The day that it was announced that I would be valedictorian of my high school graduating class, along with Sarah, I specifically remember Lindsay looking around in astonishment and whispering to the girl next to her But his dad didn’t even graduate high school. The secret was announced loudly enough that it seemed to echo across our nearly silent AP English class, and I started watching people turn to me waiting for my reaction. Unsure of what to do, I just kind of sat there… familiar with these kind of statements. I had heard them since I had met Lindsay all the way back in elementary school. Senior year was almost over, and there really wasn’t much left to say to anyone in the class: my best friend who transferred in from D.C. wrote in my yearbook, Thank you for making this school bearable and showing me that even in this cesspool of ignorance and inbreeding there is hope of intelligence and kindness. What he didn’t understand is that for years on end, I was considered one of the weird sources of ignorance and inbreeding that somehow managed to knife my way in or bought off some of the teachers with some meth we made at home the night before. After all, my dad didn’t graduate from high school, and without a high school degree, the only skill you can could lend yourself to is mixing bathroom chemicals together for human consumption. But of course, that would have required my dad to have made meth, or even know where to start. Instead, he just did construction, which seemed a lot safer on the up and up.
In reality, I had been subjected to Lindsay’s snide, yet somehow almost sympathetic, comments for years. When I wasn’t throwing up as an elementary school student, I was usually conversing with the teachers. I had some kind of weird connection to adults, and I really liked having conversations with them more than anyone else. In second grade, I was trying desperately to explain to one of the teachers that I was getting ready to move. She asked where I was moving to. No, we’re not leaving where I live; we’re just changing houses. All of the kids around us seemed to stop; it didn’t make sense to them. When my teacher told me that if you don’t leave your house, you’re not really moving, I knew that I had to explain it all better. No! I am moving. They’re taking the house that we have now, the one on wheels, and they’re going to roll it into our back yard. Then they’re going to bring the new house and put it where the old one was. Then we’re going to take our stuff and put it in the new house, then that house will be gone! I was so pleased with myself; I had articulated it perfectly, so there was no reason that they wouldn’t accept me. Everyone loved the guy that moved, kind of like how you were guaranteed popularity if you had a cast or got braces. But I was wrong; I immediately became trailer boy, and the one person who would never forget that was Lindsay.
After a while, most people had seemed to forgotten. I attempted to make my way up the ranks of high school, and eventually I found myself in the honors and Advanced Placement classes. In a surprise turn of events, I became a contender for valedictorian. The AP class was comprised mainly of kids from the subdivisions; however, in every class there seemed to be a couple ambassadors of sorts that represented the country side of South Knoxville and the city side. Considering I practically lived in Seymour, I would be the country representative, and Josh Wesley would be the city rep. I’m actually pretty confident Josh lived in a subdivision area, but he was black, so it’s only logical to consider him the city representative, right? No one dared draw attention to Josh’s race, partly because that kind of language at our high school was asking for a lot of issues we all hoped to keep at bay, and partly because Josh was literally one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met in my life. So instead, it made more sense to draw attention to the lesser known prejudice of socio-economic status. While on yearbook staff, my friend Alex told me that I should go and check my GPA with the principal. It seemed really unnecessary, but I knew that the yearbook staff was privy to information the rest of us were not, so I obliged.
After I asked about my GPA, it was noted that one of my AP classes didn’t count. After doing the math by hand, I convinced my principal and assistant principal that my GPA that had been sent off to colleges was actually wrong. I would later find out that one of the other girl’s contending for valedictorian had her mom call in and demand that AP art not be given the additional credit value. Suddenly, Lindsay’s remarks kind of made sense. I’m not saying that Lindsay was the one that requested the class depreciation because most of the girls I was going up against thought with one singular mind; it honestly could have been any of them. But the evidence was clear: having me be valedictorian was akin to having Sarah Palin become our country’s president or having Michael Vick represent the ASPCA. There was no room on the graduation stage for such trash, and all Lindsay was guilty of was being a social custodian.
I find it ironic that as I’m writing this, Mean Girls is playing in the background on ABC Family… and not just because there’s actual quality programming on ABC Family for once. It’s ironic because in retrospect, those kind of people really do exist. On our graduation day, Sarah gave a speech about something… maybe, stars? I couldn’t really focus because I was about to give my own speech in front of what seemed like a gajillion people, and I couldn’t get past the fact that I looked like a really sketchy looking lamp shade in my graduation gown. After Sarah, I gave my speech to a surprisingly receptive crowd. Lindsay, our salutatorian, would follow. Regardless of what people say or do, I really have no desire to see them fail. Sure, she had said a lot of mean things, but I didn’t want to see her go through what happened next. I’ll paraphrase:
You know, the next step of our life is going to be more complicated than ever. Decisions aren’t just whether you should have Lucky Charms or Cocoa Puffs…
Silence. Come on girl, pull it together.
…Cocoa Puffs… she shuffled her papers. …and Cocoa Puffs… She was frozen. The girl that had attempted to socially dominate our entire class for years on end had frozen before us; it was my “Regina-gets-hit-by-a-bus-moment,” but I couldn’t seem to enjoy it. We were all hanging on Cocoa Puffs and years of elitism, and she wasn’t giving us any more. After a thirty or forty second Cocoa Puff cliff hanger, she returned and gave what I still believe was an abbreviated version of her speech. We all crossed the stage and eventually threw our hats into the air. Mine landed in the flower arrangement in front of Lindsay and our principal scoffed at her, believing that she was the one that threw up. Afterwards, I quickly picked it up and haven’t spoken to Lindsay since.
A lot of my friends are still initially surprised when they come and visit my house because it is in fact, still, a doublewide. Even now, sometimes I try to explain that it doesn’t move anymore and if we do in fact want it gone, we’ll have to tear it down. I’m not sure what it is that makes people believe that I would live elsewhere, but I’ve never minded the house I live in or that my dad didn’t graduate from high school. Actually, sometimes I miss it because it used to make me feel like I had to overcome an image and work harder than everyone else. As for Lindsay, I imagine that she’s somewhere in the world inflicting some kind of hellish elitism over some other trailer kid, and for that kid, I apologize on her behalf. She doesn’t mean any harm; her designer clothes are impervious to any kind of sincerity or sympathy and that’s simply not her fault. In the end, those kind of things don’t matter. I will continue on in search of further education and success, and she will have all the money in the world to buy as many Cocoa Puffs… and Cocoa Puffs… as her heart desires.