In the third grade it became very clear to me that high schoolers were completely insane. I’d walk down the hallways, books pressed to my chest, sticking close to the lockers, watching. How could there be so many of them? And all so different? But not in the good way, not in the way I understood. They stuck together, diverse in the grand spectrum of things, but not. They were all too…separate. It wasn’t individuality. They were indistinguishable from one another, within these little groups that deviated from the rest.
But everyone was part of one of these such groups? Everyone? How had I not seen this anomaly before?
Thanks to the combined teachings of my prepubescent cousin, an Elle magazine fished out of the trash and half an hour of a Nickelodeon sitcom, I came to the conclusion that what I had been witnessing was the queer social phenomenon of the clique. I was eight then, and frankly puzzled. I asked myself questions.
An exclusive group of people who shared interests, views and behavior? What made it exclusive? How’d you get in? Who got in, and why? Who was the alpha? Who decided what everyone did, what everyone wore? Where were the definitions for each clique? Was everyone supposed to be in one?
The next day in Art class, while doodling idly, I debated. In society, I reasoned, one was supposed to conform, if one wanted to avoid issues. Did I want to avoid issues?
Would I have to join one of these “cliques”, then? Even if I didn’t think they made much sense?
So which one did I want?
VARIABLE I. EMO
From what I could gather, they had continually depressed facial expressions, frayed clothing, black nails, The Night Before Christmas obsessions and an alarming collection of broken scissor blades. They gave each other sad looks and seldom held hands.
I admired their darkness, in a way. But necrophilia wasn’t really my thing.
VARIABLE II. WALLFLOWER
They huddled, whispered. Some smiled, but it was always too faint for me to be completely sure. Sighing seemed to prevail in their conversations, and other than that I could never find anything meaningful. They were all so frail, so vulnerable. They went everywhere together, and if one happened to be left behind, they completely fell apart. I was seized with urges to go over there and shake them.
I was shy, too. But I hoped not to be that fragile until I was well into my nineties.
VARIABLE III. PREP
The bizarre thing was, they were simultaneously adored and hated. When they passed out party invites, freshmen made lines. Their approval was craved. But once their left, criticism swarmed. Vanity, expenditure! Cheerleaders and jocks are blase, people said. I wondered.
They could be nice. But who could spend that much time on their hair? I looked at my own dirty head, my speckled hands. Nuh-uh.
VARIABLE IV. PUNK
They were annoyed. They never took off their headphones. They frightened me. End of subject.
VARIABLE V. NERD
They conversed about chess, nuclear physics and duct tape. They gave each other the Vulcan salute and spoke in L33t. I found this to be thrilling. And also kind of irritating.
They had a ridiculously good image of themselves. One could practically see the self-confidence radiating off of them. And while that’s all well and good, I did not appreciate their ridicule of the other cliques, based mainly on math grades. I was terrible with numbers then. This irked me.
Ugh. Variables, variables! Too many, good Gad. I had to stop. There were too numerous to classify.
What was I supposed to do, how was I supposed to form a hypothesis?
You know what? I told myself. And yes, I know I told myself this, because I remember very clearly.
You can just be Emma.