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By Jeannine Pitas

You are a dork. Your hair is greasy at the roots and frizzy at the ends, and you don't wash it every day. Your thick glasses have pink plastic frames. You wear the same outfit daily -- a plaid jumper, army-green knee socks, a white cardigan, and noisy click-clack shoes that give your steps the sound of a teacher's. Everyone knows that your mother still picks out your clothes and says you can't wear any black until you're a teenager. Everyone knows that you actually like taking recorder lessons and aren't just enduring them because your parents make you. They know that your mother is crazy; they see her red wide-brimmed hat covered in ribbons and flowers (you always beg her not to wear it for Parent-Teacher night and she always refuses, arguing that she needs to protect her ears from the cold, or the sun, or glare from the fluorescent lights in the school, or whatever lame excuse she can come up with to guarantee your humiliation). And they know that your father used to be a rancher in Montana, or a lumberjack (what else could he be with those thick flannel shirts?) and that he teaches high school science and once swallowed a live goldfish in front of his class.

You are a dork. Being equally inept at throwing, catching, hitting, and kicking, you are always the last to be picked for the team. Your knees are covered with scabs and bruises from all the times you didn't watch where you were going, you didn't see the bottom stair, you didn't notice the hole in the sidewalk. You spill things. In art class you once managed to get a whole bottle of orange paint on your new forest green and yellow striped pullover sweater, and then got reprimanded by both Mrs. Higgins (because you wasted a good bottle of paint) and your mother (because you destroyed your beautiful new sweater).

You are a geek, a nerd, and a dork. One can argue ad nauseum over whether such creatures are born or made, nature or nurture. But looking at your mother (who wears a ridiculous wide-brimmed hat) and your father (the infamous goldfish-swallower) it's clear that some of the oddball-genes have indeed made their way down to you. And in your case these accidents of nature first manifest themselves in perfect clarity at the tender age of five, when two important things happen.

Firstly, you are forced to acknowledge the existence of other people. Unlike many children, who soon find that they must protect their Legos and stuffed animals from the horde of rapacious barbarians otherwise known as siblings, you have received no indication that the world contains people other than yourself. Oh sure, there were always your parents, and a few doting aunties who pinched your cheeks and gave you chocolate-covered caramels. But these are not actual people. They are adults -- authority figures who are there to help you and harm you, to buy you a bicycle and then forbid you from riding it any further than around the block, to give you candy and then tell you that you can't eat it before supper.

They're like the school lunch monitors -- parents who volunteer to stand guard in that cesspool otherwise known as the school cafeteria and are supposed to keep the children from killing each other as well as to help them open their Fruit Roll-ups and canned peaches. However, while most of these guardians are content to chat and gossip while students get killed and cans remain unopened, one dedicated monitor, who works every other Tuesday, is no such shirker. And so, one fine Tuesday afternoon while you're sitting and trying to enjoy your peanut butter and Fluff sandwich in peace, you suddenly find yourself face to face with that devoted public servant, her eyebrows raised in consternation.

"Jeannine, why are you sitting all by yourself?" your mother demands. Glancing from side to side, you suddenly notice that yes, you indeed have the entire table to yourself, while the other children are one table over, sitting together -- Josh Kramer with his blubbery cheeks, Nicholas Hoffman with his freckles, Alice O'Keefe with her long, golden braids.

You frown. These are the children you see every day; they are in the room whenever you enter; they sing the songs and color the pictures. Once you got in a fight with Kaley Kwong over a doll; another time you got yelled at for stealing the balloon that Mrs. Caruthers gave Mike Kozak on his birthday. But while you have seen and interacted with these children each day since kindergarten began, you have not been able to figure out just why they are here. And now, suddenly, you understand. You feel your chest constricting in the horror of your first existential crisis, as you are left to wonder why it should be this way, why you should be here in this group of people who, even though they sit together, may as well be sitting alone.

Your mother is still standing over you, waiting for an answer. Without a word you pick up your red plastic lunch box and move over to the girls´ end of the next table, where Katie DeSimone is deeply engaged in a conversation with Katie O'Connell. You do not hear them, they do not see you, and you, perfectly content with this arrangement, continue to eat in silence.

But the next thing that happens is even more traumatic. Now that you have begun to notice people, these same people begin to notice you.

First, Mrs. Caruthers notices that you are bumping into things a bit too much, even for a klutz. Then, she observes that you are squinting when you try to look at the board. She sends you to the school nurse, who makes you look at a screen and read some letters, then gives you a note to take home. Your parents take you to a bald doctor in a white coat, who makes you read some more letters on a screen and puts a strange telescope up to your eye. "Nearsightedness and astigmatism,' he announces. You do not know what either of those words are, and of course you're too scared to ask. You are led into a room with hundreds of pairs of glasses like the ones your parents and aunties and Mrs. Caruthers wear, and little five-year-olds like you do not wear. A thin lady with long gray hair begins handing you pair after pair. You try them on as your parents gape at you, their faces blank. Finally you don the one with pink plastic frames, and both faces break into grins. "They're adorable," your mother gushes, and you shiver. "She's going to be an intellectual," your father asserts, and while you don't know what "intellectual" signifies, you have a sinking feeling that it has something to do with eating live goldfish.

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