You should know that I was never a cheerleader; in fact, whatever the opposite of cheerleader is in high school, that was me. I wasn’t even smart enough [read: I didn’t care enough about doing all of my homework] to be a real nerd. I was just awkward, wore my pants too high, and had too many opinions. I also read novels in Algebra class when I should have been, y’know, learning Algebra.
“I tried to find my new place. I was on the Math Team, which was so egregiously uncool. I had to pose for a yearbook picture in my math-punning sweatshirt and hated myself. I couldn’t decide who to be friends with: my childhood friends, who still kinda dressed like children? Or these new kids from the Catholic school who were kinda bad and wore flannel? There is no inner turmoil the like the turmoil of seventh grader deciding who she’s going to target for friendship, and then the anguishing effort that follows. The phone conversations, the horrible, contentless phone conversations.”
This terror of figuring out who my friends were and what kind of person I would become happened for me in 8th grade. I remember very well distancing myself from one group of friends and trying to find another. By the time I graduated high school, I had a few close friends, but I never felt like I fit into a big group. I was friends with a lot of the emo, gothy kids, but I was never quite depressed enough to fit in. I also wasn’t willing to break too many of my parents’ rules; I was a good kid at heart. Not to mention that I actually liked my parents, which made me even more weird.
“But if you’ve never lived in a small, rural town, I need to underline it for you and bold it and then make it italic: I had so few other options that made me feel like I belonged. If I would’ve been a cooler kid, if I would’ve had some magnificent and vibrant sense of self, if I could’ve given two fucks about what others thought about me, if I had had solid proof that no matter how few friends you have in 7th grade you can still grow up to be a person of worth, then maybe I would’ve said no to the weird quasi-sport that involves choreographed hand movements in non-breathable polyester outfits. But I didn’t, so I didn’t.”
I wish I had found something like cheerleading in high school. Mostly I just didn’t care enough to get involved in anything. I was barely on time in the morning (running through the halls before the bell rang) and the first one out the door in the afternoon, before the parking lot traffic made it impossible to leave. I was also friends with several band kids, and I envied their closeness. They were weird, too, but at least they were weird together, and they had something outside of school to look forward to.
As it was, I got out of my small town as quickly as I could, and I have no plans of ever moving back.
Back to the essay: regardless of where you fell on the popularity scale, you will probably identify with Anne Helen Petersen‘s description of being a girl in public school between the ages of twelve and seventeen. You will cringe in recognition, and you will be relieved, as I was, that you’re not back there anymore.