Listen, to understand this story, you have to first understand me. Because the story is about me. Selfish? Yes. Join the party. I think we all tell stories about ourselves and that’s all we really do, and all we really want to do. Every story is really about its author. So just shut it with the self-righteous judgmental nonsense already. Yeah, this story is about me. Right, I was explaining myself. I don’t make friends very easily. I’m not sure why, but I don’t. Maybe it’s because I don’t give a flying crap about all the meaningless chatter. I find it very difficult to talk with a straight face about sports or television or these idiotic brain-drool sessions that pretend to pass for a high school education. I have very little to talk about.
Hold it, I can already hear what you’re gonna tell me next. You’re gonna prattle about how there are always other outsiders, and I’m just mature for my age and am thinking more than most and should therefore just find some smart, quirky fellow outsiders to have fun with. As if Captain Picard or Dungeons and Dragons is more meaningful than David Beckham or American Idol. As if being in high school was about making friends, about trying to fit in. I don’t buy that. I guarantee you, for ninety percent of people here, that’s a means to an end. Sex. Or “love.” Or whatever you want to call it. That’s why people come here—to hunt for someone who will tolerate them long enough to let them gain the status of being in a “romantic relationship.” Romantic, sure. Okay, fine, yeah I know, kids go to high school because their parents make them. Don’t worry, I’m not into pretending we have more free will than we do, seriously. But they pretend that its fun because they’re hunting for a glorified kiss—meaning in a moment, or in a series of moments—and they think they can extract it from a “relationship” (you can go ahead and change the last letter of that word) with someone who likes the same meaningless garbage as they do. And if this whole education experience, this whole walking down the halls and jostling backpacks and laughing like there’s something funny or interesting or, kill me now, cool about it all, then they can feel justified in wasting so much time dancing around the edges of the hunting ritual, peripheralizing their knowledge, if they have any, that deep down they’re always wondering—suspecting, the smart ones—that its all a crap shoot.
Long story short, I don’t bother talking much here. But there’s that word again—story, and I was supposed to be telling you one. I don’t know whether or not the above gave you any real idea of who the main character, the central attraction, to this sordid tale really is, but thinking that that’s even possible means assuming that I know who he is, so, as my contemporaries would blithely say, “Whatever.” They wouldn’t mean it, of course; not like I do. Right, telling you the story. You must take me for some—but, whoops, I almost forgot, I don’t care. Had you going there for a second, didn’t I?
The story concerns the brief history of myself and Sarah Sarah. I’d better explain, for the sake of the uninitiated. This high school is small enough that it has never been a place for last names. A last name means either you’re adult (a dolt) or you’re someone from Some Other School, who requires full introduction and distinction, so you can’t be confused with someone important. In other words, totally not cool, not with it. So it’s not Sarah Rosenstein and Sarah Jemme, it’s Shy Sarah and Sarah Sarah. This latter appellation serves to inform of genuineness, actuality, distinctiveness, only-one-that-really-matters-ness—the Real Sarah, the only one worth referring to, of course, duh, obviously. Shy Sarah is the type of girl you catch staring at you from a corner of the room and she immediately brushes hair over her face and coughs. Sarah Sarah is the type of girl whose eyes never rest on you purposefully for more than about half a second, or on anyone that is not in her immediate circle. She is also apparently the kind of girl you unexpectedly find in an empty corner of the library crying her eyes out over a “C-” circled in red on a small stack of word-covered paper sheets stapled together and gripped tightly between her white white hands. A conversation something like this then ensues:
She says (angrily), “I didn’t see you there.”
I shrug and put my eyes somewhere else. What was I even doing here?
“Hey, I was talking to you. Are you . . . ignoring me?”
She’s onto me. I look back at her. “Who’s asking?”
She sets her paper aside. “I’m Sarah.”
“I know,” I say, showing my teeth. “But who’s asking, Sarah Sarah the socialite elite, or Sarah who just got a C minus?”
“Now you’re just trying to end the conversation.”
I roll my eyes. “If we were having a conversation, it wouldn’t sound like this.”
She falls silent.
I smile to myself. But my eyes go back to her sooner than I expect them too. She’s wiping hers.
She creases and folds the marked paper defiantly. “You’re not in Honors American Literature so you wouldn’t know.”
“Honors, huh? Bet you’re really proud of that. I’ve gotten bad grades.”
“You sound like you’re proud of that.”
My turn not to say anything.
She laughs, but it’s a light laugh, not the kind used to hit. “So what would this actual conversation sound like, if we were to have it?” She has blue eyes. She would.
I swallow. There’s a decision here. “It would sound like me asking you why you care about what a red pen mark on a sheet of paper says about you.”
She shakes her head. “And me responding that it has to do with my chances of going to the college I want.”
The decision is staring me down. “So you can get the job you want?” I ask. “So you can get the money you want? So you can get the retirement you want? And then?” But my heart’s not in it, and I think she can tell.
She smiles a little. “Everybody says you’re a weirdo.”
I swallow the bitter taste in the back of my mouth and smile back. “Would it be weird if I asked if you want go get some coffee?”
And yes, that happens, and suddenly it turns out that I’m dating Sarah Sarah, the unassailable, the perfect stone statue girl who everyone wants but nobody gets. I learn a lot of things about her quickly, first the meaningless stuff: she likes mint, she likes her coffee with lots of cream, she likes Coldplay, she hates the cold, her phone is always running out of batteries, she knows almost nothing about electronics, she has an uncle, she has a sweet tooth, etc. Then the surprising and vaguely relevant stuff, which I tell myself I should make an effort toward remembering: her birthday is in July, she has two younger brothers she adores, her parents are divorced, she doesn’t do drugs, she doesn’t want help with her homework, she feels uncomfortable with people she doesn’t know well, sometimes with her own friends too, she owns a car, she has a job, she hates her boss, she likes her coworkers, she hates night-shifts, she saves money for college, she was held back a year in grade school, she loves literature, she loves her friends, she dislikes slutty Britney, she dislikes football, she doesn’t know who Shy Sarah is, she once talked to my former friend James, she wants to know more about me, she’s leaning forward, her breath smells like mint frappe, she’s a very good kisser.
And I don’t quite understand. The only thing I can come up with is the myth of the mysterious but somehow backwardly attractive outsider, but that doesn’t satisfy me. If that’s true, she’s as dumb as I first thought her, and none of this is likely to last long either; that myth is self-defeating.
Thing is, I’m no longer completely an outsider. There’s sort of an awkward awe I see out of the corner of my eye sometimes now. I’m not the weirdo anymore. I’m the Guy Who’s With Sarah Sarah. That’s a problem, I think. I don’t want to be her shadow. But this school is crammed full of flitting stupidity, and I don’t want anybody else either. I don’t want to be anybody’s shadow.
I’ll just not go to school the next few days. See how she reacts. I’m not a bug she can pin to the wall. Watch her try.