Ayala reflects on her high school experience as a decided outsider — but not quite a rebel in the mainstream sense. (Is there such a thing as a mainstream rebel? Anyway…)
It was a scorching bright August day that had me lazing around in bed and wearing sunglasses indoors. I was 14. High school started in five days. I hadn’t picked Bais Yaakov, but I was going, reluctantly, with no intention of coming out the other end a cookie-cutter Bais Yaakov maidel. The house phone rang (because it was 2008), and the caller ID showed a strange name and number. I picked up.
“Can I speak to Ayala?”
“Who are you?” I asked. “I am Ayala.”
“My name is Suri. I’m in 11th grade. I’m your school big sister.”
This was news to me. “We get big sisters?”
I digested this news. If everyone got a big sister, then everyone probably vied for their relatives and friends, and getting a stranger like me was getting one of the undesirables. Suri must not have any relatives or 9th grade friends.
I sighed. “Can I be honest with you? I’m really not that excited to go to this school. I don’t think I’m going to fit here. Don’t take it personally if I don’t seem super-happy at orientation, and please don’t try to change my mind, ok? Let’s just find my locker and textbooks and skip the pep talks.”
There was silence on the other end. I figured that I had scared this annoying peppy person away. Only, now I was starting to get scared that she would tell other people about my outburst. I wiped my palms on my sheets, regretting my poor impulse control.
“Wahooo!” Suri cheered. I started, falling off the bed. “I also hate it here. I was afraid you would be an annoying normal person!”
“Oh my God.” My heartbeat returned to its normal rate. “I feel so relieved!”
“Me too! I felt like how was I really supposed to bond with you if I couldn’t tell you anything about myself?”
The next hour passed by pleasantly as we discovered that we both spoke to boys and felt extremely constricted by our parents and neighbors, but that we both avoided smoking and drugs, so we existed in this weird middle zone between “good girl” and “rebel”. We both liked to look pretty and have adventures, and felt that our peers were too cautious and had no sense of fun.
Sadly, she didn’t know who the Ramones or Weird Al were, and she didn’t like reading much, but no one is perfect. I had an ally. It was no longer just going to be me standing out among everyone at school. Suri might even have friends who were also different!
I leapt out of bed, galvanized, slathered on sunscreen, and sprinted off to the library to stock up on my usual assortment of trashy novels, young adult novels, and non-fiction.