“Ashley, you have so many chinsyou’ve got a staircase from your jaw to your collarbone!” Iyelled. The circle of people who had crowded around our fight laughed atmy remark. Ashley’s eyes glared at me with such hate I could feelthem ripping me apart.
“You know what, Annie? Go screw acow!” she retorted in a sad attempt to save her last shred ofdignity. The crowd laughed again, but at her and not with her. She hadstarted this fight, and she was losinghorribly.
“Ashley,” I said calmly, “I’msorry, but there’s no way I’m screwing you.” The crowdwent wild. Satisfied, they had seen a good fight and been wellentertained. They didn’t care about the people who were actuallyfighting.
Fighting was a sport in junior high and I thrived onit. My quick wit and comical remarks earned me the title “ComebackQueen,” and I took pride in that. No one dared say anything aboutme or my friends, who formed an intimidating and materialistic clique.We were inseparable through seventh grade and then I went tocamp.
My friends at camp were similar to those at school. Sam andI were the leaders of our camp friends and the rest in our groupfollowed us. Too cool for the childish camp games, we sat on thesidelines applying make-up and criticizing all the “losers”playing the game.
“Ew!” exclaimed Sam in horror.“Who wears their socks that high and shorts that short?” Shepointed to the tall third baseman in our kickball game. He was anawkward guy, taller than the counselors and constantly fidgeting.“Someone should seriously host a fashion crisis intervention forhim. It’s just painful to look at,” she told us.“Annie, come with me. I want to get a drink.”
“Sam,” I said, slowly, with annoyance,“the water fountain is 20 feet away. Do you need me to hold yourhand too?” Sam had been clingy all summer and unable to doanything without at least one person with her at all times. I hadsecretly asked the counselors to put me in another group for a day andwas looking forward to freedom from her deathgrip.
“Fine!” she retorted, “Jessica, will youcome with me?” Jessica rolled her eyes but went.
The nextday, to Sam’s horror, I was placed in another group.Unfortunately, it was filled with those we had been criticizing allsummer. It goes without saying that they were not welcoming. I sat at atable filled with pimply guys and girls with bad make-up and messy hair,knowing they were judging me just as harshly. One girl we had labeled awhore for wearing a shirt that was “the lowest cut thing since LilKim decided to wear only half a dress” angrily picked at one ofher broken nails. In an attempt to break the silence, I offered one ofmy nail files. I was answered with more silence. I repeated my offer,pretending that she hadn’t heard me, when a voice cutin.
“She heard you just fine the first time. We’reall just wondering why you woke up and decided to be nice thismorning.” The group chuckled. The voice belonged to James, a boystruggling with obesity. For some reason we had not made fun of him.Knowing he was dealing with something he could not control to the pointthat it was a health problem evoked what little mercy existed in ourhearts.
“What do you mean?” Iasked.
“Don’t act dumb,” he said. “Do youhonestly think we’re stupid enough not to know that you make funof us behind our backs? You and the rest of your popular clique,”he said.
“What popular clique?” I asked withskepticism. I never thought of us as popular. Trendy and pretty, yes. Iwas flattered but disturbed by his comment.
“You and yourgroup of popular people,” he said, with air quotes. “Whereare they, anyway?”
“I asked to switch to anothergroup,” I told him with confidence.
“Why, did you runout of make-up and become so ashamed you decided to hide away with thelosers?” he asked with mock pity.
“No!” I said,getting angry. “If you really want to know, Sam is clingy andannoying; the rest of my friends have no brains and just do whatever Samsays; and you can only apply eye shadow so many times before you getbored and think, Hey! Maybe I’ve done this somewherebefore!”
“Okay, sorry. Want to play cards?”James asked, afraid of making me blow up again. I spent the rest of theday with him and his group and by the end we were all laughing andtelling jokes. I’d never had fun like this with Sam, and I dreadedseeing her.
“Oh my gosh, Annie!” a voice screamedbehind me. It was Sam. “Oh my gosh, why did they make you move tothat group? That’s so not fair! Have your mom call the camptonight and complain. I’ll have my mom -”
“Sam, shut up,” I cut her off. “I asked toswitch. It’s boring doing nothing but making fun of people andbrushing my hair all day. These people are fun.”
“Butthey’re gross,” she said, eyeing my new friend Jeff at thewater fountain with his messy hair and acne.
“He’sreally funny,” I defended him. “And he can play guitarreally well. He’s in a band that plays in clubs and atconcerts.”
“Well, are you coming back to our grouptomorrow?” she asked.
“I don’t know if I wantto come back,” I replied, walking away.
I spent the rest ofthe week with James’ group, and it slowly became my group, too. Isaw Sam at the end of every day and she’d beg me to return. Thefollowing week I was surprised to find that she’d taken it uponherself to switch to my new group. It was awkward for her and she wasless than friendly.
“Why do you wear your socks thathigh?” she asked Pernel, the guy she had made fun of the weekbefore. Pernel looked around nervously for an answer, and not findingone on the ground, pushed his socks down.
“Sam, can I talkto you?” I asked, pulling her away. “These are my friendsand if you don’t like them, go back to the old group.” Samcrossed her arms with a pout, then followed me back to the picnictable.
After that there were no more critical remarks and she andthe group slowly warmed up to each other. The rest of our old cliqueslowly followed. With my new friends I no longer felt pressure to lookperfect all the time. I was able to be myself without fearing beingjudged. The other girls who switched to our group felt the same way andno longer put on an act. I was shocked to find that they actually hadpersonalities completely different from whom they had pretended to be.
That summer I not only made friends with new people, but withsome I had known for years. The only regret I have is that I did notmake friends with them sooner. I now know that there is no greater giftthan genuine friendship.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the October 2005 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.