Magazine article The New Yorker

High-School Confidential

Magazine article The New Yorker

High-School Confidential

Article excerpt

I was an awkward child. Tall, gangly, and, like everyone else in my family, severely myopic. Although the condition had not presented itself in my relatives until their early teens, I was wearing glasses by the age of three. By the time I was ten, my eyesight had deteriorated to such an extent that the optometrist was unsure what to predict for middle age, at which point, he suspected, binoculars would have to be cabled to my ears. (Luckily, these protruded, so they were likely to accommodate the weight.) I had my grandfather's front teeth, betwixt which stood a yawning space that in his smile looked kind and wizened but in mine looked vaguely psychotic and caused a lisp. I was also missing an upper cuspid, which never grew in. Add to this the fact that my mother and my grandmother--who are, notwithstanding, very fashionable women--believed in the eighties. I mean, really believed, and still dressed me accordingly in 1995: neon yellows and oranges were the order of the day, and headbands were encouraged. I was required to wear a white cotton undershirt wherever I went, lest I catch a chill from one of those "drafts" which, as any former Yugoslav will tell you, often cause sudden death. But, in the social hierarchy of school, this host of miseries was overlooked in favor of a much more contemptible indignity: I wanted to be a writer.

This fact, which I proclaimed upon arrival in middle school, was a source of considerable mirth for the powerful few who dictated the social tide. I had announced it on my first day as naturally as I had given my name, because it was already part of how I saw myself, as fundamental to me as sleeping and breathing; it had never occurred to me that I should conceal my love of writing, that it--and not the well-worn "four-eyes"--might arm the greetings of near-strangers in the hall. "Hey, are you writing?" they would say, when I was lacing my sneakers or standing in the cafeteria line. "Are you gonna write this down?" The only comeback I could muster was to chide my assailants on their lack of imagination--to which I remember one girl replying, "Shut up! I imaginate all the time!"

By the time I got to high school, I had learned to be more cautious about revealing my dreams. …

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