I have always been a nerd. I’ve come to terms with that fact over the years. I am even somewhat proud of it now. But that has not always been the case. In Junior High, all I wanted to be able to do was talk to girls. But I was terrible at it. I was the nerdy kid. I would always get so nervous. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Or I would mumble, and they couldn’t understand me. It was horrible. Then in 8th grade, I ended up attending some summer camp at Duke University that was targeted at the ‘smart’ kids. I show up the day the camp starts, and I was amazed. There were girls! That were my age! But they were at Duke University voluntarily over the summer. So maybe they were nerds, too. Maybe I had a chance at happiness after all!
I went and unpacked my stuff. I arrived before anyone else on my hall. So I sat in my room waiting for other people to get there. I decided to read a book that someone recommended to me while I waited. I started reading it and was hooked immediately. I read for several hours. I heard other people arrive on my hall. But I had to keep reading. I realized it was late afternoon, and I had promised my parents I would call and tell them when I finished unpacking.
I hated to leave the book. But I had to call them. So I ran down to the first floor where they had a communal phone. I called and got my parents’ answering machine (no long conversation needed!). I left a quick message and ran through the halls to get back upstairs. I was passing one door on the first floor, and someone called out to me. A girl’s voice shouted, “Hey! You’re cute. Come back here!”
I glanced around the hall, sure she was talking to someone else. No one else was there. I cautiously approached the open door through which the message originated. I peered around the doorway, sure something was wrong. A cute brunette was sitting with several of her equally cute friends. She smiled when she saw me and said, “Come in and sit down with us.” She pointed to an empty seat. She was a cute girl that wanted to talk to me. She had other girls that were her friends. Every 8th grade boy’s dream! This moment could be the turning point in my life. It would all be different. I would have girlfriends. And be one of the cool kids. And everything would be glorious for all time!
I opened my mouth to accept her generous offer. I felt the words forming in my mouth. But something was wrong. My brain screamed at me not to utter the words I was about to say. I smiled my thanks and said, “I can’t stop. I’ve got to finish this book. I need to know what happens.” Her face fell. Surely this nerdy kid in front of her wasn’t rejecting her for a book? What was happening to the world?
I turned to walk away. I felt my steps leading me to the stairs back to my room. The back of my brain was screaming, “You can always read later! This opportunity will never come again! You are such an idiot. You deserve loneliness! What are you doing?” But the front of my brain was thinking, “Yeah. But what happens in the book?”
I climbed the stairs, sat in my room with the door closed, and continued to read Ender’s Game. I finished it late that night and went to meet friends the next day, by which time everyone had formed tight-knit social circles that included girls and did not include me. I managed to make one or two friends that summer. But it all could have been different. I could have gotten a girlfriend. Instead, I read one of the best books I have ever had the joy of reading. I’ve read much of Orson Scott Card’s work over the years, and I’ve enjoyed it all.
But there will always be a part of me that feels sorry for that poor, 8th-grade kid who just wanted to meet girls and wasn’t able to because of Orson Scott Card.
Image from Wikipedia