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The Lines That Divide Us MAG
"At a glance ours had seemed the perfect school, with its large remodeled buildings,looming green trees and a campus filling a whole city block. Everyone wanted togo there, just so that they could cut class and escape to the real world. For me,leaving a private school where everyone looked and acted the same for a schoolknown for having the largest and most diverse student body in the United Stateswas nothing less than a dream come true.
On my first day, though, Irealized why my parents had originally yanked me out of public school. I hadrejoined all those same kids who six years before had been stapling their ears,whispering talk of sexual things I'd never heard of, and literally gluingthemselves to their seats after being told to do so figuratively.
In away I was glad, having spent six years at a school whose students' only quirkswere random temper tantrums and acting out scenes from the latest novel they'dfinished. The school had fences protecting us from the outside world, and how itmight make us feel about ourselves. I had learned to disappear in that crowd, toappear as one of them when I felt like an outsider. I would listen to theirstories of shoplifting, knowing their allowances covered anything their heartsdesired, and lie about my own shoplifting experiences. I couldn't help but thinkthat there was more beyond those gates, things that mattered and things that werereal.
The sky seemed to hang dangerously low above my head that day, theclouds so thick and gray it was if the universe ended at their edges. I hadsurvived a week of high school, but still walked around campus feeling anxious,as if everyone could see I was shaking inside. My eyes scanned the people pouringfrom the buildings, desperately wanting to find my best friend. Through theundulating sea of students, which lightened and darkened every couple of feet, Ifinally spotted Kay doing her best to be invisible.
The path to where weate curved through "The Slopes," where black and Latino footballplayers hung out, and "The Bricks," which held mainly white seniors.Ashamed of our nervousness to walk through "The Slopes," we looked onlyat each other and talked in hurried tones.
"Ksst, ksst," wecould hear one of the boys hiss.
Our feet began to shuffle along the roughpavement as we tried to act as if we hadn't heard.
"Kssst! Hey,pretty ladies! I wanna talk to you," he yelled.
Giving Kay a worriedlook, I focused on leaving the hissing and yelling behind.
"Hey, youafraid of us, you two? You too stuck-up?"
"F***ing whitegirls," another boy slurred.
As we sat on a cement bench whichsurrounded the trunk of a dying tree, I was filled with disappointment. I'dthought that I would be able to make new friends, ones who weren't afraid to befriends with people who looked, acted and thought differently. Unlike my image ofa liberal and open-minded school, the campus was instead divided into colors on amap, each section belonging to a certain color. None of the groups seemed toacknowledge the other groups' presences. There were others like us, nerds andrejects who weren't black enough to hang with the blacks, but too black to hangwith the whites. They all had their names, "Oreos" (black outside,white inside), "Bananas" (yellow outside, white inside), and now we hadours, "White Girls."
In a way it was satisfying. After a week ofliving in almost complete anonymity, at least I was someone. After all, I waswhite, I was a girl - and I would have rather been known as that than remain anobody or invisible.
In those early days I was perfectly happy to besitting in public with the lunch that my mom had packed, something I wouldn't becaught dead doing a few months later. Kay and I were too awestruck by this newworld that we were thrown into to notice that our clothes, the way we talked andeven what we ate was considered uncool. We clung to each other in our extremestate of nervousness.
On my way to class after lunch, I wascornered.
"Hey, girl. Remember me?" he inquired, leaning towardme. His breath was hot and assaulting. I didn't remember his face, but his voicemade his identity clear.
"Yeah, I remember you. You were yelling atme and my friend," I said, trying to sound confident as my neck strained,pushing my face away from his.
He leaned back, surprised by myresponse.
"Oh, not shy anymore, huh?" he laughed, a certainplayfulness exposed.
"Look, I gotta get to class," I said, withas much attitude as I could.
With that, I brushed past him, my stride longand fast.
"Whoa. White girl not too scared, not too scared," hesaid, more to himself than me.
That weekend, Kay and I walked to acafé only a few blocks from my house, recounting our first week atschool.
"You know, it wasn't so bad after all. Everyone madeFresh-man Friday sound like hell."
"Yea. Well, I did see onefreshman getting jumped behind the gym," I said as I tugged at the sweaterwrapped around my waist.
My mind floated back to the day before when I'dhappened to walk by the gym. I'd turned my head to see a boy who used to sneakflowers and "love" letters into my lunchbox in kindergarten. His facehad lost all its innocent pudginess and had adopted a rather worn and graylook.
Before I could even register that he was not alone, three older boysyelled, "F******g f****t, we're slamming him to the ground! F****tfreshman!" I had been unable to do anything but stare as they pummeled him.I took off running, not wanting him to see me standing there like acoward.
With our coffees, we slid into a booth by a window that lookedonto the street sprinkled with people trying to enjoy the quiet of the earlymorning.
"That guy who yelled at us at lunch cornered me in thehall," I said quietly, picking at the peeling red plastic that covered theseat.
Kay's eyes brightened with scared excitement.
"What didhe say?" she urged, pulling at her ponytail draped lazily over hershoulder.
"He told me I wasn't scared." I raised my eyebrows,hoping she'd have some sort of explanation for what he'd said.
"Whatdid he expect you to do? Start running?" she laughed.
I tipped myface forward and let the steam devour my face. Through the cloudy veil coveringmy eyes, I focused on Kay's face.
"What?" she said, reading theexpression on my face. "He thought you weren't scared of him. It's good, hewon't bother you anymore."
"But do you ..." I startedagain. "But do you think that maybe that means he thinks I'm not like allthe other - " I stopped again, not knowing who it was I thought I might bedifferent from.
"White girls?" Kay perked up.
"Iguess. I dunno. I just don't want to seem like one of those people who can't dealwith talking to anyone who's ... different. 'Cause that's not me."
"Yea, well, it seems like that is everyone else there. I don't know howright you were about this school."
Just months before I hadpersuaded Kay to turn down a posh art school in San Francisco to come with me tothis high school.
"I mean, we're going to a school where everyoneisn't the same, but it's not like anyone even talks to each other! Just look atthe campus at lunch, it's color-coded," she said, throwing her hands in theair.
"I think it'll get better. Maybe everyone's just shy, it'sonly the first week of school."
Kay laughed, knowing that even Ididn'tbelieve what I was saying.