From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

Love Letter to the Card Corner

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

We called it the Card Corner. It was a place for the subversive girls—girls who the other girls at our school thought odd, not popular enough, not trendy enough. Girls who listened to music the other girls didn’t like. It was a place for girls who didn’t fit in, who’d been dumped by their friends for being too weird—as I had been.

Before we took it over, there was nothing remarkable about the Card Corner. It was a brown-carpeted nook on the first floor of the old classroom building. There was a dilapidated brown cabinet there, a leaky radiator and a door that led outside to the green lawns where girls sometimes ate lunch. It was nothing much to look at—but to me it was a haven, a place of magic and rebellion, of friendship and hilarity and schemes for the future.

We started calling it the Card Corner because at first some of us played card games there. I never did, not once, and after awhile, no one else did either—we were too busy talking—but the name stuck. The old brown cabinet was empty before we started using it. I suppose it was for decorative purposes.

I don’t remember which of us first kept her schoolbooks in the cabinet instead of using a locker, but pretty soon most of us did. It just happened that way, just as we had gravitated towards each other, though we weren’t all in the same grade.

Maybe Debby was the catalyst. At sixteen, she was a terrific visual artist, knew lots about music, had gone to lots of rock shows, and her boyfriend was the lead singer of a rock band. She was beautiful but thought herself fat.

My whole world opened up when Debby took me to my first nightclub show a month before my fifteenth birthday. Her boyfriend’s band played, and I got a crush on her boyfriend’s brother Jonathan, who was also in the band. Many of the Card Corner girls went to that show, and afterwards we all spent the night at Debby’s. Everything seemed different to me after that night—brighter, more exciting. After that, I began to spend all my time with Debby and the other girls—Sylvia, Josie, Hillary. At any point there might have been seven or ten or twelve of us hanging out together at school, going to nightclubs, going shopping for music or clothes.

Some Card Corner girls were outwardly rebellious—like Debby, who wore a leather jacket with her uniform gray skirt and white blouse. Some were more quiet and intellectual, but felt at home in the Corner, where they could be themselves, unfashionable though that might be. I wrote stories and music reviews for the school paper. Debby drew pictures of all of us and amazing cartoons chronicling our weekend adventures. Josie was on the swim team, and Joan was a gymnast. I couldn’t do gymnastics to save my life, but among the Card Corner contingent, that didn’t seem to matter.

When we got to school in the morning, we’d congregate at the Corner. Sometimes one or two of us would sit on top of the cabinet, while others would sit on the carpet and on the step that led to the door. If it were a cold day, we might huddle by the radiator if it was working. Debby would pull out her notebook with the black-and-white marbled cover, and if I were lucky, she would sketch a portrait of Jonathan. At lunch or free period we’d meet at the Corner. It’s not that we didn’t hang out at other spots at school, in the lunchroom or out on the terrace with the round green tables. But this was our spot, ours alone.

The school administration wasn’t thrilled that we’d taken over the brown cabinet, but they didn’t do anything about it—not yet. They weren’t thrilled with us in general, for we showed a remarkable lack of “school spirit.” Instead we backed each other up, were strong together. I finally had friends with whom I belonged. Sylvia told me that her former friends, who’d dropped her a while before, walked past her one day and commented to each other, “She has such weird friends now!” We thought that hilarious and somewhat of a compliment.

We would talk about how we’d been dropped by our previous cliques, and how we’d found each other. Once Josie and I talked with my mom about this, and she didn’t seem to get how lucky we felt. She seemed to think we still felt bad about being dumped. She didn’t realize that we knew we’d found the real thing, real friendship. We knew how different it was from what we’d had before.

By the time I became a junior, a number of my friends had graduated, and there weren’t so many Card Corner girls left at the school. A week or two into fall semester, we walked into the Corner and found all our books piled in a heap on the carpet, the cabinet gone. The administration had finally done something about us. We had to start using lockers again, though we still gathered together at the Card Corner. It wasn’t the same, with so many of my friends no longer there—but they remained my friends, nonetheless. And I had gained something: a sense of who I was, a sense of what it was to love and be loved by true friends.

Gwynne Garfinkle

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