Right before the start of senior year, a troubling thing happened. Not shocking, but grave and disappointing all the same.
What it was was this:
“I’m not coming back in the fall,” Jane said as she and I sat in Denny’s, drinking coffee and eating pie respectively.
I mashed my pie with the back of my fork. “I thought you were going to think about it.”
She gave me a bored look. “I did think about it. What I think is that it’s bullshit, so I’m not going to go anymore.”
The way she tilted her head and popped her eyes wide was calculated to make me laugh, but the actual sentiment was a little too grim. I didn’t really have anything to say to that, so I didn’t say anything.
The fact that Jane drops out is not even that surprising. She’s never really been too good about passing her classes, and at this point, I’m pretty much used to people leaving and not coming back. In fact, so many of the juniors dropped out last year that by the middle of April, I’d started keeping a log of it in the back of my American Lit. binder. It’s funny to think that in tenth grade, it seemed blatantly impossible that anybody would ever drop out. Now it seems commonplace and kind of inevitable.
School is a little bit lonely without Jane. It would be a lot worse, except that now all the teachers and hallways and upperclassmen are at least vaguely familiar, and I have other friends, and even if I didn’t, I’m marginally less weird about just biting the bullet and talking to people. And it’s not even like Jane is really all that absent from my life. Sure, she’s never waiting for me outside English anymore, but we talk on the phone a lot, and sometimes she walks over at lunch to meet us.
The thing that happens next turns out to be a sort of catalyst—the first rumblings of a long, stupid landslide.
At the time though, I have no way of knowing that.
It’s third hour and I don’t have a class. I should be in the library, finishing my Brit Lit homework, or else making a quick run to Advance Auto Parts to get some more fuses to feed Blue Dragon.
Instead, I’m standing alone in the good bathroom—which is the good one because it has the full-length mirror and sinks that actually turn off—assessing my reflection. (Also, remember that this is right at the early-peak of my being completely horrified at my brand new collection of knobs and tendons and joints, so I’m being melodramatic and sort of masochistic. Eventually I’ll get over it, but that’s at least four months away, and so right now, I’m kind of stuck with myself.)
The bell is going to ring soon and then everybody will file out into the halls. I’ll go stand in the locker bay with Little Sister Yovanoff, where I already know exactly what will happen, even though we’ve only been back at school for about a week. I know what will happen because it happens the same way every single day, and shows absolutely no signs of stopping.
This is not a post about #4, but it’s not NOT a post about him, because since school started, he has basically become a permanent fixture in my periphery. Because it’s bad now, this feeling of smitten-ness—creeping into my notes and observations on an almost daily basis, when last year, I mostly only mentioned him in passing.
Now I use up all this extra space trying to divine the little truths and secrets, but it’s hard. The notes I make are consistent and comprehensive, but they don’t actually lead anywhere, except to the exact same things I’ve known for the last two years.
I see #4 in the halls and in our locker bay and his mouth is always open like he’s on the verge of saying something. Rooster laughs right out loud, that booming, crashing laugh, elbowing his friends and swinging his arms around when he talks, but #4 always seems to be trying to take up less space.
And so this is what I’m thinking about—all I’m thinking about—on the afternoon I see Delilah for the first time. My train of thought is taken up entirely by how the bell is about to ring, and then #4 will stand facing me with his back against the door of his locker. I’ll wait patiently for Little Sister Yovanoff, and when she gets there, I’ll untangle her hair from her necklace or let her use my Chapstick. We’ll laugh about books together, and when I smile and say something easy and offhand, I’ll try not to look like I’m staring past her to someplace else. I’ll try not to drop whatever I’m holding.
As I turn to leave the bathroom, a girl comes in alone. The ratty purple cardigan and the glasses immediately make me think of an ironic librarian, but the image is sort of ruined by her worn-out jeans and her long burgundy hair. Her mouth is thin and cynical, but there’s a certain twitch to it, like she’s just waiting for someone to amuse her.
I’m about to look away and start for the door, when she smiles. The way her mouth turns down at the corners is weirdly familiar, and I have a loopy kind of déjà vu, like I’m sixteen again, standing at my locker while Gatsby holds a paper cup against his face and tries to explain how nothing is that bad.
In a fit of deep social ineptitude, I respond to her smile by doing nothing.
She’s completely undeterred by my lack of friendliness, though. “Hi,” she says, in a voice that makes the sense of déjà vu much, much worse suddenly, like I should absolutely be able to place it. But I can’t.
I smile back mechanically and mumble something, then walk out. The whole encounter leaves me with a feeling like the day is one long, disjointed dream and I need to wake up now. I keep trying to think where I’ve seen her before. But the answer is, I haven’t.
The next day, Jane comes to meet us for lunch, bringing a sandwich and a single-serving yogurt in a brown paper sack with her name written on it in marker, because even though she doesn’t really eat that much at all anymore, she still thinks things like that are hilarious.
She waits outside the gym for me and Little Sister Yovanoff. “My sister is going to eat with us,” she says when we get out of class. “If that’s okay.”
And I’m unsettled, but not entirely shocked when the girl who comes up to us is the same one I’d seen in the bathroom.
She’s tall and angular, with a soft Renaissance-Madonna face and warm, dark eyes. The reason I couldn’t remember where I’d seen her before is that I haven’t. I’ve just been talking to her on the phone for five months, whenever I call for Jane and she winds up answering instead.
After lunch, Delilah didn’t go to her third hour. Instead, she and I drove around together, listening to Blue Dragon’s radio. She didn’t seem to care that it only gets about half the stations.
“I thought that was you,” she said, holding her cigarette out the window. “In the bathroom the other day. That’s how come I said hi. I actually hate most people.”
“How did you even recognize me, though?”
“Jane talks about you.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “There’s like two thousand kids at this school.”
“Yeah, but the thing is, none of them are you. You think there are so many people walking around, but really, most of them are robots, so the ones who aren’t are pretty obvious. I knew Jane wouldn’t have friends who fit in. That’s not how she is.”
I wanted to ask about Jane, how is she exactly, but it seemed like the wrong question. Yogurt and sandwich notwithstanding, she looks like a part of her has disappeared over the summer. The part that laughs or smiles or enjoys anything.
Delilah is fourteen and a sophomore, and kind of incredible. Except for a certain ghost of a resemblance around the mouth, she and Jane are nothing alike. If Jane is a marble statue, then Delilah is the circus. If Jane can be counted on to put on a blank stare at the first sign of conflict, Delilah is an open book. She laughs, cries, shouts, dances, screeches like a velociraptor, and hugs me between classes like we haven’t seen each other in years.
She’s her sister’s polar opposite in nearly every way, but the actual process of how she becomes my friend is almost identical.
Delilah put the cigarette in her mouth, inhaled, and then tapped the ash out the passenger window. “I’m going to start hanging out with you guys, I think—if that’s okay, I mean.”
“Yeah,” I said, and it was just like that morning last year when Jane caught me in the hall and asked if she could eat with us. “We’re not very exciting, though. And it’s possible that some of us could attract hostility or negative attention—well, not me and Little Sister Yovanoff, really, but Catherine has this thing where she pisses people off. Just so you know.”
“I am quite capable of attracting my own negative attention,” Delilah said sweetly. Then she dropped the cigarette into her empty Coke bottle and stared out at the traffic. “I have friends from last year, but I don’t like them much. My best friend from before is all mindless and stupid now. She’s running for class secretary—not even president, but secretary—and wants to be a $%&@ing cheerleader. We used to be bitter and disillusioned together and now it’s like she’s turned into a goddamn prom queen. I don’t get that. How can you just stop being disillusioned?”
The beauty of Delilah is that she never deflects or tells lies or hides anything. She just looks you right in the face and says exactly what she’s feeling, and doesn’t ever seem to worry too much about how other people are going to react.
She’s wildly affectionate and loves inside jokes and giving funny gifts and holding hands, and is ridiculously touched by even the smallest gesture. She gets excited about ice cream and Chinese buffets and going on errands, and will always share anything she has.
No one is ever in any doubt as to whether or not Delilah likes them. Her dislikes are just as vocal and absolute as her likes, and she has no problem writing someone off entirely, just like she has no problem telling someone that she loves them.
Even though I’ve been friends with Jane for close to eight months, it’s a friendship that was slow to take root, and I’m still not entirely sure what shape it is. Delilah, on the other hand, is all-in, one hundred percent, no questions asked. She bursts into my daily life with her face lit up like Christmas and her arms flung wide.
Today, I’m really curious about any friends you might have who are younger (or older) than you.
This is something that’s always fascinated me, because being homeschooled meant that the vast majority of my friends were a few years younger, and occasionally a few years older. Then I started high school and was shocked to find that people were typically only friends with other people from their grade.
Is that how it is for you, or do you have friends whose birthdays don’t line up quite so closely with yours?
I kind of skipped a grade (it’s a long story that involves a trip to Australia), so most of my friends were one year older/same grade and same age/one grade down. Except we went to a very small school, so it kind of included students who were two years older as well. And when I was in grade nine, I spent my mornings with five kids in OAC (the highest grade), because all of us had teacher parents, and were therefore at school super early. This is, incidentally, why I had a great math mark in grade nine math…most of my homework was done by kids in OAC. ;)
we went to a very small school, so it kind of included students who were two years older as well
I think this is really something to recommend smaller schools and classroom sizes in general. While I do feel like I knew way more people of various ages than most of my classmates did, my younger/older friends tended to be people I only got to spend time with because we were thrown together through circumstances outside of class, like all riding the same bus together or being on an art committee or on the soccer team.
Even though most of my general requirements classes included a wider range of ages (Geometry was a mix of grades 10-12, and so were both of my government classes), everyone just kind of sorted themselves into groups along the same dividing lines they always had, so that seniors, juniors, and sophomores all sat in different clusters throughout the room. When I was fifteen, I found this behavior just incredibly weird, and then by eighteen, it had become so normalized in my own brain that I hardly thought about it, even in passing.
Last school year, at least, I ate mostly with kids my grade (freshmen) plus one junior, but I had a lot of sophomore friends and even a few friends who were seniors because of DECA (a sort of business club, if you don’t know). Also, I skipped two math classes and took Honors Algebra II with a few other freshmen, a lot of sophomores, and two juniors. By the end of the year, I was on good terms with a lot of the sophomores and the two junior boys, who are practically joined at the hip, always asked me for help with homework because I had the highest grade in the class. I’ve never had problems relating with people of different ages. I’d even count myself as friends with some adults. Also, in the next few weeks, I’m probably going to end up going zip lining with one of my older friends, because she’s just about the only one of my friends who WOULD go zip lining.
This is exactly why I think extracurriculars are just incredibly valuable—one of the things they’re absolutely great for is letting you meet and work with people who might fall outside your everyday social circle.
I’m probably going to end up going zip lining with one of my older friends, because she’s just about the only one of my friends who WOULD go zip lining
Which is just so much more important than her being your exact same age! Seriously, I think it’s kind of bizarre when people arrange themselves into groups based on something arbitrary like a birthday, rather than something relevant, like common interests.
That was actually one of the pluses about high school for me. My school wasn’t big, and only one middle school fed into it, so it was pretty much exclusively the minimal opening up between grades that filled out intimidating walls of fresh blood and new players.
And actually, I almost always had more classes with kids from other grades than my own (a combination of a weird in-between advanced math+science program which placed me with the non-advanced track kids of the grade above and a whole hell of a lot of art classes, which somehow managed to be filled with slacking upperclassmen when I was an underclassmen and then filled with chattering underclassmen when I was an upperclassmen). They were mostly peripheral figures, though, in a ‘your greasy hair is dreamy’ or ‘I can’t even express my loathing for the way you live your life’ and occasional funny anecdotes like ‘I can’t believe I watched that girl cut out $3 champagne coupons in math class every day for an entire week before prom’.
I guess, though, I had a handful of acquaintances, and a few friends, who were mostly in the grade above and below, but only a few specific instances stand out… Three years older, the girl from colorguard who was basically a minor celebrity because she had a car, but was also the worst driver, hands-down the worst driver I have ever been in a car with, and I wasn’t even riding with her for any one of the three occasions she ended up on people’s lawns. One year above, one of my closer friends, who lived around the corner from me, who I walked the cross-town mile home with every day of junior year, in a rambling way that involved staying at the school until 4 PM to hang out on the couch left behind by stage crew and occasionally accidentally shouting things at people who looked like they were wearing headphones. And two years below, a friend’s boyfriend’s little brother who I ended up spending a very strange semester of gym class (senior year, when all the friends of my class were cruelly separated on the other side of the alphabet for a different marking period of health class than I was) monologuing to. It was a weirdly mentor-like setup, and I felt bitter and old, even though, by that point, I’d actually started to shed a lot of the casual cynical defensiveness & bitter antisocial attitude I’d used as a shield throughout high school. So half the time I felt like I was playing the role of somebody I used to be, and other times I was straight-up playing a stereotypical figure from a disaffected teen drama/comedy for the fun of it but almost all the time I was struck by just how much it felt like something that would be a minor storyline in a cheesy teen movie.
I’ve always wondered what it would have been like to go to a smaller school, since I went from the miniscule school of me and my sister, to one of 2,500 kids. By my senior year, I could tell you at least one fact or observation or piece of trivia about pretty much anyone in my grade, demonstrate a similar level of familiarity for about maybe 50% of the juniors, and despaired at the idea of ever remembering anything about even a fraction of the sophomore class—because there were ELEVEN HUNDRED of them.
‘I can’t believe I watched that girl cut out $3 champagne coupons in math class every day for an entire week before prom’
Exactly the kind of stray detail that I treasured! Mostly because I had this weird sort of Sherlock-Holmes-ish philosophy that the small specifics could tell you everything you needed to know about a person—and this was before I even knew that criminal profiling was a thing!
It was a weirdly mentor-like setup, and I felt bitter and old
Oh, this is my speech class! It was technically a class for sophomores who’d failed speech in junior high and needed to make up the credit to graduate, but my sister and I had to take it as punishment for having been homeschooled. We put off taking it until the last quarter of my senior year, and wound up being this kind of rallying point for the sophomores, because we had that incalculable advantage that comes with age, of knowing—really-truly knowing—that there was nothing to be scared of, honest to god, and that being funny was way more important than actually fulfilling any of the topic requirements, and if all else fails and you get stuck, just be as ridiculous and self-deprecating as possible.
almost all the time I was struck by just how much it felt like something that would be a minor storyline in a cheesy teen movie
This is pretty much the story of my teenage years. But maybe just because the way I thought about things was so episodic. Everything that ever happened just seemed like some isolated incident—some kind of eyebrow-raising side-street or novelty that might or might not come back at the end to meet up with the main plot line.
And I wonder what it would’ve been like to go to a larger school, haha. Our district had three elementary schools, which worked out to five years spent with the same 75 kids before suffering through 3 years of middle school combined. At its biggest point, my high school had about 700 kids, and our class of ~220 was an unusually large one. So not only was it small, but there was practically no one you hadn’t known for 4-7 years, if not 12.
I complained a lot about the small school experience, but then I went to college and met people who’d graduated with classes of less than triple digits, and realized just how much worse I could’ve had it.
Unfortunately, my high school experience was far too anticlimactic to make anything but a very avant-garde teen movie, but maybe I just didn’t notice when my plotline crossed over with the main one.
Friends in different grades were the norm for me back in high school. I was always on a tight-knit team (in cheerleading, the varsity and JV practiced and performed and competed as one team, except on game day). And in the arts programs – studio art, sculpture, ceramics, drama… I did it all – all the grades were mixed in together. Even science, math, and foreign language classes were a mix (my older brother and I had classes together every year). Only English and History/Govt/Econ classes were for your specific grade.
At lunch, only seniors and juniors were allowed to leave campus, but underclassmen sneaking out to eat with upperclassman – or upperclassmen bringing back food for their friends – happened all the time. When I was a freshman, I had a lot of senior friends, and when I was a senior, I had a lot of freshman friends. Having friends in different grades was unavoidable – which is great, I think!
While I would not go so far as to say that my soccer team was particularly tight-knit (or at least, not as far as I was concerned), during my senior year, I did wind up a with a reputation among the freshmen as “the nice one.” Which, I’ll admit, was slightly gratifying in a “Yeah, suck on THAT!” way. (Which is not actually a very nice attitude to have, and goes a long way toward proving that the freshmen were not quite on the nose. I was maybe several other things, but not necessarily nice.)
Campus regulation is always fascinating to me, because we had 100% open campus. I don’t know if that was because they didn’t feel like closed campus was geographically enforceable or what, but there was literally no one keeping track of us. I mean, there was a guy who would kind of trundle around trying to keep kids from smoking on school property, but there was only one of him and he was incredibly inefficient.
I spent six years being homeschooled, and so out of my three closest friends – the kind that you call at two am and braid your hair and you take on seven hour car rides to your Grandma’s house – only one of them is my age. One is a year older than me, one is two years younger. I’ve found, as a kid, it’s pretty easy to get along with anyone old enough to not cry at tag, and not yet an adult. At the theater I’m in plays at, I have friends who I absolutely love who are three or four years younger than me. But when we’re together, squeezed in a corner at rehearsal and mouthing the words to a song we both love just quiet enough for no one to yell at us, it doesn’t matter.
This is pretty much my exact experience of being homeschooled! Well, except that my particular social circle consisted of one close friend who was my age, and several who were a year or two younger, because in the context of our homeschooling group, I really was on the upper end of the age spectrum. People never thought so, though, because I was really tiny for a long time, so even friends that were a couple years younger still tended to be taller than me.
I’ve found, as a kid, it’s pretty easy to get along with anyone old enough to not cry at tag, and not yet an adult.
Hahahaha—YES! Growing up, I actually had quite a few friends who I loved dearly and who were three, four, and occasionally even five years younger than me. And sometimes I’d meet people who would make comments about how I was being exceptionally nice to “the little kids,” and it was sometimes really hard to explain that no, these people aren’t some kind of babysitting responsibility, they’re my friends.
Hey there! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post
reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting
about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read.
Thank you for sharing!