She sits there — alone — every lunch hour.
Not that she’s antisocial or anything like that. It’s more like junior high school is anti-her. She doesn’t wear the “right” clothes. And she doesn’t have the “right” look. And she doesn’t have the “right” friends. And she isn’t up on all of the “right” things.
Which makes her wrong. All wrong.
To be seen talking to her is to risk teasing from everyone else — or at least everyone who is anyone. Suggesting that people be nice to her could result in a major hassle with the popular crowd. And if anyone finds out that she considers you her friend . . . well, do the words “social suicide” mean anything to you?
So she sits there — alone — every lunch hour.
So she sits there — alone — every lunch hour. Usually she has the entire table to herself. And to tell the truth, she prefers it that way — especially since the alternative to being completely ignored is to be singled out for a barbaric form of adolescent abuse where somebody says something terribly cruel to her while everyone else laughs.
Everyone, that is, except her.
Things haven’t always been this way for her. Kindergarten was great. She enjoyed school, and she had lots of friends. Ditto grades one, two and three. But something must have happened that summer between third and fourth grades, because she suddenly seemed . . . well, different from the other girls. And in the pre-adolescent world of the fourth grader, where social awareness dawns with the bright light of peer pressure, few things are more unacceptable than “different.” Especially if it also means slower. And clumsier. And less fashionable.
You know — geeky.
In fact, it was at about that time that the G-word first entered her life. The first time someone called her a geek she laughed. It was such a funny-sounding word, it had to be a joke, right? But there wasn’t anything comical about the tone of voice that was used each time the epithet was hurled in her direction or the look in her mother’s eye when she finally got up the courage to ask her what the word means.
“It doesn’t really mean anything,” her mother told her, “except that the person who calls you that isn’t your friend.”
From that point on she had fewer and fewer friends. The kids she had always played with became distant and aloof. Popularity became more valuable than friendship. And everyone knows you don’t get to be popular by hanging out with a geek.
Through the years she’s learned to deal with rejection and ridicule. In fact, she pretty much expects it now. And she handles it. But once in a while something comes along and catches her off-guard. Such as the time her science teacher showed the class a movie about wolves. She was fascinated by the sophisticated social structure of the wolf pack, with its genetic checks and balances. But then there was an explanation of how the pack purges itself by turning on the weak and the vulnerable. And suddenly, unexpectedly, she cried.
The teacher was concerned, probably because he had never seen a student cry during what he considered a fairly academic, dispassionate film.
“Is something the matter?” he asked her as she tried to hurry out of class.
Her gaze was focused downward — as usual. But she hesitated and nodded.
“I was just wondering,” he continued, “because . . . well, if something in the movie bothered you, I’d like to help you understand it.”
She paused a moment. ”You can’t,” she said. ”Nobody can.” She started to leave the room, then turned and added: “I guess I just feel bad for the wolves that get picked on.”
She left quickly, melting into the crowd in the hallway. It was time for lunch.
Time to be alone.