I went to a prep school starting in middle school.
It was the sort of place out of Dead Poets Society. East coast, jacket and tie required, all boys. The only way you could loosen your tie was if the teacher gave you permission to, and if you got caught with it that way between classes you got a disciplinary report and detention. The only way you could avoid the sportcoat was if you won a letter in athletics and had it sewn onto a blue crewneck by your mother.
Since the school was expensive, I took it rather seriously. All I did was study and do a head-down zip between classes nearly cutting off the kneecaps of the upperclassmen. I was, by all rights, the ultimate geek, and the middle school hovered dangerously close to the rule of 150 that seems to herald clique-formation.
Luckily it was just south of Dunbar’s number.
(Well that and my brother went to the school. When I got admitted, he forced me to exercise until he was satisfied I wouldn’t be put into the “PE” group. He also said that if he caught me wearing both straps on my backpack, he’d “pound on me”—obviously aware sibling physical abuse is a much more effective geek-motivator than being a social outcast.)
D— was a three sport letter winner at school and easily the best athlete in our class. He was also handsome. This last point being emphatically confirmed by a neighborhood girl I overheard crushing on him when she spied him.
In other words, D— was the very opposite of me.
One day I was at the end of the lunch line with D—. A bunch of us were joking around when I made an observation that was witty enough that it would have earned me a Disciplinary had a teacher been nearby. D— then said, “Man that’s funny! I wish I had your brains, Terry.”
“Well I wish I had your athletic ability.” I countered by pointing at his sweater with three pins on it.
“True,” then he whispered quietly to just me, “but I’d trade that in a second for what you have.”
That was the nicest compliment I’ve ever received in my life.