Fall of 2006 was the beginning of my freshman year of high school. I was decidedly more “chill” about everything than I had been in middle school, deciding right up top that popularity wasn’t going to be my ultimate goal, as it had been for the entirety of my previous academic experience. Instead I would focus on theatre, good grades, and figuring out whatever my “aesthetic” as a blossoming teenage girl should be. I entered the first day of classes confidently, deciding that I would simply be nice to anyone who talked to me instead of actively seeking out groups to glom on to. The latter had proved wildly unsuccessful in elementary and middle school. “Be cool,” I told myself.
Of course, I got my period on the very first day of high school, but that’s beside the point of this story.
The first three or four weeks were fine. I was more anxious about navigating a large high school campus with multiple buildings and getting to class within the 6-minute bell warning than I was about talking to people. It was a very large high school – a few thousand kids – so I only knew a select few fellow students from my previous incarnations of school. Plus, I had many comfort items guaranteed to be waiting for me at home, like last night’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien waiting on DVR and a chicken parm sub from the Subway that was next door to my house, so I was pretty content regardless of what was physically happening in the hours that I had to spend at school.
Sitting in front of me in freshman geometry class was Leslie, who I had known since kindergarten. Next to her was Maddie, who I had gone to middle school with. They were both wealthy, put-together, athletic girls who you could lump into the “popular” category of our classes. We were always pretty friendly to each other, but aside from chatting about how hard the homework was last night, we never struck up many conversations in second period particular geometry class.
The Prestige was released on Friday, October 20th, 2006. That Thursday in second period geometry class, as we were all clamoring to open our binders and unzip the front pockets of our backpacks to grab a pencil, I overheard Leslie and Maddie’s usual discussions about their weeks, how soccer practice went, who’s dating who, etc. They then started discussing their weekend plans, which involved getting the whole gang together to go to the opening night of The Prestige at our local mall plaza movie theater. Maddie then turned around to me.
“Liz, you should come with us!”
I accepted, and geared up for one of my first real “high school” hangouts. My strategy worked! Lay low and be chill and you shall achieve!
I got home from school on Friday and got ready. My mom wasn’t thrilled about having to drive me 40 minutes to the movie theater, but she was pretty happy to see me actually going out to socialize with people instead of hiding in my bed with marinara sauce on my shirt and rewinding Late Night‘s “The Evil Puppy” sketch for the third time.
We arrived at the theater and I hopped out of the Pontiac Vibe, spotting Leslie and Maddie standing outside, as well as other notably wealthy, put-together, athletic kids (even some cute boys!) socializing the way that I imagined we were supposed to be socializing at that age. I was so removed from actually experiencing high school and instead stood among the group as an observer, thinking to myself, “This is totally definitely high school, and I am doing the correct high school thing right now! Good work!” We walked in and I nervously made basic conversation about how the movie looked cool (I honestly had no desire to see it but it seemed a ridiculous offer to pass up at this stage in my social career) as we stood in line. They were all pleasant enough to me. There were eight of us.
We walked into Theater 10 a few minutes before showtime. Previews had already started. It was very crowded, and we continued to slink up and down the steps to find a row with seats for our deserving group. We got near the top again and spotted a row with some open seats.
One two three four five six seven.
Seven. There were seven open seats.
Leslie turned to me. “I’m soooo sorry! I think there’s a seat a couple rows down if you want to sit there? There’s just seven open seats and Lexi and Taylor realllyyyy want us to all sit together.”
I sulked to the empty seat a few rows below and watched the rest of the trailers in agony.
My titanium strategy backfired. I was alone, unwanted, and sitting in the audience for a movie I didn’t even want to see.
A girl who was part of their usual group at school – wealthy, put-together, athletic – named Jess arrived at the theater late. She technically made our group nine. She wandered up to the seven special people and spastically tried to fit herself into their row, but soon also discovered that there were only seven seats. I couldn’t hear everything too well. All I know is that she angrily stormed into my row into the seat next to me where I presume she was apologetically transferred by her friends. She didn’t really talk to me except for a few begrudging small talk statements.
My experience of The Prestige was two hours and ten minutes of nervously looking to my left as Jess intermittently looked up at her friends and shot them laughingly dirty looks as they all giggled back down at her at her grand misfortune. “Sitting next to me is ruining her night and she is mad at her friends for putting her in such an awful situation. Watching this movie with me means that her Friday night is a disaster,” I realized.
I don’t remember anything that happens in the movie, really. I’ve since watched it when it was on cable or whatever but I can’t fully take it in, ever. I sink into a mopey mood and usually go take a nap when I try to watch it. It is so, so easy for me to access that adrenaline of dejection that I felt in Theater 10 on October 20th, 2006 around 7:45PM.
When the movie ended we walked over to the Ben & Jerry’s next to the movie theater in the mall plaza. It smelled like wonderful sugary waffle cone. I don’t remember what I got. Probably cookie dough. I sat in the booth with these ultra-confident kids who were laughing, teasing each other, discussing the movie, and talking about what the rest of their friend group were up to that night. They all thought that The Prestige was dumb and boring (“Haha, what even WAS that?”)
I sat silently and ate my ice cream, donating a faux laugh here and there in an attempt to fit in – a social mechanism that I have never, ever retired.
Now, still, nearly 10 years later, whenever I think of David Bowie or smell the inside of a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream store, I have a deep sensory reaction. I immediately feel like a dumb little 14-year-old girl who was stupid enough to delude herself into thinking that high school was going to be easy.
And that really sucks, because experiencing David Bowie and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are both supposed to be such wonderful parts of being alive.