We, the once geeky and near-friendless high school students, who observed but never took part in cool happenings, who skirted the outermost margins of the outermost social groups, who always wore the wrong clothes and said the wrong thing – we grew into regular people. And some of us became writers who could avenge the slights and humiliations of those adolescent years by writing about them.
And so, I have written Angie Rubio Stories, a collection of stories about a girl who encounters barriers to belonging. The stories span the years from kindergarten through high school and document Angie’s history of awkward moments, hard-earned lessons, a vague but deep-seated desire to be someone, and a belief that she will one day matter.
Two of the stories have been published in journals, the Adirondack Review and Santa Ana River Review. Another was recorded by KUOW during Lit Crawl 2014, and I read a fourth at Humanities Washington Bedtime Stories last October. The stories have had a welcome reception, because who doesn’t like an underdog? Well, so far, the agents I’ve queried, to name a dozen. But whatever. It’s consistent with Angie Rubio’s storyline of rejection.
While Angie Rubio is a fictional character, many of her missteps and misadventures are based on memories of my own mortifications, so it’s hard not to take rejection extra-personally. But, what if I’ve taken everything extra-personally, so much so that I’ve inflated minor embarrassments into major infamies. What if Angie Rubio is truly fiction and not semi-autobiographical in the least?
What if I had misread others’ perceptions of me and allowed my own negative self-perceptions to amplify themselves into soap-opera tragedy? What if the worst that happened was that no one noticed me, and no one knew my name? If only.
I felt invisible for much of my school years, but during my senior year I suddenly became interesting to a small group of boys. When I walked past them in the hallway, they would snicker and make rude remarks. I was confused at the meanness directed at me. I was weird but not unkind. I ignored them, but I was hurt that anyone would be unkind to me. What had I done to earn such treatment? It turned out my sin had been being skinny and awkward. According to my younger sister whose boyfriend was friends with the group of harassers, one of the boys had confessed to liking me, but the laughter of his buddies at this revelation induced him to join them in ridiculing me. It was all so high school. Or better, hell school.
Recently, while spending a week in National City where I grew up, I connected with a friend from high school who arranged for a mini-reunion with some former classmates. I’d been expecting to see just two or three, but there were nine people at the table at the barbecue restaurant that had been there at the shopping mall since we were kids. This turnout was both lovely and surprising since my own circle of friends during high school was so small that geometrically we were more a triangle or at times a square rather than a circle. I knew all the people at the table by name but had not had a social relationship with them in high school. It’s quite possible that at least a few of them had no clue who I was then or in high school. Apart from the incident mentioned above, I spent my three years of high school miles under the radar, my face unrecognizable to many, my voice unheard.
But there was an easy camaraderie at the Barbecue Pit table, the bond of a common high school, if not a common experience uniting us. And there was our lost youth as a social equalizer.
I admit I hang on to a bit of that scorn that was directed at me by those boys in high school. I keep as well the scorn that burned in me for those boys. But it’s become a healthy little lump of bitter wrapped in reflection and self-regard.
I don’t forget for Angie Rubio’s sake. It was for her that I wrote Angie Rubio Stories, not in retaliation or revenge, but in homage to a skinny, weird, awkward girl trying to find her place or places in the world – like the Barbecue Pit.