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Stuck on the Outside


Sarah Gold

I have always wished to be on the inside of something; to be "in." I wanted to fit in both at school and at home. I fit in with Ma and Pops, but that may have been because I was the only kid who didn't give them trouble. I can't say that I blame them for thinking that I was always going to be sane and was happy just living off food, water, shelter, and clothes but I wasn't happy with just the bare minimum, I wanted to be in on something.

As the eldest child in my family, I was relied upon as a live-in babysitter for the twins and triplets (trips for short). I was also the person who did the laundry, dishes, dusting, and the little things in need of fixing throughout the house. These tasks which are needed so would never be accomplished without me, but nobody noticed. I didn't even notice that I was going unnoticed until I was fourteen. Then, I realized fully that I was taken for granted. I was Plain Old Reliable Jane, as Pops once referred to me in a letter I oh so casually read, you know, the kind that kids aren't supposed to know about, lest read.

Lenny and Henny were the twins, they were three, which is a worse age, if you ask me, than the "terrible two's." Benny, Penny, and Denny were the triplets. They were eight, but they acted like they were two. I hated being the oldest, and being so by six years didn't help my situation. Being the oldest by so many years only decreased my chances of ever fitting in with the kids. I even sounded old, calling kids only six years my junior (another old folk saying) "kids." Maybe the fact that I was so old-fashioned made other kids divert their eyes when I walked past. But, I didn't really care. Or so I thought.


For winter break, that year I was fourteen, we went to Florida. My family wasn't rich but we weren't poor. Ma and Pops didn't have any relations living there but they loved the warm ocean and the fact that we could drive there from our house in New York State. I, however, loathed these annual trips "down South." 

It was necessary for our family to have a car that would fit all of us, but we were just about the only things our old van could hold; it couldn't even hold all of our luggage. The van wasn't a trusty mode of transportation at all. Although the trip to Florida should have only taken one day driving, (if Ma and Pops took turns driving) the ride turned into a three day bicker, enough to agitate even the most patient of the lot... Pops. We stopped for use of the bathroom every other hour and for food every four hours, realizing that we needed some five minutes past the rest stops. The trip was always a disaster.

We had a system devised so that Ma and Pops could have an actual vacation because they said that they deserved it. I am not saying that they were unworthy of a vacation, but I was worthy too, what with all the housework I do. I was in charge of the twins, Lenny and Henny; Benny, Denny, and Penny were able to explore by themselves.

That year, we traveled down to Florida in the fastest time ever. I guess Ma and Pops were really in need of a vacation. I would be too, if I were them. Their brains have been really quite dead for the past eight years. I mean, who names five of their six kids with names ending in 'enny?' They truly are insane. I am definitely the lucky one; my name is the only one that doesn't end in 'enny.' As if it isn't bad enough that the kids are all 'ennys,' it isn't like Henny, Denny, or Penny can shorten their names. Benny and Lenny can become Ben and Len. What would Henny, Denny, and Penny turn into? Hen, Den and Pen? My parents have no consideration for their kids! Well, apart from me.

So anyway, we arrived in Florida. I was looking forward to the trip for a sole reason: I needed shoes! I realize that's a totally bad pun, but those are the type I find funniest. I actually needed some new clothes.  The only clothes that fit me are these ones from an old ladies' store called Not a Bad Fad, which is in Florida. The name of the store summarizes the type of clothing they have, bad fads, long disappeared from regular shelves. I am small - in old people terms shrunken - like an old lady (or some of them); I am "pleasantly plump," as the saleswoman at a regular store once told me (quite unfortunately, she was right), and I am also really behind on the times (a year after the bell bottom fad ended, I was wearing bell bottoms. Then, Ma told me that the bell bottoms I had never had been a fad. Mine were pants that actually had a bell on the butt! As you can imagine, I was mortified.)

The fact that I had no fashion sense never bothered me before I was fourteen. I was perfectly happy wearing the old people clothes. But, there was always something missing in my life which appeared so normal. I just assumed that everyone felt like that. Maybe it was just the absence of some dead relative that was never known.

I was eager for a new wardrobe. Each year Ma and Pops gave me fifty dollars for spending money in Florida. I had money saved up from babysitting kids in the neighborhood at home so I had a total of a hundred and fifty dollars. The first day of "vacation," I dragged Lenny and Henny to Not a Bad Fad. Luckily, I found a ton of clothes, all of which I could afford, maybe because nobody (other than me and some old ladies) would actually wear it.

After that trip, everything on the vacation was routine. I could predict the time of everyone's temper tantrums, from Ma and Pops's to the kids'. I'm really surprised that I manage to remain sane; well, except for my sense of fashion, when I was around my family.

We arrived home on the third of September. School was to start in three days; I bought five hot pink notebooks and a pack of brown pencils spotted with pink polka dots. I loved the color scheme but I would soon find out that, to my sincere dismay, no one else would. I set up my outfit for the first day of school: a green plaid skirt and a purple striped shirt. I was the spitting image of Barney, only Barney had a better sense of fashion than me.

Now, you may have this ridiculous idea that my life revolves around fashion. It really doesn't, this is just one anecdote of my life. Most of the time, my life isn't this humiliating. I was nobody in my class, except, everyone seemed to find my jokes hilarious. I thought that they were laughing at my jokes, but they weren't. They were laughing at me.

When I came into the classroom that first day of ninth grade, my hair was pulled into two tight pig tails. I had a pair of pink cat glasses that I found at my grandma's house and my skirt was painfully tight and really short.

Mrs. Brintallow was our homeroom and first period teacher. She asked each of us to individually come up and tell the class about our summer. Since my last name is Almana, I was first. I walked hesitantly up to the blackboard. My shoes were extremely clunky and new (not a good combination at all), and not being used to them, I tripped. I bent down to massage my ankle. The class started laughing hysterically. My face turned the red of Henny's crayons and I stood up.

"Jane! Report to the principal's office immediately! Your skirt is too short." That was the start to my terrible ninth grade year.

I stood in the principal's waiting room. There were kids vacating all of the seats, each whispering and giggling. I knew that type of laugh well by then; they were laughing at me. I was on the outside, stuck. I could have just been beat up and I would've felt better than I did just then. Knowing that I couldn't sit down due to the length of my skirt, I leaned against the wall, glad that I had some support.

Thoughts began racing through my mind like clouds through the sky on a windy day, "What am I doing here? I used to be such a good kid. A Plain Reliable Jane. Why would an old lady store sell a skirt so short? I thought everything at that store could be trusted as proper clothing. I hate to think that I'm turning into a person who wears clothes like Britney Spears. I don't even think this skirt should be sold in a clothing store, maybe a store like 'What We Found on the Women of the Night,' some wanton woman store."

"Jane Almana. The principle will see you now," a secretary said. My heart flipped and my face turned red again. I walked over to the door the secretary was pointing at and bashfully walked into the room. Principal Harding was seated in a plush leather chair behind his desk. I slid into one of the two wooden chairs across from him.

"Good morning, sir."

"Miss Almana."

What? I wanted to ask.

"How are you today, sir?" I had to remember my manners.

"Fine, and you?"

"All right. I forgot that there was school today. I was dressed and playing outside with my brother. Then my mom came out with some pencils and notebooks and said, 'Jane! Hop in the car for school.' I was in the car with my skirt on. I had totally forgotten what I was wearing. When I arrived here, I bent over to pick up my pencil and Mrs. Brintallow sent me here, to your office. Sir." I was stretching the truth, but how would he know? UNLESS HE CALLED MY PARENTS!!!!! Ohmygod!! My life was so over!

"Well Jane," he began, he was rummaging through a file with my name on it, "Since there have never been any previous recorded events proving that you are worthy of punishment, I will let you go. But, you must go home right now and change."

"Thank you, sir." A smile crept across my face. I was so relieved. I could have jumped up and kissed him.  My life wasn't over!

"Go along, Jane." He ushered me out of the office.

As I walked home, I thought of the possible outfits I could change into. I was determined to be on the inside of something. Maybe I could switch classes and have a fresh start! But I couldn't tell Ma or Pops about this. Anyway, back to the clothing issue. I've got a ton of older girl cousins, each spring and fall, they send me a huge box of clothes. Whenever I see them, they are wearing very fashionable clothes.

When I arrived at the house, I ran up the three flights of stairs to the attic and searched through one of the big boxes of clothes. I pulled out a pair of jeans and a black turtleneck. It was easy for me to find a good color combination; I just picked exactly the opposite of what I thought looked good together. Luckily, the pants and shirt fit me perfectly, a little tight, but ok, maybe even stylish. I wondered how my cousins found clothes that actually fit when they appeared to have the same figure as me.

My hair. Back down the stairs to the bathroom I went. Upon finding a new stretchy headband that I got for one of my birthdays, I slid it into my hair and left the house for the second time that day.

The walk to school seemed very short, I felt really great about how I looked and was sure I'd fit in. When I got back to school, I had lunch. The in table stuck out like a sore thumb. Like the sun on a rainy day. Just my luck! There was any empty chair.

I tapped the girl to the side of the chair, "Is this seat empty?" She nodded. I slid into the chair. Nobody was eating, just talking.

The girl who I had asked about the seat turned to me, "Hi! I'm Amy. Nice glasses."

"Thanks. I'm Jayne. With a 'y' before the 'n'." I was amazed that the glasses I'd thought caused me all that pain (along with the skirt and lack of matching) had earned a compliment. I changed my name so I wouldn't be Plain Old Jane any longer. Now I was In Jayne.

The girl turned back to the other girls at the table. They were talking about a boy who wore purple pants and a pink shirt to school, "He looks like such a fool!" I, on the other hand, admired the courage it must have taken to wear an outfit like that.

Maybe I didn't want to sit with kids who laughed at other kids who weren't stupid, just courageous. Maybe hanging with the 'in' kids just wasn't for me.

Maybe I was better off being myself. So maybe I was better off on the outside - but I knew I wasn't stuck anymore.

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