Going from elementary school to junior high, I only had a handful of friends and none of them had the same lunch period as I did. I remember timidly walking into the cafeteria looking for a place to sit and eat the lunch I’d brought from home. I saw familiar faces, but no one I knew well enough to eat lunch with, so I sat at an empty table near the middle of the cafeteria and took out my sandwich and began to eat.
Before too long other people came to my table and it quickly filled up. At first I was flattered. These were popular kids. And some of them were boys. However, no one talked to me. I tried to become as small as possible and concentrate on eating my sandwich. A friend of the group at the table stopped by and wanted to sit with them so they forcefully evicted me — literally pushing me out of my chair so their friend could sit in it.
I grabbed my lunch and looked for another table, trying hard not to cry. I found a table with two girls I remembered from elementary school who were a year ahead of me. They also were girls that other kids considered beneath them. One was a mannish-looking girl who was the daughter of friends of my parents. Another was a girl who, in elementary school, often came to school dirty and smelly. I hesitated asking if I could sit at this table, knowing that associating with these girls would secure my fate as an outcast; but I needed a place to sit so I asked if I could sit with them. They welcomed me warmly. As the lunch period went on, more girls joined us — each of them quirky in her own way.
I sat with these girls for the rest of the time I was in junior high; and one of the girls that joined us that first day became my best friend for the next several years. I’m ashamed of my initial reaction to the girls at that table. In hindsight I know that one was going through an inner struggle, trying to figure out her sexual identity and the other was the child of alcoholic parents. I, who’d just been physically pushed out of a chair, had no business judging the worthiness of anyone else.
I like to think that I, and all the girls that sat at the outcast table, became the interesting adults while the kids that pushed me away from their table grew up to be boring.