The Nerd Club

There are very few things from high school that I remember with any affection whatsoever. Yesterday I was reminded of one of them: The nerd club.

Last night, my mom asked me to come hear her speak at a women’s group she’s been attending for a few years now. I told her I would come, but I am always a little scared to go back to things in my hometown. I don’t have a lot of connections there, and I am not really keeping in touch with anyone. It tends to be a little awkward. My life has changed a lot, and I can’t always put faces with names. Just . . . awkward.

I wasn’t sitting right with my mom – I was sitting with my aunt, so when a woman approached me who obviously knew who I was and asked me how I was doing, I was polite but vague. I hate that. I slipped over to the next table and asked Crystal (my oldest friend – we have known each other since we were two years old – and one of the nicest, sweetest people I know) if that was Shannon’s mom. Crystal said that it was.

After the meeting was over, I approached Shannon’s mom and asked her how Shannon was doing. We talked about that for a minute, and then she said, “Do you still remember the nerd club?”

While I had forgotten that Shannon’s family called it that, I definitely remember the nerd club.

My senior year, I was in AP Calculus. The first semester, there were 15 or 20 in the class. The second semester, when it didn’t count for AP credit, only honors credit, there were just six of us. We were mostly from very different social circles, although we had all had lots of classes together and knew each other fairly well. I was one of the Quiz Bowl nerds who spent the morning break hanging out in the library. (My group had a lot of overlap with the band nerds. I just happen to be non-musical.) Shannon and Ashley were good friends who were in the most popular group of girls – the group that hung out on “senior hall.” Rosemary was also very popular, but she was in a slightly different subset of that group. Chris was one of the popular guys, and he was well-known for being an athlete. And Jason . . . he was a quiet guy who would also hang out in the library, but mostly kept to himself. We’d all been having classes together since we were freshmen, but we weren’t close by any means. Sometimes we could barely tolerate each other (although now, seven years removed, I don’t remember why).

By second semester senior year, we had somehow gotten over most of those social barriers, and we got along pretty well. It seems like this generally happens to high schoolers – they start to realize this is the end of the life they’ve known, and they start getting along like never before. It was definitely true for me, and it was most evident in Calculus. Every week, Mr. Ray would assign us problem sets to be turned in two weeks later. And every Sunday afternoon, all six of us got together (usually at Shannon’s house) to work on those problem sets.

For me, it was kind of like seeing a whole other way of life. In a way, I was being let in on how some of those who were higher on the social ladder than I was operated. I was in awe of their ease. I think they learned a little about me, too. I got them to stop calling me “the valedictorian,” and I could see that they finally started thinking of me as a person. We talked about our post-graduation plans, and, if I do go to my high school reunions, it will be because I remember their insistence. We laughed together when I got my car stuck in the ditch at Shannon’s house (something her mom mentioned last night that I had forgotten), and we laughed again when my car was so light that we had hardly any trouble getting it out. Shannon and Ashley came back from spring break with brand new tattoos and tans to show off. Chris would tell us how the track team was going. Several of the others (including Chris) would take smoke breaks while I would hang out inside with Jason. And Rosemary always had entertaining stories, things like getting caught by the UPS guy while sunbathing in the nude.

We did a lot of work, too. We usually divided up the problems and split into pairs to work on them. I was mostly paired with Jason, which was great, because he always worked out the problems beforehand. After we’d all finish, each pair would teach the others how to do the problems. (This meant we always had the same answers, which made grading very easy for Mr. Ray.) I felt like, despite our differences, we were a team. We did everything we could to make sure that everyone understood the concepts and how to do the problems. I remember one test in particular, when Shannon got the highest grade. Usually Jason or I scored the highest, but this time it was Shannon. She was so pleased, and I (surprisingly enough) wasn’t jealous at all. I was excited for her. And when we finally took the AP test, five out of six of us scored high enough to be reimbursed by the county and to get college credit.

I don’t remember any of the Calculus now. I haven’t used it since the spring of 1997. But I do remember those Sunday afternoons, laughing and working hard and enjoying being together. It was something I wouldn’t have thought possible, given the motley crew that we were. It was . . . fun.

So, yes, Shannon’s mom, I do remember the nerd club. Probably with more fondness than you realize.

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    The Nerd Club – Through a Glass, Darkly