Monday, February 17, 2014

On feeling accepted

So... what was your high school superlative?
-Grad school friend

We were sitting around a table at a restaurant just off campus.  Somehow the conversation turned to high school superlatives.  One friend had been voted Most Likely to Succeed, another Most Popular.  I laughed at jokes and stayed quiet until they asked me and I couldn't think of anything but the truth.  The gig was up.  They would know I'm a loser.

I wasn't voted anything.
Shocked faces.  And one friend said, "Not even class clown?"  I appreciated the sentiment, but no.

I never really had very many friends in school.  I never had to use more than three fingers to count them all, actually.  Everyone else was either mostly indifferent toward me or showed an open disdain.  They made fun of my glasses and made fun of my asthma and made fun of my clothes and made fun of my grades.  To the point that I didn't want to go to school anymore.  To the point that sometimes I didn't even want to live anymore.  To the point that I appreciated the people who just ignored me and I tried to stay ignored by as many people as I could as much as possible.  Things like high school superlatives were just another reminder that I was not in.

I thought the problem was me.  That I was unlikeable.  A loser.  It was a truth I accepted.  Until my sophomore year of college, when I made it to a departmental assembly early, signed in and retreated to a corner.  And a popular and beautiful classmate came over and began chatting.  Genuinely chatting.  My eyes darted around the room and I figured maybe I was better than no one to talk to.  But as the room filled up, and her friends filled out a circle that included me, she -- and the others -- were still acting friendly toward me.  Genuinely engaging me in conversation.  Genuinely including me.  And that was the beginning.  It was in the Department of Communication at Eastern Kentucky University that I felt accepted by my peers for the first time in my life.

I never let them in on the secret that I was an imposter -- that an uncool kid had infiltrated their fraternity and sorority and athletic ranks.

In grad school, I was afraid my loser status would be more obvious.  But for all their smarts, my classmates never picked up on it.  Until that fateful day when I had to confess: My school days had been completely different than theirs.  But they liked me anyway.  It was like a whole new world -- people knowing I'm not cool -- never had been even close -- and being friends with me anyway!

Out of school, I approached each new group of people with that same timidity I had as a child.  Expecting rejection, being surprised by acceptance.  Work friends, church friends.  I even scored an extremely hot husband, against all odds.

I didn't realize until well into my adulthood that I wasn't a loser.  I was just bullied by a few misguided classmates.  The problem wasn't me, it was them.  And while I still carry around some scars from those days, I'm getting more and more comfortable -- less shocked and surprised -- by the blessing of acceptance among friends.

Since moving back to Kentucky God has bonded me with a precious and beautiful group of women who have transcended friendship into sisterhood.  Last summer half of us were pregnant and those without a baby bump got an aunt-to-be shirt as a consolation prize.  Well, everyone but me.  Mine said, "I'm the cool aunt."  And it wasn't even a cruel joke.  If the eight-year-old Amy who sat crying at her birthday party because no one showed up could have only known this would happen.  That she'd have more friends and relationships than she felt like she could maintain.  That those friends would bestow on her such a coveted adjective.  That she really wasn't a loser after all.  I think it would have made those hard years easier.

And so, to all the other girls out there who sit alone and cry alone -- who don't have the right clothes or the right looks or the right social status.  To the girls (and boys) who have been made to believe you are not good enough: I can tell you that they're wrong about you.  You actually are the cool kid yourself.  And someday you'll feel loved and you'll feel accepted and you'll even have the t-shirt to prove it.