I remember it very clearly. Ninth grade English class; Romeo and Juliet. This was my first year in public school and I happened to be placed next to E, the school jock and resident bad boy. He made my heart pound, and not in an I-love-you way, but in a please-don't-notice-me way. My entire freshman year of high school was spent hoping no one would look my direction, especially the likes of E and the popular crowd. I knew I didn't belong with them, and instead of spending any time wanting to be with them I spent my time hoping they wouldn't stop to take notice of me and all the imperfections ripe for teasing I had to offer.
The problem with this was that I loved school, especially English, but doing something so bold as raising my hand and participating was out of the question if I wanted to blend in with the crowd. Instead I sat and listened, mouthing the answers to the teacher's questions and writing down intelligent things she said in my notebook so I could read them later and remember them, thinking them later as thoughts of my own.
E caught me one day and leaned in, close to my ear, whispering, 'You know the answers, why don't you just say them?' He wasn't saying it in a mean way, which he could have. He was just curious.
'I don't,' I said, covering my notebook. 'I'm just... I don't know.'
'You do,' he pressed, and this time his eyes took on the glint of someone who was about to rat me out. 'Why don't you just say them?'
'Because I hate her,' I said, nodding toward the teacher who had been nothing but kind to me all year. E found that amusing and left me alone. After that, I was careful to keep my notebook hidden.
Now, in my thirties, I kick myself thinking of moments like these. It wasn't as though I could solve college-level equations, it wasn't as though I was any smarter than anyone else in my class, I just made a choice that, when it came to knowing things it was best to keep my mouth shut. That's what a nice, modest girl does. That's what a girl who cares more about the opinions of others than her own advancement does. That's was this girl did, and for a long time.
Now for my truthful admission: My husband and I have a game we play when Jeopardy comes on. We keep track of our points as we answer questions, and wager our 'money' on final Jeopardy. It's the kind of game that I would never have admitted to in a million years back in my twenties, when Liar's Dice was a much more socially acceptable way of spending a Thursday night. Back in my twenties, I did only the bare minimum to pass my classes in college. I was the girl who could quote Temptation Island from the night before to my colleagues over coffee. God forbid I tell them that I read a book a night. God forbid I take some of that wasted time on reality TV and use it to make myself smarter.
A woman in her thirties realizes that it doesn't matter anymore what other people think. She realizes that being smart and 'cool' are not mutually exclusive. And while I'm still working on the 'cool' part, there are times when I'm proud to know a thing or two.
So much more to know. No more mouthing the answers.