The private schools in my hometown tended to resume school a week later in the Fall than the public schools. I already had a week under my belt at Public School when my parents got the call from Private School that there was a last-minute seat for me there. They had mentioned over the summer that they wanted me to go to Private School, but I pshawed them and turned Fatboy Slim up higher to drown out the noise.
We learned of my spot on Thursday night, and on Friday afternoon after my last day of Public School, my mom took me to the uniform store. I cried the whole time as I got outfitted in Oxford blouses and heavy pleated skirts. I didn’t like the idea of having to wear compulsory clothes that smelled like a hospital among a bunch of Catholic kids I didn’t know from Adam. Sometimes in life, it’s all in the timing. That time, I just wanted all those cliches to kindly shove it because there was a boy I met on the bus who I liked. When you’re fifteen with your freshman year safely behind you, the idea of being uprooted for sophomore year is basically a mental miscarriage.
The first day was exhausting. I sobbed at breakfast and felt groggy and dazed when I actually got to school. I had done all the summer reading for Public School. And it had taken me all summer. Props to you guys that can power read. I can’t. I couldn’t do it in high school, I couldn’t do it when I was getting my English degree, and I couldn’t do it when I went on to graduate school for the Masters. All summer, while I was poring over Murder In the Cathedral and Watership Down, I didn’t know that Last of the Mohicans and The Scarlet Letter were breathing down my neck.
Since I had a vacancy in the crush department, I transferred my infatuation on School Bus Guy onto Private School English Teacher. At any given time, I had to love on someone, and he fit the bill because he was smart and safe and I would never have to worry about what I’d do if he reciprocated because that would never happen. He probably took pity on my outsider status because he wasn’t really a part of the school either. He was gay and young and very not Catholic, and he was biding his time before he went back to school to get his PhD in literature.
In English, I took a chance and raised my hand, announcing to my teacher and the class that I was new and hadn’t done the summer reading. It was one of those moments where you don’t have anything to lose because as far as you’re concerned, the world is going to end in a couple hours anyway. You may as well recognize publicly that you’ll be buried in those stiff, artificial clothes you’re wearing.
As it turned out, though, my admission that I would have to read about the sprawling adventures of Natty Bumppo in the course of 48 hours was good for something better than eliciting the sympathy of a 28-year-old man who had a goatee and drove a Saturn. My best friend was sitting in that room that day, watching and listening and taking pity. She wasn’t new in the same way that I was, having gone to Catholic school all her life and knowing her classmates maybe a little too well. But when you’re fifteen, you’re pretty much always new. Life as you know it is constantly being turned on its head. She needed a friend as much as I did. We both needed someone who we could wear strange clothes with together and mutually adore the English teacher who could never love us back.
That day, I met Besfrinn.
We would go on to be new together. New classmates. New friends. New high school graduates. New college students. New graduates. New wives. New women.
Newness looks good on us. Much better than a school uniform.
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