The story began this way:
Sometimes, when I was in high school, the lunchroom was too much for me.
I told the story over burritos tonight. I had made the beans in the morning, had grated the cheese after getting my sons from school, and had rolled the tortillas while my younger two children rearranged the furniture in my daughter’s room. When we sat down to eat, I noticed Lilah and Benjamin were still dressed as a butterfly and a ninja, respectively, and sent them off to change before they could get food all over the dressup clothes. I was too brusque in my command, and Lilah had started crying, not because her feelings were really hurt but because she’s experimenting with crying as a mode of communication.
Now we were all back at the table, and I told my story.
There were just so many people all around, and there was so much going on.
Zach ran from the table: “Wait till I get back from the bathroom.” I waited.
Sometimes, I just couldn’t take all the people.
“Our lunchroom is pretty small, so there’s not a lot going on.”
And I couldn’t stand not knowing where to sit, who to sit with, or if anyone wanted me to sit next to them. I’m guessing more people would have been OK with me sitting there than I thought, but sometimes it was so stressful facing all the pressure of the lunchroom and wondering if I’d have to sit alone. So, I’d take my lunch – I wasn’t supposed to do this, but things are a little different in high school – and I’d go eat alone in the auditorium so I didn’t have to face the lunchroom.
I didn’t tell them that the auditorium was dark and I’d leave the lights off to avoid drawing attention to myself. That I sat alone in the dark and silence for the entire lunch period to avoid the social scene in the cafeteria and then slid out when lunch was over to rejoin the crowd coming up from the stairwell. That I can still see the seldom-used, narrow corridor leading to the side door of the auditorium. They didn’t need those details.
I never wanted my kids to know I was a loser in junior high and high school. I prefer to be the paragon of coolness I only get to be until they reach 11 years old. Yet, we know when the time has come that we must give our children a story from our past to provide them comfort in their own lives. Let’s face it: I was a loser. I did sit out a camp dance, pretending to be thinking of characters for a story I was writing so that I didn’t have to try to maneuver a social situation in which I felt unwelcome. I did talk too much and too loudly to drown out the incontrovertible fact that people didn’t really want to hear what I had to say. I was always just 8 or 9 degrees off from fitting in, and I knew it.
The story begins with a teenager hiding in a darkened auditorium because on this particular Tuesday, she couldn’t face the lunchroom.