When last we saw Margaret, she was busy getting pumped for her Spring Break trip to Florida with Grandma, she had gone to a party where they played the somewhat skanky Two Minutes in the Closet, and she was jealous of Nancy and Gretchen for getting their periods. Let’s begin!
Nancy’s family is spending the day in New York, and each kid is allowed to invite a friend. Nancy invites Margaret, and Evan invites Moose! She is going to be in the same car as Moose! Remember this is the Seventies, though, so the boys are riding in the back of the station wagon, and Margaret cannot even sneak a peek without a) being obvious, and b) getting severely carsick. She looks straight ahead. Good choice, Margaret. No need to barf. They go to Radio City Music Hall, which Margaret’s parents say is just for tourists. Margaret is hoping that she will get to sit next to Moose, but he and Evan go off by themselves. Teenagers! What can you say.
They all go to a steak house for dinner, and when the girls go to the bathroom Nancy starts freaking out. She just keeps crying when Margaret asks what’s wrong, so she runs back to the table to get Nancy’s mother. Nancy will not even open the bathroom stall, and so Margaret has to CRAWL UNDER TO UNLOCK IT OMG GERMS GERMS GERMS BOIL YOURSELF IN OIL AND BURN YOUR CLOTHES, MARGARET. It turns out that NANCY IS GETTING HER PERIOD FOR THE FIRST TIME AND SHE’S SCARED. Liar liar pants on fire. Margaret has to get a sanitary napkin out of the vending machine on the wall for her, and Nancy begs her not to tell the others.
If this couldn’t get more emotional, Margaret gets to sit next to Moose at dinner. He smells like after-shave and keeps bumping her hand because he’s left handed. The accidental hand bump! Squee!
Margaret turns 12! As a coming-of-age ritual, she sniffs her own armpits to ensure that she hasn’t got BO. Happy birthday! She proactively applies her mother’s deodorant just in case of a late-day odor-related issue. Her mother says no need to use her deodorant, she’s going to buy Margaret her very own. Wow.
In addition to the promise of deodorant, Grandma sends 3 hand-knitted and labelled sweaters PLUS a 100-dollar savings bond, new bathing suit, and a plane ticket to Florida, leaving on April 4. It’s really going to happen! Margaret’s going to rock the beach during Spring Break! Whoop whoop!
The whole class sings happy birthday, the Four PTS’s chipped in to buy her new favourite record, and she gets a separate birthday card from Nancy, who writes that Margaret is the BEST FRIEND EVER. The best friend ever who can keep a secret about Periodgate, is what she means.
Mr. Benedict assigns a project on different countries, and in the name of opening minds and cultivating friendships, assigns work groups. Margaret is assigned to work with Norman Fishbein, Philip Leroy, and Laura Danker. Philip pinches her hard – for her birthday, ostensibly – and tells her she needs to grow an inch. And you know where you need that inch! You know what, Philip? You’re an idiot. Up until this moment Margaret has been having a great birthday, but now she’s all upset. For one thing, her arm hurts. For another, she hates her flat chested figure, and she hates Laura for being big and beautiful and having all the boys stare at her. She also hates Mr. Benedict for sticking her with Norman the drip, Laura the babe, and Philip the pincher.
In case it wasn’t obvious, Margaret is a serious student. She takes shit seriously, and so she sleeps, eats, and breathes Belgium for three weeks. Philip, despite or perhaps because of his dreaminess, is a bad worker who basically wastes all their designated class time fooling around. I’m sure we all had a Philip in our lives: the good-looking ne’er do well, getting by on his appearance and NOT his work ethic. Norman, bless his drippy heart, tries hard but is a slow worker. He’s not really carrying his weight but he’s trying. E for effort, Norman. It’s all on Laura and Margaret, both of whom are very conscientious students and hard workers. After they’ve ran out of class time, Laura and Margaret stay after school to do more research on Belgian customs and culture. Margaret’s mom is going to come pick her up after their work session, but Laura says she is walking to Confession after they are done.
Confession? What is she confessing, Margaret wonders. SLUTTY STUFF, SHE BETS.
Margaret’s so busy thinking about this – Laura and her sluttiness – that she copies word for word out of the encyclopedia. Laura notices, and calls her on it. Plagiarism is a crime, you know? Well, Margaret knows she’s in the wrong but gets upset. Who is Laura to tell her what’s what?
And then Laura went back to work. But I didn’t.
“I heard all about you and Moose Freed.” I whispered.
Laura put down her pencil and looked at me. “You heard WHAT about me and Moose Freed?”
“Oh – about how you and Evan and Moose go behind the A&P,” I said.
“What would I do that for?” Laura asked.
She was really thick! “I don’t know what you do it for. But I know why they do it…they do it so they can feel you or something and you let them!”
She shut the encyclopedia hard and stood up. Her face was burning red and I saw a blue vein stick out in her neck. “You filthy liar! You little pig!” Nobody ever called me such names in my life.
You deserve more than that, Margaret.
Margaret runs after her, catches up, and finds out she’s crying.
“Don’t you think I know all about you and your friends? Do you think it’s any fun to be the biggest kid in the class?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I never thought about it.”
“Well, try thinking about it. Think about how you’d feel if you had to wear a bra in fouth grade and how everybody laughed and how you always had to cross your arms in front of you. And about how the boys called you dirty names just because of how you looked.”
And there it is! Margaret has a light bulb moment. She has made an assumption of poor Laura’s behaviour based ONLY on her appearance – well, and Nancy’s bitchy chatter – and not only was it wrong, but it was very hurtful. Slut shaming – not cool, Margaret. Especially for a sixth grade girl whose only mistake was being pretty and early to develop.
Margaret apologizes, because she isn’t really a bitch, she just didn’t think things through. Laura goes to Confession; Margaret follows and after Laura finishes, she goes inside the church herself. She notices a little room like a phone booth, enters, and is completely startled to hear a disembodied voice that she assumes is God. GOD IS TALKING TO HER FINALLY. She realizes that it’s actually a priest, not God, and all she can do is blurt out that she’s sorry. She runs out to meet up with her mother, who is alarmed at her pale and clammy appearance. She feels sick – her behaviour towards Laura has literally made her sick – and her mom brings her soup and says she doesn’t have to go to school in the morning if she doesn’t feel up to it.
Later that night, when she does her “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.” thing, she confesses to God about how she made Laura feel, and how wrong she was. She wonders why she only can feel his presence when she’s alone.
Look inside, Margaret! The answer is within.
A week before spring vacation a letter arrives. It is from her mother’s parents – her grandparents who she has never met! They announce that they are coming for a visit – so they can see their granddaughter, who hopefully doesn’t have horns or hooves, given that she’s not being brought up in the Christian religion. Not surprisingly, there is a huge kafuffle between her parents. THIS is what happens when you send your long-estranged parents a holiday greeting, I guess.
Even bigger than the news that they are visiting for the first time in well over a decade, they say that they are coming April 5. Oh! What a relief! Margaret leaves for Florida on April 4, so she won’t have to stay there to prove her non-devil-appearance.
Well. Despite the airline ticket having been already purchased, along with a new bathing suit, Margaret’s mother says that she will have to stay home and meet her grandparents. Margaret – needless to say – is devastated, as would anyone be in that situation. Which would you rather do, go to Florida to hang out with your Grandma who thinks the sun rises and sets on you, or stay home in New Jersey to meet some old people who think you’re a heathen and hate your father for being Jewish? I’M GUESSING DOOR NUMBER ONE.
Margaret’s mom – who has sunk deeply in my esteem – tells Margaret she has to call Grandma to tell her. CHICKEN. Margaret says no way, she’s not calling. Her mom calls Grandma and everyone’s very upset. WELL I GUESS.
Margaret and her mother go to the airport to meet the grandparents, and it’s extremely awkward in a “this must be Margaret” kind of way. The car ride is bad enough but things deteriorate when then get home and are kind of chilly and stiff with Margaret’s dad. It goes both ways, a bit, but since the grandparents are kind of anti-Semites, it’s understandable that Margaret’s dad wouldn’t be super pumped to see them. Margaret’s mother, with the help of a hired lady, has made a very fancy dinner, and even changed into a dress. No one really talks, at the dinner table, except for the most perfunctory of statements.
In one of these awkward exchanges, the grandparents find out Margaret doesn’t go to Sunday School. Scandal! The grandparents are very disappointed that her mother hasn’t seen the light and introduced Margaret to the Way, Truth, and Life. Not to worry, says the grandmother, their minister will be able straighten things out so that Margaret doesn’t end up burning in hell. Margaret, naturally, gets upset at this and runs out of the room.
That’s it, Margaret thinks, enough is enough! She is DONE with God.
The next day, Margaret doesn’t go down for breakfast. She doesn’t talk to God. Instead, her mother agrees that it would be a good idea to get out of the house so she goes to meet Janie for a movie. Before the movie, they go into the drugstore specifically to buy sanitary supplies. Just in case! They’re going to need them sometime! Janie protests but they both promise to tell their mothers that the contraband bags contain school supplies. They go through the usual preteen humiliation to buy Teen Softies – talking to the lady walking around in a lab coat, getting teenage cashier Max to wrap them up. They are basically ready to die of mortification, but it’s worth it to have the sanitary napkins in their possession.
Girls, the time will come where you are so sick of buying this stuff you will actually wonder if you should buy one of those Diva cup thingies. Enjoy it now, I guess.
Later on at home, Margaret puts one in her underwear to see what it feels like. Big and puffy is my guess.
Here’s the kicker about the past crazy twenty four hours: the grandparents announce they’re leaving for a holiday in New York City! Margaret’s mother is very upset – they said they’d stay a week! – but off they go. Margaret’s dad thinks that the trip to NY was the whole point and they were only staying at their house because it was convenient, which I kind of agree with.
The doorbell rings and guess who’s there? Grandma! Grandma has cut her trip short. Florida, Shmorida, Grandma just wants to see her Margaret. After all, Grandma says, if Mohammed doesn’t come to the mountain, the mountain comes to Mohammed.
Not only that, but Mr. Binamin, Grandma’s new gentleman friend, is in attendance. Oh, Grandma. You scamp.
Grandma has come to play back up in case the grandparents get a little bit too much cross-waving. She says no matter what, Margaret’s a Jewish girl at heart. Poor Margaret. She’s so tired of this. She tells Grandma she doesn’t need God at all.
Their year-long project is due, and Margaret has written Mr. Benedict a letter about religion. She outlines what she tried and how nothing worked. In her letter she says she doesn’t think people should decide what religion to be, they should just be given one and that’s that. That way they can learn about it at an early age and not end up fretting and feeling like they don’t belong anywhere. Everyone else in the class, she notices, has a booklet with title pages and everything, but she just has a letter. She has failed at this, she thinks, and so runs out of the classroom and cries.
The school year is over, and there is a farewell party for grade sixes at which none of the girls wear socks. Margaret gets sheer stockings for the first time and gets a run in them. Get used to it, Margaret. The class gives Mr. Benedict cufflinks, as a goodbye present, and he is pleased and a bit choked up. The Four PTS’s have lunch downtown and feel grown up, but they all admit they are nervous about Junior High. After their lunch, they all go home and cry. There is a theme here, and it is pre-adolescent hormones.
Margaret is preparing for summer camp, and while her mom is packing her trunk, she hears the lawn mower. Moose is back! Moose is back! She runs outside and stands in front of the moving lawn mower – Margaret, have you lost your mind? Did you forget about your dad and the accident? – until he stops. She says she has something to tell him and that is that he, Moose, is a liar! She doesn’t believe he ever went with Laura Danker behind the A&P! Moose is confused. Who says he did? Margaret starts to explain, then stops.
Moose shook his head at me. “You always believe everything you hear about other people?” he asked.
I didn’t know what to say.
Moose kept talking. “Well, next time, don’t believe it unless you see it! Now if you’ll move out of my way, I’ve got things to do!”
Poor Margaret. She’s sorry for accusing Moose. He continues to mow the lawn and I hope that Margaret has learned a lesson, namely, to disbelieve everything Nancy says.
Margaret is so glad Moose is not a liar after all, and she’s happy he cuts their grass. She goes to the bathroom – and she has gotten her period! She calls her mom and they both start to cry. Her little girl, growing up! Her mom had her suspicions – probably from all the crying – and had packed supplies in the camp trunk just in case. Margaret admits that she bought some a while ago at the drugstore, and they have a good laugh about it. Most of all, Margaret is happy that she’s normal and is not going to lead a non-menstruating life after all.
She ends up talking to God, who she’s shunned for the past little while. “Are you still there God? It’s me Margaret. I know you’re there God.”
And that’s when Margaret gets it, that God is there for her and not just in a temple or church.