When my mom pulled up our green mini-van in front of the East library, I didn’t feel like a high schooler. I was five-years-old again, off to my first day of Kindergarten. I had to enter another big, scary-looking building, and leave behind everything I was familiar with.
But switching from coloring with crayons at home all day to coloring in a Kindergarten classroom was nothing. Now, as I stared out from the passenger’s seat, watching kids hop out of their parents’ cars, I knew this wouldn’t be the same. Girls rushed over to hug their friends and catch up on the past three months before walking side by side into the library. My mom would have to drag me out of our car by my ankles, kicking, screaming and clawing at the hot concrete, trying to chicken out on my first day of high school.
For 11 years before this, I attended the same private school, St. Ann’s. Of the 38 other kids I graduated with, six came to East. But like any other 14-year-old girl, I was crushed by the fact that my three closest friends were headed towards more private schooling. I had to enter the scary-looking building on my own.
My outfit on the first day of school was perfect: jean shorts from American Eagle, and a simple purple and white patterned shirt. I spent the night before trying on numerous outfits, littering my bedroom floor with clothes until I decided on the generic short and shirt combination: nothing to make me stand out.
Almost all of my freshmen year I just wanted to fit in and be a typical East student. If people found out I didn’t know all the words to the school song or how to get to the locker rooms, I feared they would peg me as an amateur.
An amateur was not something I wanted people to think of me as. Not a private school kid. Not a weirdo. Not an amateur. If they did, they might reject my attempts at becoming friends with them. They might turn and walk the other way when they saw me in the hall, they might not respond to my text because their phone “died.”
Because of my need to make new friends, I started caring too much about what others thought of me. I became quiet when I was worried about saying the wrong thing. Girls could talk about Project Runway, a show which I own all five seasons of and never miss on Thursday nights. But nine times out of 10, I wouldn’t say anything. If I remarked on how Christian Siriano’s dress was gorgeous in last week’s episode, and they thought it was a monstrosity, that could the mean end of the conversation.
At lunch I felt lucky to have people to sit with everyday, but I continually listened to conversations instead of joining them. Occasionally, I’d talk to someone about common, easy topics.
“Have you been asked to (insert dance here) yet?” is always a great conversations starter, and,
“Are you going anywhere over (winter/spring) break?” is something everyone can answer.
These questions helped me to avoid “the awkward silence” more than a few times. But when I was left with an awkward situation, I could always turn to my cell phone. I’d tap my thumbs across the keyboard, staring intently at the screen to get that cool, unapproachable vibe. My cell phone was my invisibility cloak.
Over the summer, I spent my days with my friends from Bishop Miege and St. Teresa’s. I pushed the thought of sophomore year to the back of my mind, refusing to accept the fact that I’d have to face everything again.
When the first day of school finally came, I was just as nervous as I had been before. However, all it took was one sentence to make me question just what I was nervous about.
“Why haven’t we hung out at all this summer?” was what one girl said upon seeing me at school.
Whether or not she truly meant it, that question made me reflect back on my naïve actions during my freshman year. I wanted to be included, to have other people call me to make plans on a Friday night, but I never made an effort to reach out and call them first.
I created a distorted, Picasso-like image of how others saw me. But in reality, the only one who saw me that way was me. No one ever laughed at me for coming from a private school or avoided me in the hallway. Not all East students know the words to the school song—that’s why it’s posted clearly on the gym wall. Almost everyone is at least a tiny bit nervous on their first day of high school.
I had excluded myself.
When I put away my cell phone and gave my opinion of last night’s Project Runway, I found people wanted to be my friend. Regardless of where I went to middle school.