My Day Of Popularity
In 5th grade I was in Mrs. H's Gifted and Talented Reading class. She was one of those wacky, couch-in-the-back-of-the-room types. Once she announced that she was not going to give us a planned vocabulary quiz, and instead give us all 100s, since "you would have all gotten 100s anyway." Dork that I was, this irritated me.
I didn't have any friends in this class. My friends were not the intense book-reading types, and had already been tracked into other things. Everyone else in Mrs. H's class was a part of the "popular" group, a title I didn't quite understand since no one else particularly liked them. I was quiet and shy and thought I got along as well as might be expected.
One day, Jaime, one of the nicer girls in the class, approached me a few minutes before the bell rang. She smiled sweetly and asked if I wanted to eat lunch with them that day. I was taken aback, but felt it would be impolite to question her or to refuse. I said OK, and they all seemed glad.
In the cafeteria I told my friends that I wouldn't be sitting with them. They were equally perplexed, and a little ticked. Why? They wanted to know. I couldn't tell them. They asked me to sit with them, I said. Why? I didn't know.
I thought maybe I wouldn't go through with it. But Jaime came and collected me, sat me down right in the center of the table, near the most popular girls and boys. Over at my usual lunch table, there were no boys. We weren't at that stage yet. The popular kids were already "going out" with each other and breaking up, dramatically.
I was happy to see Rob there, my big crush who floated in and out of the popular crowd. I wished I hadn't brought my lunch from home, the thermos full of boiled pierogis that I ate every day of 5th grade. It seemed hopelessly weird to me, but I didn't have anything else to eat, and the popular kids treated it as exotic. It seemed that each one had a friendly question to ask me.
The highlight of lunch came when one of the kids, I don't remember who, tried to open a bag of Fritos and it burst with a loud pop, sending corn chips into the air like fireworks. The table erupted in loud laughter, and everyone--everyone--
else in the cafeteria turned to look at us.
It was a strange sensation for me: to be, for once, in the center of it all. To be at the table that everyone was watching, to be a part of the joke that no one else fully understood. I saw my friends over at my usual table staring. I felt guilty, but good. I thought, maybe I could do this.
But the next day the offer was not put forth again. It was a relief to go back to my old table, though awkward to field questions such as, "What was it like?" I don't remember how I found out that Mrs. H had put them up to it, but I do remember the humiliation. I was angry with her for assuming that what she saw of me was all of me. I try to remember this, and try to avoid this arrogance now.