Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mo' Money, Faux Problems by Brian Charles

I arrived at the place that would change my beliefs completely over the next three years. I was apprehensive and not too excited for what lay ahead of me.

My large bowl of blond hair bobbed as I continued to make my way towards the massive behemoth that cast its shadow on me: Hawthorne school in Beverly Hills.

As I entered the hallways, my bright green shorts and frog tee-shirt set me apart from the others. Soon I would come to realize that what set me apart was what would alienate me from the very people I would try to become friends with.

My rolling backpack bellowed as it glided over each floor tile. As I looked around, I noticed that I was the only one with a rolling backpack.

I felt strange.

I made my way to my first class, and sat down where the other kids were. I opened a book and began to read.  I could hear the kids mumbling, and I turned around in time to see them pointing at me. They immediately got up and moved across the class.

Great! I thought. I had already somehow gotten people to avoid me.

The class was history, which was my forté at the time. However, this was not my concern. Throughout class, I was more focused on making friends than I was on the subject matter.

The class ended, and I made my way to my next period. As I was walking and rolling, there were a few kids obstructing the stairs to my next class.

“Can I get through?” I asked.

“No” they all seemed to say.

A pungent smell then struck me, one that I would have to tolerate for the rest of my years at that school.

“What are you wearing?” one of them asked. They all laughed. I knew that my clothes were not the norm, but I had no idea that I would be made fun of for them.

My heart sank; however, I did what I always did in such situations: I smiled. Usually it worked to my advantage. This time it did not.

“Stop smiling” one of them said. “I’m gonna wipe that smile off of your face."

I couldn’t stop smiling, as it was simply inherent to me. 

So, I left.

As I walked away, I couldn’t help but notice that all of their clothing was exactly the same. Almost everyone in the school wore the same clothing, and I didn’t understand why. There was no dress code, so why did everyone seem to be conforming to this one particular style?

It was beyond me.

As I circumnavigated the school, I realized that I had just distanced myself from the popular crowd. Again: fantastic!

 The day moved painfully slowly, and I was not able to make a single friend in any of my classes. As it came to an end, I went outside to get picked up. I scanned the tons of BMW’s, Mercedes, and Porsches, but I could not find my family's car. Finally, I saw the dusty '97 Civic pull up to the curb. The car stood out as much as I did, and not in a good way.

As I got into the car, I heard murmurs around me. “What a piece of crap, he must be really poor” someone said. People laughed. They laughed at me for my car? This had never happened before, and I was truly embarrassed.

The car that I had grown to love over the years had now become a source of shame. I slunk down into my seat, contemplating what more lay ahead of me. Initially, I had a slight desire to go to school. Now the idea of going back seemed dreadful.

Instead of sleeping my usual nine hours, I lay awake in bed, hoping to get sick and miss the next day of school. This was unlike me, as I actually liked to learn, and yet the idea of going to school was daunting.

The next day, I bit the bullet and decided to try and start fresh. When I was transitioning classes, a kid came up to me and asked me my name. I responded, hesitant yet eager to make a new friend. As it turned out, this kid was not a menace, and we had a conversation of as much depth as sixth graders could have. “Losers” someone shouted.

Of course he was a loser, but I didn’t care!

To have just one friend was enough for me.

It was strange to me why this kid was a loser, as he was so nice. Anywhere else, I thought, he would be accepted; but not here. All it took was one judgment call by the popular kids, and one's social life would be shattered. This seemed absurd to me, but I would have to accept it eventually.

About a week later, I decided to join in a basketball game. Basketball was my passion, and really the only sport that I played. The game was three on three, and I waited patiently to get picked.

And I waited.

And I waited.

After three rotations, I was fed up. Lunch was over, and I hadn’t even played? Me? It couldn’t be. I played as an All-Star in the Valley, and I was team captain almost every time at my old school. So why wasn’t I picked?

I moped off in despair, unable to grasp that I had wasted my whole lunch waiting.

When I got home, I decided that I had to keep up with a few new technologies that everyone seemed to have. I made an AIM account, with a very regrettable username. Though I had few new friends, this site was good for keeping up with old acquaintances from other parts of the country.

After a little while, I was added by a strange person. I accepted, considering I didn’t have many friends on AIM. This person began sending me extremely hostile messages, insulting me vehemently. They they logged off. I felt as if I had just been assaulted. This stranger had made me feel terrible. If I was more mature, I might have had a rebuttal, or just not cared about it at all. However, I let this person get to me.  This stranger had used only a keyboard to bring me down, and, after this, I became more self conscious. I felt the need to conform to the status quo, even if it didn’t accurately represent who I was.

I found myself in the Abercrombie store in Century City -- a paradise for those who like bad cologne, loud techno, and overpriced clothing. I was coaxed into coming here not by anyone in particular, but by the judgmental stares I received in the hallways. I picked out the most acceptable piece of clothing I could find and took it up to the cashier. “That’ll be $54.00” she said. I looked at her, mouth agape. That could not be possible! For a tee-shirt? This was inconceivable to me. My allowance for a month was spent on this one tee-shirt.

However, the next day, I started to regret the purchase less. I got multiple compliments on it, and people were smiling at me. Finally, I thought: You have to buy your way into acceptance.

This oddly instilled new confidence in me, so I tried to play basketball again. To my delight, I was picked in the first round. This is really working, I thought.

During the first play, I took off and scored a layup. Right afterward, I stole the ball and was off on a fast break when I felt someone come down on me. I smacked to the ground, cheek first, and I felt my legs sting. As I tried to get up, I immediately began to limp. I looked up into the face of the kid who fouled me, searching for an ounce of remorse. There was none. Instead, he just seemed vacant.

I limped off the court. They ushered in a new kid as if nothing had happened. I was mortified; I thought that I was finally going to be accepted. I guess not.

I soldiered on and tried to keep away from the court for the next few weeks.

Looking to be further accepted, I found myself back at the mall. I decided that I needed at least one pair of jeans if I was to properly conform. The horseshoe symbol that I had become familiar with at school beckoned me, so I went. "True Religion" they were called. These jeans didn’t seem particularly special, but I tried them on anyways. They were so uncomfortable that I ripped them off. How could anyone wear these? And then I saw the price tag. Two hundred and fifty dollars! This had to be a mistake. For these uncomfortable jeans? No way. I had stooped low with the Abercrombie shirt, but I was not about to waste all that money on these jeans simply because they were so called ‘designer.' I simply refused.

I went home that day feeling good, better than usual. I had defied the norm, and for good reason. My individuality was starting to make its way back, and I suddenly felt much better about school. I began to refocus my attention back on school, as I could not let my grades falter. My forté had been history, and I adored that class. As I finished up an assignment, the student behind me nudged me. “Lemme see it” he said. I was reluctant, but after quick deliberation, I said yes. This was a grave mistake. My teacher noticed that I was done, and inquired about my assignment. She knew. Of course. The one time I let someone see my work, she catches me. “See me after class," she said.

The remainder of that period was the longest 15 minutes of my life. As I sat in her office, she told me the punishment for cheating. I was unfamiliar with it, as I had never cheated before. “I’m going to have to give you a zero” she said. A single tear streamed down my face as she said this. This assignment was heavily weighted, and I knew that it would ruin my grade. My grades were flawless, and a B would taint my straight A’s. And a B in history, nonetheless!

This was my turning point. After falling victim to both materialism and cheating, I decided that enough was enough. I was going to be myself even if that meant that I would be a perpetual pariah. No longer would I care what people thought about me. I didn’t need to be covered up by Abercrombie or True Religion, as they masked my true identity.

I will learn from history.

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