A quiet little girl walked the corridor, clutching her books close to her chest. Averting eyes that never noticed her, she scurried into her class, planting her bag next to her desk. At lunch, she sat alone in a corner, reading a book, having her lunch in peace and quiet and loneliness.
I envied that girl in school. It’s better to be unnoticed and left alone than to be noticed for the wrong reasons and bullied.
I would like to think that I was brave and strong and no one could say a thing to me. But that was just with a few people. I wasn’t the person who would speak up.
My best friend and I, like Monica and Rachel in F.R.I.E.N.D.S., went to different high schools while going to the same one. She went to one where she was popular and liked. I went to one where the only way people knew me was ‘the girl who hung out with the popular chick’. And I was okay with it. But I was a nerd and a shy one too. It’s hard to describe me in school as I was in the basketball team and I participated in school stuff but I was always ‘the weird one’.
So, the clichéd mean conversations with mean girls was a given and I was so used to it by then. All my hope was latched on to the fact that I’d leave school and I’d go to college where people would be grown up and social strata would be a lot more lenient. Maturity would give way for a new life for me, one with friends and acquaintances instead of friends and the mean ones. And it had worked. Me fervently hoping for all those god awful years paid off.
Come college, I met wonderful people and made amazing friends. Fell in love with friendships the way I should’ve in school, but never really could. Social strata was out the window and I was on cloud nine because life was a lot better when no one was judging you over what you wore or what shoes you decided to pair with what shorts or what brand of perfumes you used.
But, what I’ve come to realize is that strata exists everywhere. The only reason I didn’t really realize that social echelons were prevalent everywhere was because I’d upgraded from being the nerd to being the nerdy popular girl. People liked me. My opinions mattered to them. My choices were appreciated. My talks were listened to and people responded like they cared about what I thought. And I loved that. I did.
But there’s always this one girl who’s better than you, no matter how hard you try or how great you are. There’s always this one person who, without saying anything, speaks volumes and once again, you’re a 20-odd nerd in high school.
I met up with a friend of mine a few days ago and it was like school all over again. I was judged about having a tom-boyish approach to clothes, of not wearing my hair right to accentuate my facial features, of wearing the wrong boots, of having no make-up, of not having perfectly done eyebrows. I don’t give two hoots about all this stuff usually, but as I sat with that friend of mine, I was conscious. I kept fidgeting with the edge of my shirt, grinding my boot against the floor nervously. I tried talking like her or judging girls on their dressing and social statuses like she did, which is something I never do. I didn’t like the person I became when she met me.
I then made a promise to myself to avoid meeting her as much as possible. She is a great person in her own way and god knows I like her. But, she is of a different sphere than I am and I plan on keeping it that way.
Social strata is present everywhere, I’ve now noticed. It’s in colleges, in schools, in classes, at work. Everywhere. And there’s really no way you can escape it. It changes you without you even realizing it. It makes you cold and desensitized. It makes you not care. I should know.
But that absolutely doesn’t mean you give in to the system. Because the system is flawed.
It’s flawed. And nobody deserves the cruelty this system promises.