I was the guy on the fringe. I didn't have what it took to be cool. My skin didn't tan very well, and my clothes were unoriginal. As for my teeth, the braces during junior year didn't help my status, and by the time they came off I'd taught myself how to smile without showing them at all. I had friends, lots of them, but I wasn't the nucleus. Their plans didn't revolve around mine. Sometimes I think of how my life might have turned out if I had been the nucleus. I imagine I would have stayed around town after graduation much longer, trying to milk the fame I poured myself into during those four years of high school. I probably would have gone to parties and reminisced about those days of yore, back when I had it made. I probably would have got a job nearby, say as a landscaper, so I could keep all the same friends who still recognized my hard earned status. I probably would have slowly and grudgingly started to hate my life, because for those unfortunate enough to be the nucleus, it is often the case that high school is the pinnacle. And after that, things change...
I was happy to bring on the change. I stuck around a year after graduation to do some manual labor and "soul-searching" *cough* partying *cough* and then decided I needed to get the heck out of Dodge. I realized in that year that I wasn't the type to milk a situation that wasn't the best to begin with, and that I was young and there was life to be discovered. So I moved to Seattle.
The change that happened then was drastic.
Over the course of the last eight years, and through many different experiences, I believe I've become a changed person. Call it getting older, but I've settled in to who I am. I like myself. Once a year I'll head back home for the holidays, and I'll see some old friends. Some seem satisfied with life, and others, generally the ones who had it pretty good in high school, seem to have changed in a different way. They seem worse off. It's sad, because I can tell that they don't like who they've become. It's like they stuck around, trying to relive the vigor and momentousness they felt in high school. Where life felt finite and important. Where they belonged. Where they were respected. But life dragged on, and it's like they've been beating this dead horse for years, not wanting to let go, to start over a nobody, to have to struggle to gain respect. Their tan skin starting to look rough, their nice clothes exchanged for coveralls, their white smiles hidden behind their lips. I'm almost shocked by their demeanor. Embarrassed by their humility.
They look at me, and I'm just a poor nobody with nothing to hang my hat on, and they say,
"You made it, man."
Made it? Somebody should tell my over-drafted bank account.
"You got out, you are doing something different, everyone here is proud of you."
Everyone is proud of me? That's a funny thought.
"Yeah man you're famous."
No, I'm not. People just assume that.
But really, people talk about me? The kid with pale skin and stupid clothes and braces. The MacDonald kid. The kid who's rebellious. The kid who thinks he's fat. The kid who thinks he's ugly. The kid who resents his parents... Things change.
And then I'm reminded of how microscopic my world view was in high school. It's like I've lived ten lifetimes since. I wanted to so badly to be known and respected, at any expense. I can still recall the pang, the inconsolable longing for popularity however temporary. However shallow the requirements.
I think about my parents and how they didn't buy into the system I subscribed to. I thought I had a dire responsibility to fit in or be cast aside, and for whatever reason they didn't comply. I was angry, but now I'm glad because things changed.
So to you on the fringes, I say rejoice! The nucleus will eventually implode on itself, and you'll be set free one day to travel as far as your dreams will take you. Always remember, no matter how finite, wretched, overlooked or desperate your life might seem: Things change!