My name is Aoife Beswick and I’m a rising high school senior from Wellesley, Massachusetts! I’m interested in the social sciences and using research to improve our communities. I’m also passionate about politics, particularly feminism, and learning about the history and context of the feminist movement. In my free time, I love reading and listening to music!
I braided my hair in the car, trying to distract myself from the painful awkwardness I knew the next five hours would bring. We pulled into the parking lot, and I took a deep breath, preparing myself for the shift ahead. I walked through the door marked “Takeout and Ice Cream” and nodded a half-hearted hello to my coworkers, who had once again clocked in long before me. I made my way through the dingy kitchen, towards the soda machine to get my Diet Coke, which I placed beside the two pink lemonades already on the counter behind the ice cream cases.
The hours that followed consisted primarily of staring out the window, smiling at customers, and listening to conversations I did not want to and could not be a part of. When there wasn’t complete silence, my coworkers droned on about friends I didn’t know and didn’t care to, the pros and cons of various Connecticut high schools, and the best high school basketball players in each New England state (for some reason). I watched the seconds tick by, sipping my soda, unable to think of anything to add to the painfully boring conversation surrounding me. I created rewards for myself: at 6:30, I can get another Diet Coke; at 7:30, some ice cream; at 8:30, there’s the possibility of closing early. It was the only way I could survive the shift.
I felt as if there was an invisible wall between my coworkers and myself: some sort of fundamental difference or mental disconnect that meant we could not interact. No one there seemed authentic; if I wanted to fit in, I would have to alter my personality completely, a sacrifice I wasn’t willing to make. I did not want to become the girl I worked with who embodied everything boys think a girl should be. She was cool; she was pretty; she was popular. She laughed at all their worst jokes. She engaged in conversations she could not possibly have been interested in. She had no discernable personality. Did I hate her because she was inauthentic? Because she was boring? Because she was liked?
I felt incredibly and incurably different. I’ll admit it, I was jealous of her. As much as I disliked everyone working there, I was so jealous of how easily they could fit in. How easily they could pretend. How easily they could connect, even if it was nothing more than surface-level. Why could I do that? Why couldn’t I pretend to be interested? Why couldn’t I think of something, anything, to say? Why did they hate me?
I realize now that my silence came across as loftiness, but I felt paralyzed. The surprise and judgment in their eyes the few times I dared to speak caused me to stop trying. Looking back, though, of course they thought I hated them; I did. Of course they didn’t try to include me in their conversations; I never made an effort to participate. I had resigned myself to the belief that I was fundamentally different from these people, but I still don’t know if that was truly the case. Maybe they were more similar to me than I thought, but now I’ll never know. They should have made an effort to include me, they should have made me feel welcome, they should have talked to me, but should I criticize them when I am equally at fault? I should have made an effort to be included, I should have steered our conversations toward topics I found interesting, I should have talked to them. If I had, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. Maybe I would still hate them, maybe we would never have connected, maybe they were truly as boring and inauthentic as they seemed. But maybe not. Maybe I could have made some friends. Maybe it would have been worth a shot.