Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The New Girl

     "No one ever likes the new girl," I told myself as my parents dropped me off at Sweetwater Middle School's registration office.
     Especially when the new girl just moved from another country and speaks heavily-accented English. What makes it worse is if the new girl's English consists of proper grammar; such a thing is never cool in the precarious world of middle school. This poor creature will also suffer dire consequences if her sense of fashion does not coordinate well with that of her new classmates. She will be friendless. She will be lonely at lunch. She will get lost trying to find her Course Exploratory class (even worse, she will wonder what on earth a Course Exploratory class is).

     Everyone has been new somewhere at one point or another in their lives. Even I had been new to another school before moving to the United States, but at least I had been in my native country. Few circumstances are more unsettling for a preteen's social stability than moving to a new country. My new home was not just any ordinary country. We were moving to the best-known country in the world. Who did not enjoy American music, cinema, or television shows? In my opinion, the best part about starting school in the U.S. was that I could finally ditch my uniforms. Eager as I was to experience all the country had to offer firsthand, moments of uncertainty disrupted my excitement.

     December 5, 2000: a date that will live in hilarity. There I was, waiting for a classmate to chaperone me to my new classroom. Until that day, I was unaware of my tendency to sing Disney songs in my head to battle nervousness. The second verse of "Hakuna Matata" played in my mind when the administrator's impossibly high-pitched voice shook my focus. "Laura, here is your classmate!"

     I don't know if my slow, dramatic turn was due to nervousness or to my telenovela addiction. But, I immediately regretted my childish fashion choices upon seeing my classmate. She donned a skin-tight shirt along with even tighter rhinestone-embroidered jeans. Her face was covered in makeup, and all I had ever worn up until that point was lip gloss. However, the clothes and makeup were nothing in comparison to the difference in our hairstyles. Highlights sprinkled all over hers, while mine was in pigtails. Yes, pigtails. Don't judge me; 6th grade Colombian girls wore pigtails all the time in the year 2000. It's not my fault today's 6th graders take inappropriate selfies and post them online. Times were very different back then.

     Despite our obvious differences, my classmate turned out to be very nice. She was also Colombian, so at least that gave us some common ground. As we wound through the hallways, I could not help but compare it to a labyrinth. Every passageway looked the same to me: yellow walls, white tiles, and those ghastly fluorescent lights that could suck the life out of a rambunctious toddler. There was nothing distinguishing about any of the school's corners. I will wander these hallways forever lost, I thought.

     We reached a windowless, wooden door. My classmate turned the doorknob with no hesitation. There is no doubt my eyes jumped out of their sockets, for the sight upon me was straight out of a movie. A paper airplane landed right next to the doorway where we stood. I wasn't sure if it had been aimed at me, or if its pilot lost control. Kids were all over the room. They stood, talked, and even sang. Book bags were sprawled in disarray all over the brown carpet. A female teacher stood at the very front of the room attempting to fetch her students' attention. Her efforts were lost in the commotion. This class was as opposite to my previous classrooms as humanly possible. In my old school, we would have to sit in silence the entire class unless we raised our hands. Whenever an adult entered the class, standing up to greet them in unison was the norm. Our book bags were always stacked neatly beneath our seats, and paper airplanes were absolutely out of the question. I actually pitied the teacher who had to be responsible for such unruly children. Her eyes seemed at an utter loss behind round glasses. 

     "Hey, everyone!" The girl who led me to the classroom yelled. All heads snapped in our direction. Funny how all this girl had to do to get the attention of the class was yell, and the teacher couldn't even get the kids to acknowledge her existence. "Hey guys! This is Laura, the new girl," my classmate continued. Murmurs spread throughout the room as my new classmates took me in.
     It's official. I'm the new girl. They're scrutinizing every aspect of me. 

   As a preteen, one of the most dreaded moment is walking into class once everyone has been settled in for a while. This awful feeling is only intensified by being the new girl. Eyes fixated on me from every angle of the class. I might as well have been a brightly-dressed clown in the midst of a funeral for all the stares I received. Why yes, I'm Bozo the Clown and have arrived for your entertainment. Would you like me to dribble some water balloons?

     "Welcome, Laura. I'm Ms. Garrett. Please, come to the front of the class so you can tell us about yourself," my new teacher casually suggested. Ms. Garrett might as well have asked me to strip in front of the entire class for the panic I felt. Anxiety pinched every single one of my nerves. My classmates parted like the Red Sea to create a path leading me to the front of the classroom.

     As I stood in front of my new classmates, my mind became frazzled. In an instant, I had forgotten every English word I knew. Yet somehow I found my voice, "My name is Laura Diaz. I just moved here from Colombia-"

     "South Carolina?" A cute boy sitting in the front row interrupted me. He was the personification of the typical North American boy according to stereotypes in Colombia. His eyes were as blue as a cloudless sky. Golden locks adorned his head like rays of sunlight. Deeply-pronounced dimples danced on his cheeks. The friendly way in which he regarded me weakened my knees.

     "South America," I replied shyly in my heavily-accented English.

     Brad Pitt (as I had already nicknamed him in my head) shot me a dazzling smile, "Oh wow, that's really cool!"
     Wonderful. I had been in class a total of three minutes and was already harboring a crush on the Brad Pitt lookalike.  

     Once my moment in the spotlight ended, I proceeded to take the first empty seat I found. My entrance seemed to have quieted the class, for Ms. Garrett was then able to continue with her lecture. I had arrived smack in the middle of Language Arts. After listening to Ms. Garrett for a few minutes, I was astounded at the material covered in 6th grade Language Arts. We were learning about conjunctions; my 4th grade class covered this back in Colombia. A smile crawled onto my face as I realized the advantage this would give me to earn high grades.

     Lunch arrived shortly thereafter. It had always been one of my favorite parts of the school day. However, I had no idea with whom I would sit. The thought abandoned my mind as soon as I saw what was offered for lunch at the cafeteria. My eyes gazed over burgers, pizzas, and hotdogs. I blinked several times to ensure my sight didn't deceive me. In Colombia, our school lunches consisted of 'normal food'; this usually meant rice, beans, chicken, steak, vegetables, etc. I chose a burger for my first meal. It didn't seem as appetizing at all.

     Contrary to what I originally expected, a group of girls asked me to sit with them. Their genuine curiosity about my life in Colombia flattered me. When I asked them about Recess, they looked at me as if I had spoken in Russian. "Recess?" One of them asked in puzzlement, "Only kids in elementary school get Recess." My world was shattered by that simple statement. Recess was a crucial time in every kid's school day in Colombia, from kindergarten to graduation. There were no age restrictions for a well-deserved break from classes during the day. When I explained this to the girls, they simply stared in awe.

     On our way back to class, I heard murmurs coming directly from behind me. I didn't let it bother me; by then, I was used to my 'new girl' status. Then, a daring hand grabbed my butt shamelessly. I jumped in consternation. Appalled, I turned around to face the pervert.

     Never had any boy touched me in an inappropriate area of my body before. The most I had ever done was play the occasional game of Spin the Bottle. Rage drenched me like a fierce waterfall. My enraged eyes must have given away my mood, for fear washed over the idiotic boy's face as I stared at him. At an impulse, I slapped him hard across the face. I blame my dramatic reaction on years of telenovela viewership. The shocked boy held his reddened cheek as his brown eyes popped out of their sockets.

     "Kevin, what the hell?" The voice came from the Brad Pitt lookalike, who apparently had witnessed the whole shameful incident. My cheeks flushed in raw embarrassment. The attacker, as I had angrily nicknamed him, seemed intimidated by Brad Pitt. I have never been the damsel in distress type, always preferring to be my own knight in shining armor. Still, my heart skipped a beat at Brad's chivalry. The boys argued for a few moments until Ms. Garrett interrupted.

     "What's going on here?" she demanded with the voice only a teacher can invoke.

     "Ms. Garrett, he touched me on my..." Crap! I had no idea how to say 'butt' in English. I knew it wasn't 'tail' because that seemed too animal-like. Ms. Garrett stared at me expectantly waiting for me to continue. I scrambled for a word, but failed miserably. The only solution I came up with was to simply point at my butt. At this gesture, Ms. Garrett gasped dramatically. She took my attacker aside for punishment. I didn't like being a tattletale, but I was simply too offended to let it go.

     "Are you okay, Laura?" Brad asked me.

     "Yes, thank you very much for that," I answered with blood flooding my cheeks. "What is your name?"

     "I'm Dylan, and I'm from Columbia, South Carolina, which is why I asked you earlier," he produced an adorable chuckle. Dylan. So, his name obviously wasn't Brad Pitt. Still, Dylan was the name of my favorite character on Beverly Hills 90210, and this Dylan was even cuter than that one. We continued walking together as he asked me about my life in Colombia. Fascination dressed his face in response to all of my answers.

     Maybe being the new girl wasn't such a terrible thing, after all.  

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