The last Friday pep rally we had, I went into my school’s basement and hid. I go there a lot, via a semi-secret stairway, to be alone and read a book while my classmates dress up and shout things like “I BELIEVE, I BELIEVE WE WILL WINNNNN,” or “GO UGH UGH UGH!” Even though the space is really dark and damp and lonely, I can hear the entire pep rally from down there without getting trampled and smothered by the sweaty kids. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be a cheerleader who wears sparkly blue knickers and enjoys football and pep rallies. I then think about sparkly knickers and cry in horror.

All of which is to say, I don’t belong. I have this teacher who has a board on her wall filled with former students’ senior portraits—little cards with kids leaning against that special tree they lean against every day and smiling generically. This past Thursday, one of the girls in my class gave her photo to my teacher, and when I saw it, I teared up. My teacher asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t tell her how beautiful and natural the girl looked, and that I knew that my senior photo looked nothing like that. I had straightened my hair and put on eyeliner for it in the hopes of looking like my pretty, carefree classmates, but I looked as uncomfortable and out of place as ever. I knew that when I put my picture next to this girl’s on that wall, it would be obvious to everyone that she belonged and I couldn’t. After class, in study hall, I ran into our school theater (another favorite hiding place), nestled down backstage, and cried.

It’s not like anyone’s gone out of their way to make me feel unwelcome. Last year, one of my brother’s friends, a recent graduate, came back to visit and talked to me. She looked me in the eye and said, “So, I hear you’re kind of popular this year.” It was half true. At the beginning of that school year, I was straight up kicked out of my circle of friends with a statement along the lines of “You’ve changed a lot this year, and we really don’t like it.” I was fine with it. My personality was changing, and I didn’t mind not having a regular group to hang out with. I started becoming friends with this girl in my English class who happened to hang out with a more popular crowd. She also liked to hide from pep rallies. So I didn’t really become popular, I was just now associated with a different group via this new friend. I hung out with her group, but I felt like an imposter. I always suspected that they thought everything I said was weird. Sometimes an uncomfortable “I love you” really means, “I have no idea how to respond to your telling me you want to have Tina Fey’s babies.”

If this were an essay for English class, this is where the conclusion would go. This is where I would write, “Actually, I find that I do belong,” or “GET ME OUTTA HERE OMG CAN’T STOP CRYING.” I would then lose 10 points from a certain snarky English teacher for using “omg” in a paper. I think the real conclusion will come much later, when I’m able to choose where I want to be. I also think that the girl with the beautiful senior picture probably feels like she doesn’t belong either. ♦