But I can’t stop thinking about it, and what I’m thinking is that I’ve been arrogant, but not in the way people who called me that thought I was.
You see I thought I was the most different one this planet ever saw. No I didn’t think it. I was sure. The ugly duckling was a movie star compared to me.
It took the longest time for me to figure out that everyone feels different. I was no special case. In some way, everyone feels like they are that proverbial island that no man is supposed to be. High school is the archipelago of humanity.
No one had it easy. Everyone didn’t quite fit. Some felt it more than others. Some had power and some didn’t. But even the cool kids admit that they felt one slip away from falling into the uncool abyss. Whenever high school becomes the topic of conversation, almost everyone says the same thing—once was enough for that sort of bliss.
The very coolest kids—those in the extreme— never left behind their small-town, high school way of judging things. They sort of stopped living fifteen minutes after graduation. High school became the frozen moment, the high point of their life. They still talk about the big game as if it were last week. Seeing one is like a rare bird spotting. They’re best found returning to their glory—at class reunions looking at the mannequins dressed in football uniforms. That’s what it meant to be super-cool—too cool to talk to—they gave up a lot. They got to run a universe, and then their universe ran out.
At one time they were almost scary, now they look sad to me.
I thought I was different, but I know that I’m not.
What do I still carry from my high school years—besides my fear of the word arrogant?. Do I flinch inside when I walk by the mannequin at the class reunion? How much of my life is an echo of those days? Maybe high school puts recordings in everybody’s head. If one extreme is still playing last week’s game, is another still fretting last week’s disappointment?
Do you suppose the ugly duckling ever swam far enough to believe that he was beautiful?
—me strauss Letting me be