding gown, worn for years, caught fire when she brushed by a candle.
I respected my Lit teacher and thoroughly enjoyed learning in her class. I wanted to be smart the way she was smart, I had no interest in having chalky numbers in my face and a drab personality. I wanted to figure the world out the way she did, through books and stories, and a cheery personality like a squirrel, collecting information. She was interested in the psychological design of people, and I was too without knowing it; which is why it hurt and embarrassed me so much when she called me out. She summoned me to her desk, “Shannon, you need to go to the office. Your skirt is too short.” I didn’t even argue with her. I knew she must’ve seen my drawers when I was lost in discussion and forgot to cover my crouch. (Sad, really. I was too distracted to keep myself decent enough not to get caught.)
I marched, with an attitude, up to the office, prepared for battle. I tried convincing the vice that I didn’t know about the code. “I’m new here this year. I didn’t know I couldn’t wear a mini-skirt.” She wasn’t entertained, “The rules apply, even if you didn’t know.” I put my arms down and showed her the length, “Look, my fingers do touch the bottom.” She replied, “Your arms are bent at the elbows. You need to change your outfit. Do you have anything else in your locker you can wear?” “No.” “Well, then, you’ll need to call your parents to have them bring you a change of clothes.” I called my step-mom, she was the only one at home, luckily for me, my father wasn’t there for my wardrobe change. She was annoyed but responded in stride and brought me something more appropriate to wear.
By the time my underwear was discretely hidden under my Sunday-school skirt, third period was over. I’d missed out on the dirt about why Ms. Havisham was so crazy, I was annoyed by the setback, and blamed the system. I wasn’t supposed to be interrupted by rules that weren’t mine to begin with. However, the truth is, I was a minor and had to follow the rules that governed the school. I didn’t really have a choice, other than to oblige, which gifted me the freedom of participation.
My one-sighted notion prevented me from understanding I was the one to blame for missing out on what I liked about school. My assumptions-that the school wouldn’t punish me- kept me from what I loved. My assumptions, another form of expectations, let me down.
When I assume, it means I think I know exactly what other people and systems think, thereby insinuating we have “one thought,” and not autonomous thought, which of course is ridiculous. Some of the most disappointing moments in my life occur when I have an expectation of someone, or of something I can’t control. It gets me in trouble every time, like Ms. Havisham. She wouldn’t have died had she not been wearing her old wedding dress. She wore the dress with the expectation of getting married. She became so stuck on her idea of the outcome that it eventually killed her.
I can’t seem to stop expecting…whatever it is I want. I find that in relationships with other people, I’m constantly disappointed by the lack of whatever I want to be happening. Again, repeat, I become upset when people don’t behave or do what I want them to. Doesn’t that mean I could reduce frustration and strife in my life if I let go of my expectations of other people?
I know I let people down when they have ideas about me I’m not living up to, their thoughts, not mine. I don’t like being the recipient of someone else’s will. I want to have my own, and grant people in my life the same opportunity. Maybe I would be better off requiring for me only what I want from, and for myself, and let everyone else do the same for them, great expectations are hard to fill, unless they’re of your own and for your own making.