Mattie climbed the stairs, crossed the hall and opened the door. The hum of voices paused, then crescendoed again. Repeat performance, every day the same. The last one into the classroom each day, seconds before the bell, she was not part of the giddy conversations. Isolated. The only one left out.
She pulled out her notebook, her pen. The teacher began. Mattie wasn’t listening. Without moving her head, she watched. Emily, the gal in fornt of her, blonde, pretty and petite. Rachel, across the aisle, a head of dark curls, funny and relaxed. Tim, up front, always with an answer, smart. Roger, across from him, goofy and clumsy, but in a likeable way, a good class clown.
Mattie copied the words the teacher wrote on the board, not even thinking about them, her hand, the movements by rote. Around her, others copied in their notebooks. She thought, we’re all here, all doing the same, all learning the same, all breathing the same air, almost even wearing the same things, jeans and t-shirts. How can I be so strangely different, so isolated, so disconnected from them? Separate from them, but all the same?
She watched the students around her. One with her chin rested in the palm of her hand, her elbow on the desk. Another with her leg tucked underneath her. Roger, leaning back, hands in his pockets, his long legs stretched out in the aisle. Even if I copied them exactly, Mattie thought, I’d be different. Even the same, on me, would be different. Is that a bad thing, or does it make me unique? One of a kind, rare?
Maybe the others were unique in their own ways, too. Maybe she didn’t need to be afraid of being different. Maybe if she got to know some of them they wouldn’t seem all the same. How she saw the room from the back would look different from how Roger saw it from the front. A different perspective.
The class was laughing. Self-conscious, she looked around. They weren’t laughing at her, but at Roger. Relieved, she turned her attention toward the teacher, listening.
Again, drifted thoughts. If isolation was a normal thing, perhaps the best thing to do was reach out across the separation. Get to know Emily or Rachel or Roger.
The teacher’s voice intercepted her thoughts. “I would like you to form study groups to research these authors. Your papers will be written individually, but I want you to work together on your notes and outlines and research. Then you will take the common information and each write a unique paper. Part of your grade will be on your unique perspective using the same information. Different, but the same. You’ll turn in the same outline, but write different papers. Form groups of five or six, then assign research tasks.”
Mattie leaned toward Emily and Rachel, and they included two other girls behind them. Different, but the same. She was surprised how easily they blended together.