365 DAYS

365 DAYS

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

365 Days

I was popular for exactly one year—all through eighth grade, to be exact. The irony of my popularity was lost on no one, particularly me; after all, I had spent the first few years of middle school labeled a complete dork, among other not-so-nice things. How was I instantaneously catapulted from the crowd everyone tried to avoid to the crowd everyone wanted to be in? There was only one explanation: fate.

The first day of gym class that year we all sat around on the dusty floor listening to guidelines for the dress code, the rules of good sportsmanship and the expectation of enthusiastic participation. (Yeah, right.) I fell into a bit of a daze as our teacher droned on and on, until she stated that it was time to assign locker partners. Everyone began glancing around covertly at the girls sitting around them, wondering whose smelly socks would be next to their own for the next ten months.

She read off the pairs, one by one. They were randomly picked, and therefore no one could accurately predict how much they might suffer from the results. When the gym teacher read my name, I closed my eyes and waited. The name that followed was that of the most popular girl in my grade. My stomach dropped. I would have rather been assigned to the most unhygienic of partners than someone so pretty, so well-liked—and who was such a snob. She turned around and glared at me, clearly expressing her own disgust with the cruel hand destiny had dealt her. I sighed heavily, anticipating that this year would be no easier than the last.

But I was wrong. The fact was that although I wasn’t stylish, I was kind; and though I was not gorgeous, I had a good sense of humor. And contrary to my own first impressions, my partner was actually quite intelligent and fun to be around. As a result, the stifled conversations my partner and I shared for the first few weeks (“Are these your socks or mine?”) slowly developed into discussions on the pointlessness of floor hockey, what the cafeteria food was really made of, and whether our English teacher was actually crazy or just trying to keep us interested in her lectures.

As different as night and day, the two of us somehow became close. Thus, I became popular by association. From that point on, I never spent a single song against the wall at dances, and I was at the mall every weekend. Though I didn’t make the cheerleading squad (I still maintain the auditions were rigged—I could cartwheel with the very best of them), I spent each football game in the stands surrounded by people who had never seemed to notice me before. I had gone from being virtually invisible to someone people wanted to be seen with—in a matter of weeks.

Undoubtedly, popularity had its benefits. It was a relief not to be called names anymore, and it was a comfort to feel as though I belonged. The year flew by instead of dragging on forever, and soon we had graduated, spent a summer at the pool and were starting our freshman year of high school.

I walked in with my friend at my side, certain that we were automatically in. What I found, however, was that with many more students, there came many more groups and cliques who were just as popular as ours. People did not necessarily accept you just because you were admired in middle school. As the first weeks went by, I found myself struggling to keep up and doing things I didn’t feel comfortable doing in order to keep my social status. It didn’t take me long to realize that the social scene was no longer for me, so one day I did the unthinkable: I sat at a different table for lunch.

The people I sat with that day became dear friends for the next four years, and they are still my friends today. They liked me simply because of who I was, not because I could get them invited to parties or introduce them to the hottest guys. I always felt comfortable with them, and their support encouraged me to broaden my horizons. Instead of cheerleading, we joined the choir. Instead of hanging out at the mall, we planned picnics in the park.

Their admiration was sincere—and reciprocated.

Three hundred sixty-five days of popularity had taught me to recognize what was artificial and fake. Years of being “just another girl” taught me that true friendship is found in unlikely places and that sincerity beats popularity hands-down. It is better to be complimented on your kindness than your clothes. It is more gratifying to be admired for your talents than your status. Accepting yourself as you are, and finding friends who love you because you are that person, will provide more happiness and comfort than any amount of popularity ever could.

Kelly Garnett

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