by anna on February 26, 2009

On your first day of high school, you spent the initial twenty minutes of the lunch period waiting in line to get a soda. This left you with about ten minutes to kill, an eternity that you spent slowly circumnavigating the campus–not too fast, and not too slow, purposefully wasting time with each step so that, by the time anyone noticed you, it would be time to go to fifth period. It was not an ideal arrangement, you knew, but if nothing else, it was nice to finally be at an educational institution that acknowledged you were old enough to decide when to drink soda. You were 14, and determined that they would not know that you were sad to be alone. If you worked it right, they might never know that you were alone at all.

There had been a time, not so long ago, when you had people with whom to eat lunch–friends, even. You had looked forward to school, the way a straight-A student with a social group might do. Occasionally, you might call these people on the phone, organize sleepovers, trade nailpolishes and engage in the other typical behaviors of the late-tween, early teen Southern Californian girl. To be truthful, you would never be a social butterfly, but your current circumstances were drastically misleading. You had been a victim of the confusing busing practices of suburban Southern California: those friends of whom you spoke had been zoned for the other high school, and you were stuck here alone. And while it’s true you could have complained, or asked somebody somewhere to pull some strings, figure out a way to get yourself into the other high school and back with your friends, this option never really occurred to you. Instead, you accepted your fate like it was a foregone conclusion, the next in a series of confusing steps that tested your adaptability and perseverance.

Pragmatically speaking, the real problem was not the lack of friends, but the immediate reality of having nowhere to go at lunch. And for the first day you had solved this problem by walking. The second day, you attempted to use the same method, but had to cross the entirety of the campus twice, as well as throw in a couple of unnecessary trips to the bathroom, in order to eat up all the time. But you were a survivor, and by the end of the week, you had managed to latch yourself onto a group of people you didn’t know, the friends of a girl from your Biology class. They probably thought it was strange you were hanging around. But you did not ask much, they did not have to like you, they just needed to be OK with you sitting near them at lunch. And in exchange, you would make all the movements of friendship, which still counted, even if it was a friendship born out of desperation.

You adapted. You persevered. And if you started to slouch more, carry the weight more heavily upon your shoulders–well, it’s unlikely that anybody noticed. You would blend in. You were determined.

That week in English you had been studying To Kill A Mockingbird, and the English teacher would suggest–suspiciously–that she wanted to have study groups meet during lunch. As it happened, she was somebody you had known in another context, a fixture from another of your life’s incarnations. She knew people. And the people must have been talking about you, and your friendless trips around the campus. This need for study groups was a ruse: it was a crutch, designed for you specifically. She pitied you, the poor friendless girl with nobody to eat with at lunch! How dare she? How DARE she? And as the class bitched and moaned about this excess study time, you heard her whispered explanation.

“I want to give you all a chance to get to know each other,” she explained.
“I found out that some of you might be alone at lunch, not knowing each other,” she went on.
“I don’t think there is anyone in the class like that,” someone said.
“Yes. There is one,” the teacher explained, and if she looked at you you didn’t notice because you were too busy trying to contain the heat radiating from your cheeks, and to mitigate the rage with which you gripped your PaperMate 2.

For haha! her source had not given her the whole story: you had somebody to eat with now! And, after all, anyone would do! The need was not for real friends, it was for the appearance of friends, and you had it covered. In just three days you had managed it! With no real social skills or desire for human companionship, you had managed it! When you needed the help of these meddling meddlers, then by God you would ask for it. For now, you were content to navigate these hostile seas on your own, thank you very much. And if there was a time when you looked forward to school, when you did things because you wanted to, well those days were over now. You were growing up, and you had no use for her hippie-dippy schemes.

Slowly, you raised your hand, and inserted yourself into the conversation about study groups. The teacher had some part of her eye on you the entire time, you knew, because your desire to speak was immediately granted.

“I think we should try to meet these needs in class,” you argued, knowing that the only important rhetoric here was the fact that it was you who was speaking. “The lunch period is only 30 minutes long, and many of us have sports after school.”

And so she relented, and the class calmed down, their precious lunch hours restored, their after school activities remaining intact. And you picked up To Kill A Mockingbird and started to read.

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