During the middle of my senior year in high school, my parents suddenly announced one evening at the supper table, that we would be moving from New England to Indiana. To me, it seemed like the end of the world. I was a straight-A student, on the cheerleading squad, dating a hulking and handsome football player, and had just discovered surfing. There was no way I wanted to even consider the possibility of leaving all that, and my best friends, to basically start all over again, so close to the end of my high school career. I just wasn’t going to do it!
The next day at school, I told my best friend, and we immediately began hatching plans for me to stay behind. We would ask our moms if I could move in with her. We spent the rest of the day scribbling down every reason we could think of as to why it was a great idea. I have no idea now what we came up with, but our reasons seemed good to us at the time. But, despite arguing my case from the time I got home until bedtime, there was no talking either of my parents into it. I was devastated.
So, the next day, I sadly informed my best friend and then my boyfriend, that I was, indeed, going to have to move. That’s when my boyfriend came up with our next plan: I would run away once we got there, and he would come get me. (Now that I look back on it, a better plan, as foolish plans go, would have been for me to run away before the move, since neither my boyfriend nor I had a driver’s license!) Satisfied and relieved, I settled into my old routines, while not letting the secret out about my upcoming move, so I wouldn’t have to give up my spot on the cheerleading squad, since I’d planned on being back within a week!
When the day came to move, I said my tearful goodbyes, and piled obediently into the packed family station wagon for our great adventure. Now that my escape route had been planned, I could actually enjoy the trip into the mysterious “South” that I’d only read about in school, and heard stories about from my step-father, who had been raised in Missouri. It didn’t really matter to me that Indiana and Missouri were actually Mid-western states, and not part of the Deep South. To my New England teenaged mind, everything south of Michigan and east of the Dakotas was “the South,” and I wanted to get a taste of it before making my escape. I tried not to let it bother me that I didn’t know exactly how my boyfriend would rescue me from that teenaged “fate worse than death.” I just assured myself that my football hero would somehow dutifully tackle all of the necessary details, and show up at my new location late some night to whisk me away.
Throughout the two-and-a-half day road trip, I daydreamed about looking down from my imaginary second-story bedroom window, picturing my boyfriend looking up at me, wordlessly signaling for me to sneak down to him. My daydreams didn’t include any details as to how I would get down from that imaginary window, though, nor had I thought much about what would come after my great escape. I guess I just imagined I’d sort of float down into his arms, and away we’d go, back to New England, to live happily ever after, as cheerleader and football star. The possible opinions and reactions of all of our parents didn’t really come up in my daydreams, or if they did, I just dismissed all thoughts of them, to keep my dream alive.
Finally, after two-and-a-half days of riding, and trying to sleep in our over-stuffed car, we pulled up at our destination. Immediately, my daydream took a blow when I saw that the house had only one story. Oh, well, minor detail. It was a quaint little cottage-type white clapboard house, with a huge oak tree in the front yard—and a sidewalk out front. I had to admit, it looked cute. And the insides were nice, too. The living room had some rather unique-looking built-in bookshelves. And there was a fully-finished attic where, it was pointed out by my mother, I could set up an art studio! Well, I thought, maybe I’ll just give this new place a chance, because I had one other reason to consider delaying my escape for at least a couple of weeks. I would be “the new kid” at school, at least until the novelty wore off.
I decided to make the best of my dire situation. Even though I was a cheerleader, I had always been rather shy, having only a handful of friends, among the two hundred or so classmates at my former school. So, I thought, since no one knew me at the new school, why not “act as if” I was outgoing, and used to having lots of friends? I only had to pull off my little experiment for a couple of weeks, I reasoned. And, if it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to suffer the mortifying embarrassment for long.
Thus began my first week at the new school. My first day went well. The new school was about the same size as my old one had been. So far, so good. I traipsed cheerfully through the halls going to my classes, smiling at everyone and saying hello. In the make-or-break world of high school, first impressions are everything, and if you pass the scrutiny of the right people, you’re “in;” if not, you’re left out in the cold, cruel world of high school with all the other “wanna-be’s.” I wanted to experience the glow of being accepted more than anything. Being a straight-A student, I was usually well-liked by my teachers. But, my schoolmates had always been another matter. My grades, combined with my shyness, had always seemed to alienate me from all but a few close friends, who also didn’t fit into either the in-group or the out-group, but like me, fell somewhere in the midst of that vast gulf that exists between the two. Everyone knew their place, by some unspoken agreement, and you never crossed the invisible but very real line, from one group into another.
But, here at my new school, I became a new person. I walked around smiling and greeting everyone, as I navigated through the sea of unfamiliar faces, trying to act like I’d seen the in-group members from my old school act—bubbly and out-going. And, it worked!. Suddenly, at lunch, everyone was coming up to me and asking me to sit with them, or inviting me to join this club, or sign up for that activity. It was wonderful! I had my pick of friends. But, being new, and unfamiliar with the unwritten dividing lines for the various groups, I shrugged off the invitations by saying I’d have to wait & see if I could fit this or that into my busy schedule. That worked too! I was having a great first day. It was wonderful!
That night after supper, my boyfriend called. He told me how much he missed me, and I was suddenly reminded of just how much I had left behind. But, when he started to talk about coming to get me, I found myself telling him that we should wait a few days, since my parents might be expecting something right after we moved. “It might be too risky right now,” I said, and I heard the unmistakable sound of disappointment in his voice as we finished our call.
After I hung up, I went into my room and cried. I was all mixed up inside. I missed my boyfriend terribly. I had even practiced writing his last name after mine a few times, like teen girls do. But, I had also tasted what acceptance felt like for the first time, and I wanted more. And that made me feel guilty. After all, my boyfriend had almost started crying while we were on the phone, and here I was wanting to stay a little while longer so far away from him. I felt like I was being cruel, ‘though I really didn’t mean to be.
The next morning, I put on my new identity, along with my school clothes, and left for school. Maybe all the attention of the first day had been a fluke. Maybe, everything would revert back to normal, and I would again be lost in the muddle of those who don’t fit into any particular group, a nobody with one or two side-kicks.
I half-expected that to be the case when I arrived at school that second morning. But instead, I was again besieged by a sea of faces and invitations. By this time, I had begun to get a sense of who the other out-going and popular kids were at school. So, I decided to accept a couple of invitations, and picked a group to walk with through the halls. I would at least give my experiment a good try for as long as I would be here. I could “fake it” for a few days, just to see what it was like to be popular, and then go back to my old life.
At lunch, however, I saw something, or rather, someone who made me re-think my plans to run away so soon. Standing about a foot taller than everyone else in the lunchroom was one of the cutest guys I’d ever seen. And I suddenly wanted him to notice me more than anything I could think of at that moment.
Emboldened by my apparent success at becoming popular overnight, I decided to get up from where I was sitting, pretending I had to go get some ketchup from the table next to mine. As I got up, sure enough, he glanced my way, and I gave him a big, embarrassed smile, before hastily grabbing a ketchup bottle from the next table and sitting down. Phew! That was easy! My face flushed with embarrassment—and excitement. I did it! I got the cutest guy in school to notice me, just like that!
I could barely follow what people were saying, or eat my lunch after that. My mind was spinning. How would I get that cute guy to talk to me? Me: the “nobody” in disguise. I’d never in my wildest dreams had such power. It was intoxicating.
Suddenly, a daring plan popped into my head: I would drop my books in front of him, so he’d have to stop and help me pick them up. I rehearsed the plan in my mind all through the next class. Thank goodness, I hadn’t been called upon. My body was in that classroom, but my mind was in the hallway, picturing my staged “accident.”
When the bell rang, I leaped out of my chair and bolted for the door. I quickly stopped by my locker to pick up some extra books, just to make it look like too big of a mess for me to gather up by myself, after I dropped them. Then, I started scanning over the heads of the crowd, being careful not to be too obvious. At first, I didn’t see him. Either he’d already gone, or he was somewhere behind me. I stole a quick glance over my shoulder, and there he was, coming around the corner of another hallway. I cleverly made sure to look right past him, like I was looking for someone else. So far, so good.
I moved into the crowd, several layers in front of him, and started walking more slowly than those around me, easing my way back towards him. It felt like my heart would pound right out of my chest. But, the faster it went, the more slowly I walked, glancing beside me every now and then to say hello to someone nearby, and at the same time, use my peripheral vision to steal a glance in his direction, to see how close he was getting.
All of a sudden, he was right behind me. I walked along in front of him a few steps to make it look good. Then, it was now or never. I stopped, just for a second, long enough to feel him bump up against my back, and… . Wham! Down went my books, all over the floor in front of us. I dove down to start gathering them up, praying for my plan to work. And, it did! He stooped down beside me, apologizing for bumping into me, and said, “Here. Let me help you with those.”
Just then, the bell rang. Perfect timing! Everyone emptied out of the hall, leaving the two of us stooped over my pile of books on the floor. It was great! I grabbed a couple and stood up, almost losing my nerve. But, he continued gathering the rest of the pile and stood up, towering over me, and offered to carry them for me. “No thank you. I can get them,” I blurted out, before I could stop myself. I was about to blow my plan. “My name is Regina. What’s yours?” I asked, smiling, hoping to prologue the encounter. I could feel my face turning red. He told me his name, and then said, “Did you know that your nose wiggles when you smile?” (I didn’t.)
We both laughed, as I worked one hand free to try to cover my face, almost dropping my books a second time. I’d done it: I’d opened the door. What next? I had no clue. All I knew was that I didn’t want this encounter to end. But, we had to get to class. So, I shot him my warmest smile, saying, “I hope to see you around,” and disappeared into my next class, breathless.
When the phone rang at my house that night, I was surprised to hear the the voice of the tall, cute subject of my book-dropping incident. He’d gotten my number from one of the several people I’d given my number out to so far. He started out by apologizing again for bumping into me. I told him it was ok, no harm done. Then, we chatted about school for a few minutes and ended by saying, “See you tomorrow.”
Wow! I was impressed and thrilled: the cutest guy in school has called me! Maybe I might want to stick around for a little while, just to enjoy what it was like to be popular. Who could blame me?
My answer came quickly when the phone rang again a few minutes later. It was my distant boyfriend professing his longing for us to be together again. Oh! I missed him! And instantly, I was transported back to my old school, and my old life. I was standing at my open locker, wearing my boyfriend’s letter jacket, with his ring around my neck, looking into his handsome face—and I wanted to be back there, with him again, more than anything.
I felt so confused, and guilty, for having had a brief escape from the utter loneliness of being ostracized by most of my peers for my shyness, my grades, and whatever other factors had control of the fickle factors of acceptance in the world of teenagers—my precarious world. But, now my world was enlarging. I had a foot—or a piece of my heart—in both worlds: the one In which I currently found myself, and the one I had unwillingly left behind. Which was I going to choose?
By the time the phone call ended, we were both crying. I wanted to be with him, but I also wanted to stay where I was, and he could sense it. I went to bed that night, and tossed and turned until morning, in pain mixed with confusion. Who was I, and where did I really belong?
The next morning, I shuffled off to school, lost in turmoil. Was I shy and insecure, or confident and outgoing? Tears started to well up in my eyes, because I really didn’t know. But again, I was greeted by a flock of students, jockeying for my attention. And, I couldn’t help but notice that more than a few of them were not-too-bad-looking boys. They were all smiles, pushing and shoving to walk next to me, and something inside me started to perk up—just a little. The further I walked, the better I began to feel. By the time I settled into my first class, I was lost in contemplation again. I liked my new identity. I liked my classes and teachers. And, I liked all the new-found attention. It all felt too good to be bad. And, finally feeling accepted felt so good!
By the time my first class was over, I was again ready to venture out into the hall wearing a hopeful smile, even though my stomach felt like I’d swallowed a bucket of tears. And who did I spot, as soon as I burst through the door? You guessed it: Mr. Heads-Above-the-Crowd. He strolled right on over to me, matched his pace to mine, and started walking me to my next class! I guessed I was at least going to give my new school a good try.
Before long, the phone calls from home started tapering off, until there weren’t any more. I cried less and less after each one, and smiled more and more each day afterward. Needless to say, I graduated from my new school, six months later, with straight A’s, a fair-sized group of good friends, and one new boyfriend.