It is funny how we see our lives from the inside. But when we see someone’s life from the outside that may partly run a parallel we see it completely different. For instance, when I hear about or see private school girls, I always think how privileged they are and what a snobby world they come from. And well, they were always pretty and popular too. But I attended Catholic school in a small town from 1st through 8th grade I and never saw myself as that type. In fact, it wasn’t until after I graduated from high school that I realized I was a “private school kid”.
I was the “weird girl”. The one who passed by the public school each day dressed in my plain blouse that perfectly color matched my socks and a green patterned uniform skirt. (And no the skirt hem hit nowhere above the knee….ever!) The public school sat on the block right next to the Catholic school so we were only separated by a traffic light. It was at this corner that each morning and afternoon they, the normal kids, and I would pass as we headed to our divergent worlds.
Depending on the time I passed through, I may have to weave through lines of students awaiting a bus. There was always that apprehensive moment before coming upon them that I felt insignificant yet conspicuous to this crowd. When I passed the long wall of school windows I wondered if they peered out at me and, if so, what were they thinking or remarking to one another about who they thought they saw. If anyone spoke to me it was never in jest or unkindness but inquisitive. “Why did we all dress the same?” “Don’t you get tired of wearing those uniforms?” For that I was thankful, but it didn’t change how different and out of touch I felt with their world. Sometimes their looks made me feel as if I were unapproachable. All the while I wished they would.
We were the significant few. My graduating class was the mighty number of sixteen. Eight girls, eight boys. Not exactly a large pickings of boys for a girl to have a crush on, so they each had their given time that I admired them. Not once was it reciprocated, as we have to know our place even in the smallest of peer groups. I was not cool (nor pretty). Not completely shunned either, but a wall flower in many situations. I thought of myself as more of an observer. I didn’t really mind being the observer, I just didn’t like the awkwardness and the occasional solitude of it. And too much solitude can provoke an unwanted detachment.
My favorite skirt was always this multi-pleated one passed down from my cousin
(which had likely been handed down to her…of course). But then ninety percent of my clothes were. The others I’d buy at Goodwill – see I’d never fit the movie role portrayal. I recall only one or two other fellow Catholic girls that owned one remotely like it. That made me different. I always felt like the odd one out anyway, but for some reason when I wore it it didn’t make me feel like the awkward kind of different.
My eighth grade year was the highlight of my parochial school years. I’d finally learned to be more comfortable in my spot amongst fifteen others (only took me seven years!) and I was getting out soon. The rule of our house was that we attended St. Mary’s Catholic school until 8th grade and then we could choose St. Joe’s High School in a neighboring town or the town’s public high school. There was no question in my mind ~ this wall flower was ready to find her place amongst a larger garden of peers. One hundred and eighty others to find like interests and common ground with. Amen!
I entered the school’s front doors the same gawky, gangly, five foot eight, one hundred ten pound observer but with a mission ~ meet and learn about this world I often passed, but never got a real feel for. I observed no longer. From day one, I became a social butterfly. My place? I didn’t want one that was defined.
During this transition, my uncle approached me one day after church and remarked how different I had become. He said the only way he could explain it was that I was once “the ugly duckling”. “ Well, there you have it”, I thought. I most definitely felt a difference on the inside, but from that I was transforming on the outside. I was becoming and realizing my individuality while finding my footing and roots among many. And I wasn’t even wearing the pleated skirt!