When I was in third grade, we moved to Sterling, VA. My parents rented a townhouse in the Sugarland Run community there and I attended a nearby elementary school. We lived in that townhouse and I attended that school for two years. There, I made some friends, some connections, but I wasn’t part of any particular group; mostly I sat at my desk and read, to be perfectly honest. But I knew lots of people and was generally well-liked.
However, the winds of change were sweeping through Sterling. It was the mid-nineties, and the dot-com boom was in full swing. With it came AOL and Verizon and government contracts. Lots and lots of government contracts. A server hub was built in Sterling. AOL set up its headquarters right outside of town. New houses and schools were built to accommodate all its news residents. The demographics changed within the two years we lived there; the newbies had their large, fancy McMansions with high fees to pay for their “fascist” HOA. They looked down their noses at the likes of the established Sterling Park and Sugarland Run communities. They didn’t want their children going to school with those children. Boundaries shifted. To my mother’s horror, we would no longer be attending the same school we had attended for third and fourth grade. We would instead be attending…another school.*
The time was nigh. Just before the end of fourth grade, Mom and Dad bought a townhouse in the relatively new Cascades community and we moved in. For fifth grade, we attended a brand-spanking-new school with high test scores.
I never really fit in with the kids at that school. It was 1997, and we were all hitting pre-adolescence. I continued to read Animorphs and Star Trek novels in the back of the classroom. All the other kids wore designer children’s clothing and sang Spice Girls songs. I made one friend, but she moved away halfway through the year. I spent the year alone, desperately alone. The Vice Principal even noticed how alone I was and tried to make some popular girls spend time with me. I tagged along with them for about a day before going back to reading quietly in the back of the classroom. They were actually very nice (I was actually had many classes with one of them throughout middle school, and we were perfectly friendly), but we just didn’t have anything in common. I was just that girl who didn’t have any friends.
The same year that school opened, a new high school opened, right behind our townhouse. Towards the end of fifth grade, all of the fifth graders in the school district were bused to the high school to see a special production of Alice in Wonderland. Not everyone in my class would fit in our assigned row, and three of us had to go sit with another school. That school was my old school. We were sitting with all of my old classmates.
“Kelsey!” they all shouted.
“Hey guys!” I said.
“Geoffrey likes you!” said one boy.
Geoffrey gestured wildly that this was not true, but I laughed. I didn’t care whether Geoffrey liked me or not; what was more important was that I was welcomed back. I had a place. I was too goody-two-shoes of a girl to sit backwards on my seat, so instead I had to keep turning in my seat to add to conversations. I caught up with all my old classmates, how their schoolyear had gone and what middle school they were going to and how sports was going and how much they liked or didn’t like their classrooms and what books they read and where they had gone on vacations and oh the play was starting but I kept turning around to talk to my friends. Sitting next to me was a boy in my class named Andrew Olson. He was a boy I didn’t like very much; he teased me a lot. He slumped lower and lower in his seat throughout the whole afternoon.
I finally had to say goodbye to everyone from my old school as the chaperones collected us and brought us back to the bus. The class was waiting for us as we approached the bus.
We hadn’t even reached the whole way when Andrew Olson shouted at the class, “Well Kelsey made a lot of friends! All her friends were there! She wouldn’t stop turning in her seat and talking!”
And everyone was surprised, because I was tiny and quiet and smart and quiet and I never talked to anyone. Andrew Olson was brought back into the fold. I stared off into the sunlight and scratched my teeth, because I am gloriously attractive.
I heard a boy shout, “WHEN’S THE WEDDING?” followed by laughter. I worried about my dental health.
One of the girls in the class — Sam, maybe? — approached me. I was broken out of my sunlight-and-tooth-scratching reverie.
“Andrew Olson likes you,” she said.
Well that was right out of left field. Andrew Olson couldn’t stand the sight of me. I once won a science-review contest by remembering that the skin is the largest organ of the body, and he had followed me around the entire recess shouting “skin! skin!” at me. I said a cuss word one time and he had laughed hysterically at me. Another time I said a cuss word and he ratted me out.
I had no idea what to say so I just smiled awkwardly.
“Do you like him?”
This was clearly the heart of the matter. I have no idea what I said; I stammered it out, whatever it was.
So Andrew Olson, fuming, had to sit next to me on the bus ride back to school. He slouched in his seat and stared at the windshield. His friends sat in the back, popping their heads up, trying to see what we were doing. I had the window seat, and I stared out the window and rubbed my tongue along my teeth, thinking about plaque.
I wouldn’t have another date for nine years.
EDIT 8/22: Apparently I wasn’t clear enough on my school situation. My family liked the school I attended in 3rd/4th grade; they were “disappointed” in the school I attended in fifth grade. The school that I described as “dangerous” my family was indifferent to. The main reason that we moved to the house we ended up moving to was because it was right next to a high school, and my family wanted us to walk to high school rather than depend on transportation. I was mistaken.
*To this day I have no idea what was wrong with the school we would have gone to had we stayed in the rental townhouse. Mom insisted it was dangerous, or in a dangerous neighborhood, or something. I have had plenty of friends who attended that school who said that there was no such danger.