Our perception of reality is so skewed.

I received a message on my birthday which, along with kind wishes, asserted the person sending it and their words might not matter all that much to me because I was “famous.” After sending several of those emoji stickers where the tears are rolling down the laughing smiley’s face, I realized they weren’t kidding. Later that afternoon, I received another message which said something similar and I wondered where people come up with this crap. This shock and awed me a little bit because along with not being verified or having a book on any NYT’s list or even having had one article go viral, I also have less than 100 subscribers to my blog.

Count them. 94. 

At least a few times a month, I see tweets and posts or receive emails or comments which mention the idea of “the cool kids.” Last Fall, my friend, Micah, and I were driving to Arkansas to meet up with a few of our writer crew. Along the way, we had coffee with an old friend of Micah’s and she kept referring to us as such — “cool kids.”

I was baffled by it. I couldn’t quite understand what it meant. I’ve gone over and over it in my mind and tried to make sense of it. I’ve never quite understood the concept of cool. I guess I get the theoretical idea of it as something the masses appreciate which is perceived as “hip” by current culture but when it comes to humans — frankly, it eludes me.

I was one of those weird kids in high school who was friends with everyone.

Seriously. Everyone. My school had these two big long hallways where kids would divide themselves up. They all self-identified as something. One side was where the preps and jocks would stand, popping their collars and bouncing soccer balls on their knees. Down the other lounged against lockers were the goth and stoner crowd, rolling their flannel sleeves and touching up their eyeliner. There was a corner which joined them and I always wondered if any couples stood there and snuck a hand hold round it. One on each side like Romeo and Juliet.

I always got to school right on time so I didn’t have to choose and in our classes we all sat side by side. I’d known most of them since grade school and our clothes and life choices didn’t actually mean that much. I knew them. It didn’t matter what their outsides looked like.

I knew the truth.

Half of them who appeared to be on drugs were actually the ones making a 4.0 and some of the ones who looked like they had it all together were on the edge of a breakdown, getting high as often as possible. I cared about who they were as people, so to me…

There were NO cool kids.

If you look back on pictures of me, you might have thought I would have been bullied. I wore long jean skirts and Army t-shirts over long sleeve shirts and Eastbay sandals with socks that came to my knees. My permed hair was to my waist and stuck out in all directions when it wasn’t tucked away in a braid under a FISHING HAT and my round little face always bore a perpetual smile under it’s rimless glasses.

But, I wasn’t bullied. See, I didn’t know I wasn’t cool.

I didn’t ever think about cool. I was thinking about my future and who I wanted to be and reading books and planning to graduate early. I never noticed if anyone else was cool. I just thought of them as humans, so I treated them that way.

Like this silent dude in the back of Psychology, everyone called him a stoner and whispered about him fearfully. His arms were too strong and definitely already had a tattoo tucked up under his sleeve. That was before it became cool for everyone to sport them. His blue eyes pierced you when you happened to get caught in their line of sight. I befriended him. I knew how annoying I was but I couldn’t seem to stop. I kept saying hello sunnily and showering with him smiles. One day he smiled back — a real smile. It started at the left side of his mouth and continued across to the right till his teeth showed, then it moved up the side of his face, crinkling lines around his eyes and making them sparkle until I felt like I had won some kind of trophy.

Because humans are the best. And if you think some are cool and some are not, you’re missing the point. Opportunities to experience amazing someones are passing you by.

It wasn’t just some quiet bro in my Psychology class. There was the quarterback who always sat next to me in Chemistry class with the chiseled cheekbones who I could make laugh. The girl with the wild hair who dyed it various colors depending on the week and insisted she was Wiccan who asked to go to church with me one Wednesday night. My friends who were cheerleaders and on the dance team who always gave me hugs and shielded me from their party life. The ones in drama and choir and the ones who never did any after school things at all. All of the boys in my Electronics and Communications class who always treated me kindly. I was the only girl and we made fish callers which never quite worked but we had so much fun laughing that it didn’t matter. I never thought much about the fact that I was the only girl. It wasn’t scary then like it might have been now. They seemed so safe. They all had stories. I heard a lot of them because I listened.

The other day when someone told me I was a cool kid and they wished they had my life, I had the urge to punch them.

I wanted to ask if they wanted the divorce, the assault, the bad relationship choices, and the twenty months of therapy it has taken me so far to get to where I am. I’m getting more healthy everyday. I’m learning how to remove the unhealthy things in my life and trust the good pieces. I’m loving myself better and those around me well, but it’s a process. Calling it all “cool” and longing for it KIND OF MAKES ME FLIP MY SHIT. Because you can have this, but you have to do the work to get here. Also, even in its beauty, it has its imperfect days. I spent most of my day off yesterday in bed watching Netflix because I couldn’t even but I took a shower and made myself ratatouille and took all of my vitamins so I’m still counting it as a win.

Here’s what I want to tell you. No one is a god. No one is a monster. No one is a cool kid. No one is a loser. It’s just you and I. We’re all humans learning how to live this life. We all have stories and we’re figuring this thing out. Sometimes we suck at it which is why we make terrible choices and hurt people. Sometimes we’re really good at it and we end up making cool stuff and being successful. Even those versions of ourselves have stories that are painful.

And we all long to be known. Hear me when I say there is a difference between being known and being seen. Being “famous” may get you seen, but it will never fulfill that longing to be known. And becoming just like that person you think is a cool kid won’t fulfill your longing to be known. Some of you comment on things I post about my friends and say, “I wish I had a Ronne” or “Still looking for my crew.”

The best way to find your Ronne or Micah or Kevin or Megan or Cory or Cass or crew is to be that to someone else. Listen. Love. Hear someone when they want to tell you their story. And quit freakin’ caring whether you or they are cool.

Cool kids don’t exist. There is only you and I. And guess, what…we’re ALL hella amazing.

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4 Comments There Are No Cool Kids

  1. Charles

    Absolutely frickeningly perfectly written! Loved it ..not just because you are a cool kid, which thankfully your not, but because it was the real you. I am sure many can relate and those that might not, we’ll they rearly are not as cool as they once thought. .

  2. David Mike

    Rock your awkward winner here. (Awarded to me by Rick Theule after seeing my Junior picture) I have never been more accepted and treated as an equal than in our groups. It’s so amazing! We’re all just people trying to get to the same place and willing to help each other along the way. Stay true!

  3. Adrienne Graves

    This is absolutely my most favorite thing in the whole universe today! I didn’t wear the fishing hat (b/c less clothes are required growing up in AZ), but we were the same HS girl. I had this inherent love that we all belonged and mattered, even if it wasn’t how the systems and cliques were made up. I’ve never liked systems or cliques, so just didn’t function in them. The other day I snuggled up with my 8th grader and told her she couldn’t go to HS without first seeing “The Breakfast Club.” I tried not to quote every. Single. Line. Then we talked about perception, assumption, perspective, empathy, and loving ourselves and others knowing there is always more to a story. Thanks, Melissa, for writing this piece. It’s important truth for real living!

  4. Pingback: I Might Not Be A Badass Superhero, But I’m a Hope*Writer & A Clumsy Blogger (So it’s kind of the same thing) – Amber Salhus

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