Without revealing myself as an utter snob, I will say simply I did not see kids I wanted to hang out with as I surveyed the parking lot of Nanaimo District Secondary School, chock full of beat up trucks and muscle cars. Clusters of levi-ed boys were gathered around cars with doors flung open and one feathered haired guy leaned back and hooted, “MDA Weekend.” His use of an unfamiliar acronym (later i found out MDA is a drug akin to ecstacy) terrified me. I’d always counted on knowing the language, if nothing else.
But my own snobbery was not unrivaled. No one particularly wanted to be friends with me either. A boy named Larry in my drama class, looked me up and down one day and asked in a loud voice, “Do you even own a pair of jeans?” It so happened I was wearing the aforementioned tweed skirt from Montreal that day. I must have actually muttered the word “Montreal” in my defense. “Montreal?” he said, his voice full of mockery. “Puh-lease!”
This comment was deeply connected to a class divide that it would take me the whole year to catch onto. I had no I idea that an electric fence ran along the line between labor and management and that every kid I encountered was a union member’s son or daughter and that everyone knew my unusual last name as the name of one of the new managers at the mill. Outsider, sent from the city to boot. Interest in anything from Quebec, anything French, was for high talking city folk like myself. Why didn’t I know any of this?
So, you can sort of survive high school without friends except for one thing: Lunch. During classes, you’re supposed to be listening to the bad-accented teacher recite Le Petit Prince; you’re not supposed to be hanging out with friends. But lunch, I dreaded. I mostly circled the halls as if I was headed somewhere or if I had my dad’s (French, and therefore suspect) car, I’d go home.
But, then one day everything changed. It was kind of a downtime in drama class and these two girls came up to me and the one girl, Tanya–was she Latina?– said, “You’re like us. You don’t fit in here. Come sit with us.” I stumbled to my feet and crossed the room to where Shirley and Tanya always sat.
Tanya leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial tone, “So this is the deal. My mom’s white. My dad’s from India, but he lives in the city and no one’s ever seen him and so no one is sure what I am, and Shirley here is Chinese. Her parents own Wong’s Diner downtown, you’ve probably seen it. What do you think of that?”
What did I think of that? I was being asked. “It’s cool,” I said, hoping that would work.
“So you sit with us from now on, okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
“Because,” Tanya added with a steady confidence of a person twice her age, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”