Lost in a crowd

Leslie Parker, Featured Columist

Sometimes it doesn’t take a swarm of people for me to become lost in a crowd. Sometimes I get lost when I’m just with a group of friends at lunch. It’s a different kind of lost, though. In crowds I can lose little pieces of my individuality. I lose sight of myself and my beliefs. It is not accompanied by the brain-numbing fear one may feel when losing sight of a loved one in a public place, but is it is easily just as awful and emotionally starling.

In elementary school, the cool thing was to eat your lunch as quickly as possible and then go out to the vending machine and buy a Rainbow Dreamsicle for 75 cents. The lunch ladies often complained about the lack of quarters in their registers due to the regular exchange of bills for quarters. Sitting around a circular table, you could see every girl around you with ease. It only took one quick glance to see who had a Rainbow Dreamsicle and who didn’t.

Personally, I didn’t care much for the colorful popsicle, as I always had a sweet tooth for the fudge bar. But the rules were simple – either you got a Rainbow Dreamsicle and you were one of them, part of the crowd, or you weren’t. Or even worse, you had rivalry ice cream, resulting in unfriendly stares, hurtful remarks and inevitable isolation. More than aware of the social consequences, I would not have been caught dead with anything but a Rainbow Dreamsicle. On several occasions, when my parents refused me 75 cents I even turned reluctantly to my own financial means, aka Mr. Piggy.

I was lost in the group and I silenced my own desires for a fudge bar to go along with their common desires. I always particularly regret this when I remember the new girl at school, Shelby. She sat down at our table one day with a delicious and beautiful fudge bar. She initiated so much trouble in our little fourth grade clan that her boldness, not to mention her taste in ice cream, earned my admiration.

Unfortunately, my shiny red lunch box covered with cherries did not make it to the middle school lunch table. The cool thing in middle school was to sport an ugly, plain, easily torn brown paper bag. But my lunch box wasn’t the only thing that got thrown out. Somehow, many of my clothes over the transition from fifth to sixth grade had become socially unacceptable. For some absurd reason which I still do not fully understand, dressing as walking billboards was wildly popular among our age group. My closet was stocked with clothing solely from stores like Abercrombie, Aeropostale and Hollister. There was not one item from any of those stores that didn’t have their brand plastered across it obnoxiously. The truth is, I had the same opinions of these clothing brands as I do now. I never liked their uncomfortable, tight-fitting jeans. But I wore them anyway.

Each store had their own back pocket design, and each girl, whether they cared or not, knew whether your jeans were from one of the three stores deemed acceptable. It was what girls noticed as you sat down at their lunch tables. It was what determined whether you were part of the group or an outsider. I wished to be anything but the latter, so I did my best to blend in

In high school, rather than ice cream and lunch boxes determining your fate among social groups, it was the gossip. I don’t care what clique or social group sits there –  if there are two or more girls together the odds are that part of, if not all of their conversation, will consist of pure gossip. As girls make the transition from freshmen to seniors, it only gets uglier. The really ugly thing is in most cases, what determines whether you’re “in” or not is based on the information, or more often, the lies you can offer up. In ninth grade, I wanted nothing more to find my place amongst a group of girls that would stick with me throughout high school. I sat with these girls each day at lunch and exchanged the latest drama concerning breakups and relationships. I dreaded going to lunch many days because I hated our daily routine. But each day I always contributed. I talked about people and said things I would never say to their faces. I laughed as girls made fun of the Goth girl and her boyfriend. I shared rumors about things none of us knew anything about and I helped spread them by allowing that kind of talk. I knew what was right and what was wrong. I didn’t like talking about people the way I did but because others did it, I did it. I wanted to fit in, which meant not doing what I believed. I let my opinions and beliefs disappear and so I lost myself – an even bigger part than what I had lost in elementary and middle school.

I am glad that instead of years after high school, I have realized three years into it that I get no delight or enjoyment out of trying to fit in. My actions were inexcusable and I am always full of regret.

But the most important thing now is to find a lunch table with girls who will let me choose my own ice cream, my own clothes and my own voice – not for me to pick theirs. Otherwise, I fear every day I will only lose more and more of myself.