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I was shorter than the other kids and my outfit was abstractedly put together in a contrasting battle of floral versus plaid, but during that year at school no one told me not to, so I did.
The other kids laughed a lot, normally over some joke they did not understand or something inappropriate, until Mrs. Kemper put a finger up to hush them, and they listened.
I was usually laughing with them; they were funny. Sometimes, though, they were just acting silly. Then, I would not laugh, and no one seemed to mind.
It was early April when Mrs. Kemper assigned us the “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” project, and the group of us let out a sea of murmurs, a confused chatter. I listened as my friends brainstormed with each other, but I kept my thoughts to myself.
But as the kids around me discussed becoming policemen and doctors, I could not help but envision a world with cop cars and hospitals on every corner. There was no one else.
These kids did not want to be different. I did. And I kept thinking, you are not like them. You are different, for as long as I could.
Cary, one of my better friends, a sort of chubby girl but the most artistic second-grader in our class, pulled me aside one recess.
“They make fun of me,” she said.
“Who? And why?” I asked.
“Everyone is skinny but me,” she said, and immediately pulled me into an aggressive embrace. I could hear Cary’s crying sounds; soon I felt tears on my shoulder. That was my first lesson with social segregation.
I talked to Cary as often as I could. She said she appreciated it.
Once, a group of boys that had never been anything but nice came up to Cary at recess and told her not to try and contaminate me with her size because they did not want two fat girls at their school. When they left, I turned to see Cary, red-faced and on the verge of crying.
“They are all the same,” she cried.
In a bad attempt at defending both sides of the dispute, I told her that the boys were just joking. Cary said that I should not be friends with boys like that, and she cried in flares for the rest of the school day.
“Do not ever be like them,” she said defensively. She said, “Be better than them.”
And I said, “I am. I am better. I am better than them.”
My life as a chameleon began when two events occurred: Cary moved to Sacramento and Sarah moved to Chico.
When I first talked to Sarah at recess, she made it clear through her condescending tone of voice and her pink butterfly hairclip that she would fit in well.
She is nice, I thought to myself. She should be my new best friend, I thought as Cary’s absence crossed me mind.
Cary was easy to forget, though, and my new perspective quickly evolved to my surroundings.
“Here are the results from last week’s spelling test,” Mrs. Dillman said to the class eagerly, even though the majority of us, including the four or five girls I considered to be my better friends, were whining in remembrance of the prior week’s test. It had been noticeably more difficult than any other test we had taken in a while.
“I completely failed this one,” Sarah said. “I usually do, though.”
“Why do we even need to know this stuff?” my friend Amber asked plainly.
“So our lives suck. So our time gets wasted.” Sarah retorted.
That was when Mrs. Dillman handed us our tests back and when all of my friends got scores in the D+ range and I got one hundred percent. I quickly folded my test in half, did not say a word, and listened to my friends unite happily in their common failure.
I got home from school that day, remembered that my mom had been wondering if all the studying I had done for the spelling test had paid off, and ran to my room.
Just forget it, I told myself, because I could feel it, myself losing the control I thought I had. Just forget it now.
I got rid of a good friend for the first time and made her cry. Yeah, it was easy, surprisingly easy, but only because she was annoying, always asking me to come over as if I did not have better things to do.
But it made me feel bad, seeing her cry, forcing her to forget any ties she had with the girls she had been calling her friends. It was uncomfortable, a shame. But it was necessary.
That same day, Sarah and I ate lunch in a corner of the field as far from the school as we could get. We were gossiping, we were alone, and we felt better.
And it seemed right at the time, to make others seem inferior, to turn friendship into a game. It was different, but it was effective.
Oh, do you see how easily, almost inevitably, people must change?
Lindsey, an old friend of mine, introduced me to all of her friends on the first day of junior high. The girls were nice enough, snobbish though, and never afraid to say what was on their mind.
Lindsey and I, and the rest of the girls, ate lunch sitting criss-cross-applesauce in a disorganized cluster of backpacks and lunch boxes in the field of grass near the gym.
“I am so relieved that I have made friends this quickly!” one of the girls said.
“Me too,” I said.
“And I am actually so glad to get away from some of my old friends at my old school,” the girl continued.
“Me too,” a few of us responded.
“I am just so ready to move on,” she added, and I did not question myself as I nodded in agreement with the rest of the girls.
I did not question myself as I forgot about the girl Sarah had made me become.
By the end of the year, all shades of Sarah had left, and they had been replaced by the brighter hues of my new friends.
I was the first one to get to class after my first experience with social rejection, and for some reason I did not care. My friends had shown me the ways to avoid this sort of abolition, though, mostly by the means of discarding only the girls who had been guilty of social offenses, such as being too clingy or gossipy.
Lauren is just a bit too… someone must have said and I realized how equally innocent I was to the other discards.
But after lunch that day, I did not feel innocent or guilty, I felt only confused. I had done what they wanted to me to, a needless, stupid, and ultimately an undetected fruition.
I realized that this new freedom could be an alright thing, could let my options grow, could let me become someone other than those who surrounded me, like the past.
The loud shrieking of the bell wailed for my attention and when it was finished, I sighed as a way to liberate my busy mind, right before my history teacher put an end to my thoughts.
“We will begin class with a worksheet on the Crusades,” the teacher said, and a few of us moaned.
After that, I gave my voice a break by letting my mind do some work for once.
At my new school, which could not be more distinctly different from my old one, I got a taste of an entirely new kind of girlish trend, loud and with a thirst for drama. I told myself to stay distanced from this behavior, something I had never done before and I liked to try new things.
“I hate that book we are reading in English!” one of my new friends said to me as we walked out of class.
I tried to respond but realized that I had not yet chosen whether or not I liked the book.
For the rest of the day, I tried to establish an opinion. The book was slow at parts, smart at others, but inevitably it was something I could value without necessarily enjoying.
I recognized then the root of my chameleonism and grew tired trying to rid it from my character.
I realized then that I could see and agree with almost all outlooks.
In my first class on my first day in high school, surrounded by the people I had known, become, and left, my hopes of being able to filter out what I thought I thought from what I actually thought were at an all time low.
As I ate lunch with my newer friends and morphed my mind to their perspective, a few of my old friends stopped by.
“Hey,” one of them said. “Why don’t we hang out after school? I have not talked to you in a while!”
Pleasing everyone makes it much more difficult to please yourself.
It was November when my English teacher handed me a list of essay prompts to choose from, but the leniency of my opinions made it difficult to choose one.
I would pick a topic, choose a stance, change my mind and pick another.
“Why would she do something like that?” asked a friend of mine.
I shrugged my shoulders, thought about it.
“I do not know,” I replied, but with some thought, a quick change in perspective, and the indecisiveness not to care what I thought, I began to understand both perspectives as I had done so many times before.
Trust me, everything seems right if you stare at it long enough.
I saw that it was hard to manage my own filtration of real thoughts from fake thoughts. But there cannot be an imbalance at all if I am surrounded by people diverse enough to not all think the same way, and I felt a contentment that reminded me of first grade.
I grabbed an old school project out from the closet titled: WHAT I WANT TO BE WHEN I GROW UP.
I see now that an indecisive and lenient mind may not a weaker one.