To my mind, the Wilcox High cafeteria operated like a caste system. The highest caste – cheerleaders, athletes, homecoming queens and student government honchos – held court on the kidney-shaped Senior Lawn, an area so sacrosanct even their fellow seniors dared not sidle onto the hallowed grass unless expressly invited.
Descending castes fanned out from the metal tables under the cafeteria’s fluorescent lights to the picnic tables and benches surrounding the snack bar in the quad.
Inside the cafeteria, you could spot the brains by the books piled beside their trays. The low-riders laughed louder and indulged in more food fights. The hippies preferred the lesser lawn outside where they could skip in circles and blow bubbles. The surfers sunned themselves at the picnic tables.
The Untouchables were marooned between the Special Needs table and the line of trash cans between the boys and girls bathrooms. They were the lowest caste, miserable souls yoked together by nothing more than the fact no one else wanted them.
Anybody and everybody could gauge your caste in a glance based on where you ate lunch. Once assigned to a caste, it was almost impossible to move up. Moving down was not such a problem.
Sandy and I flirted with the fringes of various castes without adhering to any for long. Something about the group dynamic just didn’t work for us. This was surprising, since my Scandinavian forebears are famous for their community-minded club and choir culture. A chorus of perfectly blended voices, none of which stand out or call undue attention to themselves, is the Danish ideal. Their sense of group unity is one of the reasons Denmark is ranked the happiest country on earth.
The Scandinavian joiner gene lies dormant in me. I’m acutely uncomfortable in any group larger than three and I far prefer one-on-one. That said, it’s easier to be an outsider if you’re lucky enough to find a fellow solitary soul with a huge imagination and quirky sense of humor – someone like Sandy. The truth is, we had a blast being outsiders together.
Changing my schedule in my sophomore year was a brilliant decision I’ve never regretted.
Besides, I was a dunce in geometry.