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Wonder of Wonders MAG
Moving to St. Charles, Illinois was like moving into a slice of Wonder bread - expensive, white, and possessing little nutritional value. It was Stepford without all the flowers ... or the robots.
I met women with names like Julie and Michelle and Kathy - blond, skinny soccer moms with million-dollar houses and small, stick-wielding, semi-sweet, hot dog-consuming changelings they called children. Their husbands - whose name was usually Larry, for some reason - earned money through all those vague, important, high-income professions. They were brokers, mortgage advisors and contractors, with an occasional lawyer thrown in to mix it up a bit. These nuclear family units were shiny transplants from Wisconsin and Texas and Kentucky. The whole neighborhood was freshly constructed on what had been farmland and reeked of architects who got their education in the late ’90s. The residents formed a loose community of iPod-toting couples cut off from family and hometowns who survived with block parties and baseball games - desperate efforts to create a sense of kin in a grassy, bike-riding, town-meeting, neighborhood-clean-up day kind of place.
I, an atypical teenager straight off a play-farm in Washington state with a disdain for suburbia and highly critical of every aspect of the cul-de-sac lifestyle, was encircled by this all-American, absurdly normal culture. And it got worse. On all sides were high schoolers, two of them seniors.
A junior, and fresh from a school so small that it possessed no senior class, I was clearly intimidated. My first day at the new school was a visual demonstration in the quintessence of middle-class conformity. I came from a grungy school that was, in bread terms, whole wheat. Everyone was noticeably diverse ethnically, socially, and politically. The entire student body at St. Charles, however, was caucasian and looked related. All the boys shared an unattractive, eastern-European facial structure and were in a continual state of discussing the track team. The girls smiled identical smiles in cute, plump faces with thin layers of foundation, and wiggled their tan legs beneath short skirts bought from preppy stores.
Of course, I am exaggerating. Not all the kids were like this. There were several seven-foot-tall boys, two Indians, a girl who seemed to be wearing a teased, blond Halloween wig gone wrong, and a surprising number of Goth kids. And, of course, me.
I am 6'2", a physical condition that haunted me in my home state where such heights were extremely unusual. To be The Tall One meant enduring a life of stares and whispers and annoying comments like “Wow! You’re tall!” which always left me itchy with the urge to nominate the speaker for the Obvious Comments award.
It helped that I was well proportioned, but it did not help that I was female. A tall boy can carry himself with grace and put his height to good use, participating in basketball and track and other things where being able to cross the Mississippi River in one stride is helpful, and may win you a college scholarship. To be a tall girl, however, is to be doomed to a life of awkwardness and, ultimately, singleness, something fatal to my emotional health where I came from where the average third-grader already had an extensive romantic history. Of course, one might argue that a tall girl could also put herself to good use and enjoy the sports that a tall boy can, and many do just this. I, however, do not, have not, shall not, and will not. I break coaches’ hearts like some break bread, and for entirely selfish reasons. Mainly, I do not enjoy this thing called Sweating, nor its twin, Fatigue, nor their sibling, Stamina, nor their cousins, Chiropractic Appointments, Sports Medicine Clinics, and Ice Baths.
On the plus side, living in the Midwest meant that my height was suddenly “like, no big deal.” People were my size and bigger. For the first time in my life, I was invisible. It’s a heady feeling, invisibility, after an eternity of being the circus freak. I slipped gently and gratefully into a state of safe, lulling normality. Well, almost.
I was the kind of kid in elementary school who had no friends - and liked it that way. My anti-social state changed in middle school when I matched up with people as hostile to popularity as I, but finding myself sans friends and in a new situation with foreign people in a foreign place, I reverted to my natural state of seclusion. I turned to my old companions, books, to help wile away the hours spent in such pointless classes as study hall and applied applications and AP American History. I was up to five hours of reading a day. I inhaled books like air, worming through them like a bug in a mulch pile. I pulled ideas from them like a dentist does a rotten tooth. I lifted quotes like a kid peels off the flaky layers of baklava. I even read my textbooks, something of which I am both proud and ashamed.
I was insatiable. I was addicted. I had a problem.
Unfortunately, there is no Book Readers Anonymous, and no help-line for the literarily immersed, so I had to force myself to give up my expensive (time-wise) habit and turn to my studies if I wanted to maintain my grade point average. And then came summer.
By this time, I had adjusted to the culture shock of living in suburbia instead of merely observing, and though the roads of St. Charles remained a labyrinth, I had befriended the staff and classified the student body to my judgmental satisfaction, even managing to differentiate between the preps in my Pre-Calc class and the preps in my English class. I had made several casual acquaintances in at least two genders, possibly three. I even bought a shirt from Forever 21. I returned it hours later, but that’s beside the point.
And though I missed my whole-wheat version, I kind of started to like Wonder bread. At first glance, every slice looks the same, but get closer and that changes. It’s not very colorful, sure, but it tastes nice - a sort of sweet, yeast-induced flavor, with aromas of hot days with baseball games and neighborhood cook-offs; clean and preppy and safe. It tastes like my new life. It tastes, surprisingly, like home.