Once I slowly got the hang of those vile acid-washed jeans with zippers on the ankles (and bows, in case anyone is trying to forget), I got the hang of staking out my place in this new world. And I did the best thing possible: made friends who were supposedly bad for me. Yes, we did things like flip through issues of Cosmo at the drug store, pass notes in class and talk a lot about boys, and sneak in to watch Pretty Woman, which was the only thing bordering on not legal (though I don’t see an MPAA-ratings police at theaters). I learned how to do makeup, went through the awkward junior high dances where friends matchmake (“my friend thinks you’re cute…”), and had my first big crush on a boy from one of those dances (the song: Def Leppard’s “Love Bites”).

And though the education itself was fine — as was the teacher who thankfully told me that even though I was 8th-grade-awkward I’d be better looking my freshman year of college (trust me, I held onto that) — the greatest education came from meeting people who were so different. My dear friend Heather’s life was a complete mess: her mom was in prison for drugs and prostitution, her stepfather had raped her, she lost her virginity when she was 10 years old. Yet as hopeless as her world was around her, she was always keen on being there when others needed a shoulder, ready with a smile and a joke, and being a veritable encyclopedia on Guns ‘N’ Roses. I learned more from Heather about resilience and kindness than I did about Axl Rose.