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How to be Popular

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Remember those agonizing days growing up when you wanted so bad to be part of the “in-crowd” you practically researched how to be cool? It even physically hurts to write that. With my nerd flag flying high, I checked out books at the library with titles like “The Popularity Plan” and “How to be a Star.” The first was actually a novel, the second was a book about acting with pictures of Fred Savage on the front. Oh boy! Of course none of those ideas worked, and probably made me even more of the brunt of jokes than anything.

There was one summer when my biggest dreams came true and the popular girl invited my best friend and I to her house for a sleepover. Just us. Just the two girls that were endlessly mocked and outcast and left out. But, to our defense, we were also the two smart girls. Witty, observant, and persevering. Finally, it seemed as though our perseverance to be cool had paid off. We spent the entire summer with this girl. We would stay at each others’ houses for weeks at a time, go shopping together and explore local attractions. We practically studied this girl’s movements, clothing choices, and body language. We finally thought we would be actresses in our own movie where the unpopular get magically transformed into the most admired. Finally, all of our tireless work to become cool had paid off.

Once we went back to school in the fall though, the pressure of being friends with us was put to the test and ultimately the friendship went sour. Little things that we did at each others’ houses became ammunition for mockery. I once used the girl’s dandruff shampoo because that was all that was in her shower. So, the other kids tortured me for non-existent dandruff. I was shell-shocked. We thought we were bonding. We thought we were going to be cool kids. We thought we had finally elbowed our way to the top only to come crashing down further than we ever had before. Now our private secrets, something that were sacred and secret before, were now in the most vulnerable of positions.

I still have dreams every now and then about being the most hated girl in school. Sometimes it’s powerful enough to even put a damper on my adult self-esteem. And sometimes incidents at work or in my social life bring those feelings back up to the surface. It sort of brings fear for my son to the surface too, although I’m pretty sure Catholic school girls are much more cutthroat than public school boys.

Next year there will be a 10-year high school reunion. I’m not sure whether I will go or not, but I do know that I am very proud of how far I’ve come since those agonizing school daze…I mean days.

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