Growing up I was Alice Day the day dreamer who drooled in class and didn’t know how to take social cues. I either awkwardly forced my way into social gatherings or sat in the corner like a shadow, alone and ignored. I was the girl that didn’t fit in anywhere; too different and too quiet to be accepted. I was a ghost. A ghost trapped in a little town in Virginia with no options of escape; that is, until I moved. Moving changed everything, including me. A new town and a new school meant a clean slate and a chance to get in with the popular kids. Even if they were nothing like the real me I would no longer be a ghost, and for a while I thought that was enough. After all, isn’t it better to go with the flow and fit in than to be yourself and be alone? This is what I thought for a long time, until I started to notice her.
Jane Wall was the girl most people barely noticed in the corner of the lunch room no one really realized they avoided. When her name was called in class, it was immediately forgotten by those around me, and none of her clothes ever seemed to fit the mold. I at times thought that she was a ghost, playing tricks on my mind that made me think she was alive, until my day was over and I questioned if she had really been there at all. That would have been far more interesting than the Jane that did not speak unless she had to and wore holes into paper from her nervous doodling. Her presence frustrated me for some reason and I was unsure why she never seemed to leave my head even though she rarely popped into anyone else’s.
“Some people just don’t have a life,” I recall my friend Ashley saying to me one day as we migrated towards the end of the cafeteria full of kids loudly discussing their clothes and what their moms packed them for lunch today. I found her statement ironic in the context we were in, but I kept that opinion to myself.
Ashley knew everything. I knew this because she told me she had the boys wrapped around her finger and she never got a C on her assignments. I chose to hang out with her because she was interesting and fun, or at least, that is what everyone else seemed to think, and that was good enough for me. She chose to hang out with me because I was just interesting enough to not embarrass her and just boring enough to make her look better. I never saw anything wrong with this arrangement, mostly because I didn’t think I had any better options; But, then there was Jane.
“Do you really think Jane doesn’t ever do anything worth talking about?” I whispered back to Ashley, afraid that Jane may have somehow appeared behind us without me knowing it.
Ashley just rolled her eyes in response and the question was ignored as someone less average than me captured her attention. As she talked about boys with this newcomer, my eyes slowly wandered back to where Jane was sitting in the corner by herself. She had not moved an inch since the last time I had looked at her, not even to eat the food on her tray. This was something I didn’t blame her for, as I glanced down at my own tray and realized that our lunch looked more like the aftermath of a bad skydiving trip. Perhaps she was frozen in fear at what might happen if she put any of it in her mouth. Literally frozen. I thought to myself. Is she even breathing?
My careful case study of the unmoving Jane Wall ended abruptly as I ran into the back of Ashley and dumped my skydiver vomit all over the cafeteria floor.
“Alice!” Ashley whined loud enough to catch everyone’s attention. “You could have gotten that all over my new clothes, you space cadet!”
I blushed and apologized in a rushed way that made my words spill together as she made a show of helping me clean up the mess I had made.
“Oh, it’s alright.” She said with exaggerated kindness. “I’m really not sure what you would do without me here to help you.”
Her words made me cringe a little and I sighed as I watched everyone around us nod sympathetically in Ashley’s direction. She smiled at them all in turn, as if to say, “This is just a side effect of being interesting,” and got up to throw away the one napkin she had touched the vomit with. I finished cleaning up and followed her to the table, trying to pay attention as she resumed conversation about boys and the latest fashions.
Sometimes I felt like I was just as out of place in the popular circle as I was when I had no friends. Was being with someone who treated me like this really worth me not being myself?
This was supposed to be the opposite of boring. This was supposed to make me more interesting and fun. These people were supposed to be my best friends. Why did I inwardly hate it so much?
I found my eyes wandering to where Jane Wall sat again and I blinked as I noticed she still had yet to move. I wondered if she always sat like this and I just hadn’t noticed; But that seemed just a little too boring to be boring. I was just about to get up and enter the side of the cafeteria everyone accidentally avoided just to check and see if she was still alive when she suddenly looked up at me. It was nothing more than a quick jolt that disappeared as soon as she looked away, but I was left with this odd feeling that she had just returned from somewhere far away.
This was the moment I realized that I was actually very curious about Jane Wall, the most boring, almost nonexistent person in our class of interesting and slightly mediocre people.
What if Jane is the interesting one, and the rest of us are too boring for her to notice? The thought entered my mind without permission and took root in the center of my brain. At first, I tried to shake it out of my head. This idea was unacceptable and absurd. After all, I knew what being a ghost was like. What would Ashley think? What would the rest of my peers think? If I followed this thought to Jane would I not become as boring and unnoticed as she was? Would I not become a ghost again? However, as crazy as it was and as much as I wanted to avoid it, this thought’s roots slowly started to spread throughout my mind until I could no longer ignore its presence.
The next day began a bit differently than I was used to. I found my attention immediately drawn to Jane Wall as soon as I walked into our homeroom. Had her desk always been in front of mine or had she purposefully moved? I found it weird that she was looking at me as I sat down behind her. It almost seemed like she had been waiting for me to arrive, and for some reason that was very unnerving. What if she suddenly thought she had a chance to be my friend just because we had happened to make eye contact the day before? What if she tried to have a conversation with me? What if-
“Good morning, Alice.” My head snapped up as an unfamiliar voice broke through my panic.
I very quickly realized, to my shock and horror, that it was Jane that had spoken to me and she was still looking at me. Had her voice always been this clear and confident? Weird…
In order to avoid coming off as rude, just in case the people around me had noticed what was going on, I smiled at her and responded.
“Good morning, Jane.” My voice cracked. I was flustered. I didn’t want to be boring.
She smiled at me and I thought I saw the air crackle around her for a brief second, which should have bothered me more than the thought of being seen as boring by association, but I was too caught up in myself to give it much thought. I did note that her smile was surprisingly above average though, and this was frustratingly curious.
Jane turned back around as Ashley walked into the room and I pinched myself to bring reality back. Just like that, things were back to normal. As Ashley stopped to complain to me about her mom’s choice of breakfast that morning I slowly forgot about Jane Wall again. Maybe something was wrong with me. Maybe none of that had actually happened and Jane was still the overly quiet, plain girl that always averted her eyes we were all comfortable with forgetting.
Or maybe she had a secret.
The rest of the day was full of evidence; Evidence to support my theory that Jane Wall had a secret. I found myself watching her in spurts throughout the day, trying to convince myself I was crazy. I was surprised at what I noticed.
Jane Wall was not just doodling on her paper and her quick movements were not out of nervousness; She was not only great at drawing, she was fast. Jane Wall smiled and swayed back and forth while she was in the lunch line, as if she was enjoying a song that only she could hear. Jane Wall got A’s on all her homework and the teachers seemed to like her. Jane Wall watched everyone when she thought they were not looking and made faces at them. Jane Wall froze at lunch time and this time I was sure that the air around her crackled.
Jane Wall knew I was watching her.
As the school day drew to a close I had made up my mind. I was going to walk home with Jane and try to hold a conversation with her. If she was as interesting as I was starting to think she was then maybe I would start to hang out with her, and if she wasn’t, then no one would be around to judge me for talking to her.
Plus, I really just want to know if she goes somewhere at lunch that the rest of us don’t know about, or if I’m just losing my eyesight along with my mind. I thought to myself.
The bell rang and I jogged out of school with my books hanging halfway out of my bag. I had just seen Jane walk out the double doors and down the sidewalk towards the street and I didn’t want to miss her. As I neared the street and turned left on the sidewalk I screeched and came to an abrupt halt, sending my loose books out of my bag and onto the cement. Jane was suddenly standing right in front of me, as if she had been waiting for me to come.
“Hello again, Alice.” She said brightly. “It’s about time you caught up.”
My mind whirled at her greeting and I somehow knew that she was talking about more than just my running to join her that day. She stuck out her hand, as if to shake mine, and instead grabbed my wrist and pulled me forward. The air crackled and popped around us and I felt myself being sucked into another world. Her world. The world I used to be a part of so long ago that was so different and so much more interesting to me than the world I was apart of now. A world full of imagination, adventure, and new ideas. A world that was so much more than what most people gave it a chance to be. A world where being myself was exciting and welcomed. A world where Jane Wall was my friend.
“Welcome to being boring.” She whispered; But I knew what she really meant, and I couldn’t help but smile.
(This story is based off of the beginning of my friendship with my best friend many years ago)