by Eva Shimkus, Managing Editor
Since moving to America two years ago, I’ve had a fear that I’d end up like one of those quirky teenage angst movie protagonists — alone at lunch.
The beginning of freshman year was rough. While everyone came equipped with a perfect big friend group from middle school and an unspoken understanding of how everything was supposed to work, I was almost always lost (in every sense of the word). On my first day, I hadn’t been informed that nobody uses the seatbelts on the classic Yellow American High School Buses™, so I dutifully buckled up.
When the bus arrived at school, all the other kids stood up to leave … except for me. I was trapped in the seat by my buckle, which got jammed (this was probably its first time being used). No matter how hard I tugged on the belt, it wouldn’t budge, and I felt a panic rise in my stomach. Luckily, I was still small enough as a scrawny 14-year-old freshman to slide underneath the belt and escape before the bus started off again. Still, the experience stuck with me as a reminder that once again, I was an outsider.
The prospect of American High School Lunch™ was equally as daunting. I’ve seen Mean Girls enough times to consider myself well-versed in the rules; I made it my mission to somehow make friends materialize out of thin air.
To me, sitting alone meant a public display of my lack of assimilation — like I was Hester Prynne wearing the scarlet letter in front of all the townspeople. I dreaded the pitying stares and whispers I assumed I would get.
I should make a disclaimer here. This isn’t to say that people who sit alone are unhappy by default. I know plenty of people who are perfectly happy eating their lunch alone and prefer their moment of peace, but I am not one of those people.
A few weeks ago, I was coming out of A block fully prepared that this would be one of those lunches where I would have no one to sit with. Of course, I started procrastinating my fate by walking as slowly as I could in the hallways and examining the plastic forks in the cafeteria like they were some sort of archeological relic. All around me, I saw swarms of people on their way to get lunch, each doing their own thing.
So I started heading towards the outdoor area, alone.
The weird thing is, as I was laying down my favorite green hoodie to use as a picnic blanket, I felt none of the shame I’d been expecting. Nothing. All I worried about was the prospect of my hoodie being dirty afterwards. I could see all the groups of people around me in their little protective penguin huddles, and for one of the first times in my life, it didn’t bother me that I was alone. I turned off the self-conscious part of my brain and decided to be content in my own company.
I calmly took out my phone and started scrolling through Instagram. I hadn’t even unzipped my lunch bag yet when I heard a voice say, “Hey Eva, can I sit with you?”
I looked up and saw a girl from class standing in front of me and my makeshift picnic blanket. I told her yes, of course.
The two of us moved to one of those outside tables, and this time, my already muddy hoodie came to use again for wiping off the raindrops from the seats. We sat together and had a chat.
Then, out of nowhere, a group of girls approached us and asked if they could sit with us too. I nodded, passing on my hoodie — now turned rag cloth — for them to wipe off their seats. Then, another girl I know walked by and I turned to wave at her. She asked if she could sit with us too, so we made room.
Eventually, lunch ended, the group split up and we returned to the drudgery of school. Walking to class, crammed like a sardine between the other kids in the 2000s stairwell, I thought about the effect of my mentality on reality; by approaching this solo lunch experience with a sense of calm resolution and solitude, I somehow left with more friends.
It was as if accepting the fact that it’s okay to be alone sometimes and be comfortable and confident allowed me to open myself up to making new friends. I’ve come to realize that the image of eating lunch surrounded by a group of your friends is really just a high school facade, and most people are busy with their own lives and couldn’t care less if you are caught eating your lunch alone.
I don’t think this is exclusive to my lunch experience; if you are set on having something, you need to be willing to live without it. Nonchalance is key, and if things don’t turn out as planned, you may leave the experience with something new, even if that means ruining your favorite hoodie in the process.