In high school, there existed a muddled system of classification where your identity was announced by the location of your hangout spot during lunch. The older, popular kids sat at the coveted tables and benches–the civilized zone–bordering the quad; the freshman pressed back against the hedges along the tennis courts where they could stare wistfully at the popular kids; the “alternative” kids slouched beneath the yawning shade of a big tree at the opposite end of the quad. And by this system my friends and I were a fringe culture. One of many on the outskirts of civilized society.
Claiming our spot on the square concrete planter beneath a middling tree that hugged the farthest table and bench involved a meeting and a declaration of resolve. We were juniors and we deserved to move away from the tennis courts. It was our time.
Still, we knew better than to attempt an evolution–we were by no means popularis civis. We had no ins or claim to fame that might hasten the crumbling of our cocoons and spring us forth, bright and lovely and bench-ready.
At the start of each year, a rotation occurred. With the shucking of the previous year’s popular or otherwise seniors, each zone of classification was laid bare for a new turn. It was as if the Mad Hatter stood in the quad, screaming at us all to “change places!” And a madness did run like a network of exposed nerve endings across the schoolyard as we scrambled for a spot.
We stood our ground under that tree, as close to the benches as we thought we’d ever get. We stood our ground for two years though some of us occasionally mingled and tested new areas, new friends. But we’d come back to each other, to the haunt of our own peripheral species. A true minor vulgaris, I held our place day in and day out, fearing I’d be violently eaten by the flotsam and jetsam of the yard if I wandered.
On one of the last days of school in our senior year, old crusts that we were, experienced in the art of ditching and partying (because Toni and I went to that one kegger and almost had a drink), we decided to breach the divide, to wander from our side of the drinking pool and into restricted territory: the popular benches. The crowds always thinned out toward the end of the year and I remember that the benches seemed abandoned except for a thin smattering of popular kids. Perhaps this is what bolstered our confidence and propelled us from our spot. We sat at an empty table without a word and waited. Nothing happened. Nobody told us to move; nobody said we didn’t belong. So we stayed, monarch butterflies at the tail end of the monarchy.