When I was 14 my parents decided to move from California to Utah. It was basically the most devastating thing they could have done in my teenage mind. I was just about to start high school. I finally had friends. I was excited for my life. And then they go and pull it right out from under me.
To make matters worse, many school districts in Utah keep 9th graders in junior high. Yes, I had to go BACK to junior high for another whole year. According to me, it was the end of my life.
I remember going to that claustrophobic building to register. Schools in California are open, the halls are outside instead of boxed-in and drenched in fluorescent light. I sat in the office choosing classes, while a mob of students ate in the dark, cramped commons. I watched them with their weird hair styles and clothing, wondering how I was ever going to fit in. It took me forever just to find my old friends—and now I'd have to do it all over again.
I started school the next week. In each class I had to hand my schedule to the teacher and explain that I was new, which was embarrassing enough. Some teachers then made me introduce myself. I didn't like those teachers.
Fourth period was the strangest because I had Seminary. In California, mormons attended Seminary early in the morning before school, but in Utah there are so many mormons that they have it during school. There was a Seminary building just off the school campus, and as I headed up there I couldn't help but wonder what I'd face.
My teacher was this nice, very tall man named Brother Brown. Instead of introducing me to the class, he did something really weird. To this day I still wonder what he was thinking.
"Gabe," he called.
A guy looked up from his desk, and my stomach went to my toes. He had popular written all over his dimpled smile and fancy clothes. "Yes, Brother Brown?"
"This is Natalie. She's fresh in from California. Will you make sure she feels comfortable here?"
Gabe smiled wide, looking at me in a way I was not accustomed to being looked at by popular boys. "Sure."
Brother Brown pointed me to a desk. "You sit there next to Gabe. He'll take care of you."
I did as I was told, but I couldn't quite grasp what was going on. Was it not obvious that pairing me with Gabe was wrong? Did I not look like the nerd I clearly was in California? Or maybe this was some kind of act of mercy. Maybe Brother Brown could tell I was a huge dork and he was trying to turn me into a charity case.
Gabe leaned over. "So you're from Cali? Bet you spent all day on the beaches."
"Um, I lived in Northern California, surrounded by corn. And I don't like the beach."
"Oh, so what do you like?" he continued.
He gave me this funny look, which I expected. "Like Pokémon?"
"No, well, Pokémon is fine but there's way cooler anime out there. Like Dragonball Z—that's hecca tight."
My cheeks felt too warm. "Oh, never mind."
Obviously I didn't know how to talk to cute guys who were just trying to be nice. All I wanted was for him to turn back to the front, that way I could focus on my notes and stop my heart from frantically fluttering at my ribcage.
This was so stupid. Why did Brother Brown do this to me? And why did I have to totally blow it by sounding like a dork? I hated to admit that part of me wanted to impress Gabe. I wasn't supposed to care about the popular kids—I was an independent, punk anime chick who looked down on popular culture. At least I was in California. I didn't know who I was in Utah. Was I supposed to be popular here?
When the bell rang, I packed up my stuff, dreading lunch. I didn't know where to sit or who I would sit with. I figured maybe I would go by my locker, since I brought my lunch anyway.
"Hey Natalie, do you want to eat lunch with me and my friends?" Gabe said.
I froze. Could this actually be happening? This was starting to sound way too much like a Disney movie. Was I supposed to be the loser Cinderella waiting to transform into someone cool and accepted? "Uh, sure."
Gabe took me to the cafeteria, where he introduced me to some of his friends. The boys were all on the basketball team. And the girls were either dancers or cheerleaders. Or both. They were all beautiful and thin. They talked about sports while the girls ate their salads without dressing.
They were nice to me. They really were, even if they obviously thought my interests were strange. The girls didn't do that evil glare, like I was invading their space. The boys didn't make fun of me. In fact, I'd face worse treatment from other crowds than I ever got from them.
As I sat there, I could see how easy it would be to be like they were. I could start eating salads and learn about sports. I could paint my nails and take off my upper ear clasp. I could dress like them. I could take dance and meld in just fine.
And yet I couldn't. The thought of giving up what I had made me feel sick inside. I couldn't spend the next four years of my life pretending I liked that stuff. Not that it was bad stuff, but it wasn't me. So I stood up early, and they asked where I was going.
"Oh, I need to get something from my locker," I said. "I'll be right back."
I didn't go back. I sat by my locker and finished my lunch by myself. But I didn't feel bad or lonely or crazy from walking away from such a group. I felt like myself again, like I could breathe. I decided that day that I'd wait to find a place I felt like I fit in, a group where I didn't feel like I had to change myself to belong.
As I've grown, I've often wondered if "nerds" are just people who are incapable of being anyone but themselves. I paid for it sometimes, but never having to pretend has been worth it. I know the people who like me actually like the real me, and I never have to wonder if people see through my cover since I don't have one. I've found many kindred spirits over the years, and I'm so glad I waited to find them. I could never hide myself—I never wanted to.
I really admire you. I feel like I've been far more of a chameleon, always trying to fit in.ReplyDelete
Random and kinda lame - but I know Brother Brown...and his brother. And went to high school with one of their daughters (took seminary from the uncle). But anime wasn't 'hecca tight' until a couple of years after I graduated.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the (unintential, I'm sure ^_^) stroll down memory lane. It's always nice to see people who stayed true to themselves despite everything.
i always fidn it so interesting to see how different people reactin different situations. I would have tried to get the those kids interested in Anime (which i did successfully with my own friends in high school) and only when that failed would i have searched out new friends.ReplyDelete
But that's me, i never had problems making friends and even though i was just an orch dork, i was still friends with the popular kids.
Thanks for sharing, i love hearing "new kid" stories
What a great thought - I've finally learned to embrace my "nerdiness" but I spent years trying to fit in and could never figure out why I felt so hollow. Now I've stopped trying to fit in and am finally being myself. I just wish I'd been able to be myself from the beginning like you did!ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing your story!
I'm glad you admitted publicly that you liked Final Fantasy. It was that day that a spark of hope sparked.ReplyDelete
I've always been a self-proclaimed dork, but I always had plenty of friends, despite the fact I didn't find a friend I really clicked with until I met my husband - not because he was into all the same things I was, but because he respected them and learned to enjoy them because I did.ReplyDelete
And btw, Natalie - for what it's worth, I think you're an incredibly cool nerd.
I never felt like I "fit in" in high school, but I didn't really expect to...I knew that "real life" was waiting and high school was something to enjoy in a weirdly ephemeral way, kinda like my ever-changing styles: ballerina tutu with combat boots on Monday; hippie-chic in my vintage bellbottoms and indian shirts on Wednesday; a three-piece tailored suit for a presentation on Friday (complete with tie..and I haven't even touched on my various hairstyles...this was before "meatball head" from Sailor Moon was popular ;) )...ReplyDelete
High school was a place where I focused on my grades first (straight A's were expected by my parents), friends/cliques/etc second.
For me, looking back, not being too attached to any one place or any one group of friends has allowed me to be spontaneous and adventurous as an adult...and I'm so grateful to have had such amazing experiences and stories that have stemmed because of those adventures, and am looking forward to many more...
Thank you so much for sharing!
(PS, all my friends knew anime; my family has been making vague references to Akira, Evangelion, heck Robotech, throughout my whole life! Then again, I'm a Philippine transplant who grew up in New York/on Long Island...It may be genetic...or there may have be something in the water out there...) ;)
As a fellow nerd, I found this 'hecca endearing.' (Sorry, couldn't resist.)ReplyDelete
Btw, I've been reading your blog for about a year now-- I enjoy your writing, and appreciate your writing/editing advice. So, thanks for that. :)
What an interesting choice. That takes a lot of courage and self-confidence.ReplyDelete
You know, for a while I wondered if this was part fiction, part of a new story. This is a girl I would definitely read more about. ;)
Such an awesome post. You've got a lot of courage. I like what you said about waiting to find those "kindred spirits." So true. It takes awhile to weed out the others who just want to be themselves and that like you for doing the same :)ReplyDelete
That was a great story! It might make the beginning of a great novel :)ReplyDelete
Love the story. I was "the new kid" in 2nd grade, and then again in 7th. 2nd was a cake-walk compared to 7th. I remember feeling that same way in the beginning, but then also found my kindred spirits. I had a wonderful group of girls I hung out with, and we are still best of friends even though we live scattered throughout the country. Plus, as a result of that move (even though it was years later) I met my future husband! It was hard, but at the same time worth it. Thanks for writing this!ReplyDelete
That's a good story.ReplyDelete
You made the right choice. Pretending to be someone you aren't can be tiring as all get out, and there's really no benefit to it.
Power to the nerds!
I love this story! You have a great writing style! Now where can I purchase your next book?ReplyDelete
Cute story :) You shouldn't have to change who you are for your friends. Good lesson :)ReplyDelete
How weird is that!? I was also 14 when my parents moved me from California to Utah! Look at that! Yes. Ninth grade really doesn't belong in junior high school. And the hairstyles! Oh, the hairstyles...ReplyDelete
How long was it before you converted to the crazy bangs??
Shari, no bangs here! Luckily that was just going out when I moved here, but the giant teased hair bump replaced it...*shudder*ReplyDelete
I love this! Thanks for sharing this story. It sounds like you have a contemporary YA in you! :-)ReplyDelete
I had to move during high school too! AFTER 9th grade! From NC to CA. We lived in southern California (Palmdale/Lancaster). I graduated from Highland High School. Now I'm back in NC. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane, to my own seminary classes, and to the open hallways of my high school.ReplyDelete
Wow. So amazing.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the reminder that I'm not supposed to hide. It can be all too tempting at times.
hahaha that was the year we both moved in from out of state and they stuck us in the back corner of english class together so that we "could be new together"ReplyDelete
im glad you came out of yours with courage...i came out with a profound dislike for utah :)
Ha, Emily it took me YEARS to like Utah. Probably not until after high school:)ReplyDelete
But I do remember well how we got put together in every class we had. Early morning geography, too. Heck, I wasn't complaining, though—you were cool!
While I think it is very important to remain true to yourself, I also think it's very important to be well rounded. There's no reason that you couldn't have stayed true to yourself and still be friends with jocks and cheerleaders. In my high school...we didn't have those traditional cliques. I had all different kinds of friends. Everyone did. Our captain of the cheerleading squad was an art student.ReplyDelete
I love this post.ReplyDelete
I don't think these things ever really change. Like, once a homecoming queen, always a homecoming queen. I ran into that this morning when planning the invitation list for my son's 4th birthday party. There's another kid at our church whose birthday is the same weekend, and I already know that several church friends will probably go to the other party because that mom is more "in-crowd" than I am (and our kids are still young enough that the moms determine things, not the kids).ReplyDelete
Which is cool. I'm totally who I am, and I'm the girl who has plenty of friends but wasn't on the homecoming court, who has my own brand of personal style but doesn't lie in a tanning bed or get my roots touched up every 3 weeks.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
And I'm definitely a nerd. Maybe you're onto something - maybe the two things are related. :)
I've never been able to pretend either. I don't think it's a nerd thing though, because I went to school with the smartest ppl on my island. We were all nerds. And some of them still pretended.ReplyDelete
I just have this thing about truth. I'd rather have truth than anything else. At any and all costs.
That was BEAUTIFUL! And so well written - makes me anxious to read one of your books :)ReplyDelete
Good for you for having that self-confidence! I really enjoy your blog. You always have good things to say.ReplyDelete