It was the start of my second day at Kadena High School. I sitting on the bus next to my brother, but this time he had the window. Sitting next to the isle was a pain since I could clearly see and hear the rambunctiousness of the boring conversations and activities that surrounded me.
I still wasn’t used to the weather, though winter, you could feel a heaviness in the air. The high desert in southern California wasn’t humid at all, but Okinawa on the other hand was the complete opposite; it was always humid. The humidity never ran away, but at least in the winter the air was cool. I started to have flashbacks of the time I spent at Clark AFB in the Philippines. Of extremely hot and damp summers filled with t-shirts soaked in sweat and a sun that would not be denied the energy that it drained from you. Troubled, I could only imagine what an Okinawan summer had in store for me.
Suddenly a kind voice said, "Hi you’re new to Kadena right? We have social studies together, my name is Carol."
I turned to greet her. Carol's skin was pale; she had blackish-brown hair, brown eyes, freckles and a smile. I could instantly tell that she was mixed. At least half-Asian I thought.
"Hi." I returned. "I'm Mike. So we a have the same social studies class? Maybe we have more in common, what other classes do you have?"
"English, P.E., Home Ec, Science and Algebra I." she replied.
"Ah we both have English and P.E., but I'm taking Drafting, Biology and Geometry." I said "You're still taking Algebra I?"
"Yeah, I'm not good at Math." she replied quietly.
"I think I remember taking that in 7th grade." I thought to myself, and I then realized that I said it out loud. Ooops.
"You must be a genius," added Carol sarcastically. "Are you really that smart?"
No need to stoke the fire, I thought as my ego started to take over. I smiled.
"Yes. And if you ever need help with your math or science homework, just let me know. I'll give you a hand." I replied. "But I hate English; they always make you read boring stuff."
Feeling a little guilty about my brazen comment, I decide to change the subject. "Carol, please tell me about school. Like you know, I'm new." I said.
"Well, as long as you stop being a smart ass." she said with a smile.
I like her attitude; I think we can be friends. With that Carol started to explain to me the ins and outs of life a Kadena High School. We never stopped talking until after the bus reached school.
As we got off the bus, she said, "If you don't have anyone to each lunch with, you can sit with me and my friends, OK."
"OK, thanks Carol." I replied as we went our separate ways.
It was the end of Social Studies and boy was I hungry. I couldn't wait to get some food. I quickly headed for the door.
"Mike do you want to join us for lunch?" asked Carol.
"Maybe, I told James that if we had the same lunch, I'd eat with them." I said.
She looked a bit disappointed.
"But if I can't find them, I'm all yours." I added.
She was smiling and so was I until I saw her first lunch partner, Gretchen.
"Carol, let's go eat." she said. And they both started for the cafeteria.
As I walked down the hallway towards the lighted cavern that was the cafeteria, I ran into James.
"Hey Mike. I've been waiting for you. Let go get some food." said James.
"Great." I added as we walked to the lunch line.
After our trays were loaded with what seemed to resemble a mashed potatoes and turkey dinner, we went in search of the lunch table. James was leading.
"Hey James, are there any good courts around here? Feel like playing some ball after school?"
"Ball?" inquired James.
"I meant basketball." I replied. "But to be honest I'd rather play baseball, but that would require a lot more people."
"Sorry, I don't play basketball or baseball. Sports are not my thing. By the way Mike do you play chess?" ask James.
"Sure, I was in the chess club in 8Th grade. I'm OK at it, but I'm better at Risk." I replied.
James stopped and motioned his head.
"We are sitting over there." noted James as he looked towards Renno. "There's Renno and he's with Brigham".
I looked and saw Renno standing at the table, waving to me. Next to him was a tall skinny acne laced blond kid. Both smiled, so all seemed well. But when I looked closer my heart skipped a beat, actually quite a few.
I couldn't believe my eyes. What the heck were they doing, I thought. Between Renno and Brigham sat the world’s most infamous student stereotyper; a cardboard sheet with white and black squares, eight by eight to be exact. Somehow, I felt ashamed to know that fact at the moment. The board was covered with black and white statuettes...it was the infamous chess board; the one item in public view that would easily label any student as a nerd. A chess board! NO! Not a chessboard. I heaved a long breath and looked the other way. I could see Carol, giggling with her friends. She was sitting at a table full of girls. I could easily walk there and save myself from the scarlet letter. Then I saw Gretchen too. Somehow, getting embarrassed by her in front a table full of girls seemed like a far worse scenario. I closed my eyes, took a big gulp and let out a deep breath.
"Mike are you coming?" asked James.
"Yeah, I just saw Carol...but I'll say hi to her later". I said.
So I swallowed my pride, turned, and walked towards my ill fated friendship. If these guys are the kind of friends that I'm going to have, I'd better get used to this...a life nerd-dom. Oh well, fate can be cruel. My only hope was that perhaps some of them were good at a few sports, but looking at them I knew it was just wishful thinking.
"I wouldn't do that if I was you, or you'll lose," I remarked as I sat, smiled, and joined the conversation.
Thus my freshman fate would be sealed in Kadena nerd history forever. I never realized how hard it would be to get out of that self imposed stereotype until I tried. But I never regretted the decision to sit at that table, because those nerdy guys were fun and became my good friends. Making friends quickly was a necessity for military brats since we typically moved to a new school every three years. We were never in one place long enough to nurture the "right" friends. And since I'm not the kind of guy that would trade a good friend for a better public image, finding the "right" friend was never an issue for me. Ironically, the worst part about playing chess in public wasn’t the notoriety, it was the fact that I never beat Renno and he always reminded me of it.