*names have been changed to protect the identity of guilty, guilty parties*
High school was an unforgiving place, especially for me – a graceless, acne-scarred urchin with bad eyebrows who had never touched a flat iron.
Despite my physical shortcomings, my “sisters in Christ” at my all-girls’ Catholic school embraced me. Each weekend my social calendar was full of events – cotillion dances, sleepovers, loitering in mall parking lots. I always scored the most elusive invites.
A sense of humor is social currency in high school, and I was rich.
I would do anything to get laughs: swap my uniform for a Little Orphan Annie costume, trip down a flight of stairs, convince my art history teacher I was a practicing Jew. Whatever it took.
Popularity eluded me. I was studious, but so were the other over-achievers, and I certainly was not headed for the convent, so I took my rightful place as the class clown.
For 17-year-old me, humor helped me deal with crippling insecurity and the Catholic guilt that manifested from my new interest in the girls’ volleyball team.
Nearing graduation, the time came to nominate the Most Academic, Most Athletic, Most Attractive, Most Spiritual, Most Personable and Most Witty. I was unphased when I learned of my nomination for Most Witty. I imagined it would go down exactly as I had fantasized – me sporting an elegant pantsuit as Hot Volleyball Girl #1 crowns me, followed by Hot Volleyball Girl #2 feeding me chocolate cake.
Distracted, it took me a second to register the name beneath mine.
Julie Melancin. We had tied. There would be a run-off, and I could not allow Julie a victory.
Julie and I approached humor differently.
Coming to school in a cow costume and encouraging my classmates to milk my rubber udders was comedy gold to me. To Julie, singling out one person and making jokes at their expense (bullying) was more her style.
On the big day, we trotted single-file into the gym, shaky in our high heels and tripping over our white ball gowns, taking our seats alphabetically.
The ceremony played before me, but I was hardly attentive. In an attempt to squeeze into my dress, I had refused solid foods for two days, and I was paying the price with my rapidly decreasing blood glucose levels.
By the time I noticed 200 pairs of eyes on me, I was willing myself to the stage where Most Attractive and Most Spiritual stood clutching bouquets of roses and grinning ear to ear. I stumbled up the stairs, grabbed my roses and looked into the crowd. Through the blinding stage lights I could make out one face – that of my sworn enemy and tormentor, Julie Melancin.
It took me years to realize this event shaped me. A stamp of approval from peers is high school’s Holy Grail. But by graduation I understood their opinions held no weight. I still proudly boast my Superlative title, but I know that I am more than a neatly packaged high school trope. I only wish I had seen that sooner.