This will probably shock and amaze you, but I'm probably maybe not the smartest person alive. I mean, I'm not in MENSA or anything, I still can't tell if a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, and the only reason I know pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is the longest English word is because they once made a joke about it on Night Court. Or Bloom County. Either way.
Nevertheless, due to the happy accident of having an October birthday (yay fall!) and skipping kindergarten (yay social pariahdom!), I was a high school senior at age 15.
In high school, I was pretty well assimilated with the Nerd Herd. No one really cared that I was a few inches shorter and that I got carded whenever we went to see something PG-13. (Eat it, The Chase, because I'm totally glad I didn't watch you, anyway, and I'm not still bitter about it.) People were pretty chill about the age difference, but every once in a while, it would rear its ugly, younger head.
My Nerd Herd Friends: Woooooot! Sweet Sixteen planning! What are you doing for yours? We're getting murder mystery troupes and DJs who play Frisbee and make-your-own-crepes!
Me: Oh. Uh. I. Didn't start thinking about it yet? Because it's, like, next year?
My Nerd Herd Friends: Oh, right. Cool. But woo-to-the-woo-now! Drivers Ed! Hurry up, because we hear there's a really horrific "rules of the road" video from, like, 1971 and people's heads get chopped off or something!
Me: Cool. Catch me up on the highlights.
My Nerd Herd Friends: Right, right. Oh—HEY! We're all registering to vote! Come on! Let's tick off boxes and stuff!
Me: NOW YOU'RE JUST BEING MEAN. You KNOW how I love civic responsibility.
My Nerd Herd Friends: Crap. Sorry. We'll make it up to you with tickets to this 18-and-over concert.
This age difference meant that I started college at...
(...wait for it...)
(...seriously, please wait, because I'm still kind of bad at math...)
As my high school friends and I started figuring out where we were going and buying husband pillows for our dorm rooms and looking at class schedules and stuff, I got my first phone call from my future college roommate.
Her: So, what should I know about you?
Me: Wow. That's a hard question. Um. I love The Princess Bride...
Her: Great! Me, too!
Me: Cool. And I'm from kind of a small senior class.
Her: We only had, like 20 people in mine.
Me: Great! And I'm a little younger. I'm 16.
Me: So, there's that.
Her: Do I have to, like, babysit you or something? Because I did not sign on for that.
I related the story to my Nerd Herd-ians, most of whom dismissed her jerkiness. "She doesn't even know you. Don't worry about it," they said. But a few members of the group thought it was hilarious, and started to prey on my insecurities. "What if they make you wear a diaper? Do they have daycare for people like you up there? Will it be weird for you when they find your wubbie?"
College was scary enough, but thinking that people would dismiss me before I'd even broken the ice with Night Court jokes? It was a little too much. I got a case of the weepy, clingy cry-crys. I wrote bad poetry and read it to my dog. I stayed out way too late. And I tried to see The Chase. All signs of a major meltdown.
Somewhere in the midst of my pity party, I had an epiphany. No one at college had to know how old I was. I mean, other than my stupid future roommate, no one knew anyway, and it's not like I was going to wear a t-shirt that said, "Please make fun of me for being 16! Which I am. 16, that is!" And it's not like it was that big a deal. It's not like my lungs were on the outside, or I could only speak Esperanto or something. I decided I had every right to be at that school—I'd earned my spot by being smart and ambitious AND 16, and no dumb future-roommate was going to make me feel weird about it. In fact, I decided that NO ONE was going to make me feel weird about it—least of all, me. With that realization, I put on my first real pair of confidence pants. As it turned out, it was kind of perfect timing.
Was it weird that stupid roommate spread the word that there was going to be an innocent, impressionable 16-year-old girl on campus that semester? Yes, yes it was. And was it even weirder that the fraternities all put together a cash pool to see who could hook up with this anonymous 16-year-old freshman first? Definitely. That was very weird. And was it even weirder that I discovered all this on day one, decided it was a funny, dumb situation, and resolved not to let any of the fraternities win? That was awfully weird, too. Even weirder than all of those things? The fact that I became a mascot/little sister to most of the fraternity guys, who would often ask my advice about how to get together with this mythical 16-year-old girl they believed they hadn't met yet. "I dunno," I'd respond. "Don't little kids like Barbie Dream Houses or something?"
On my 17th birthday, when the fraternities discovered who I was, they all sent around emissaries with apology flowers. Some even serenaded me. And by that point, a few months into school, I wore my confidence pants well. College was cool. I was making friends, digging my classes, having fun, and even sort of enjoying my infamy. It was a pretty world-rocking realization to know that, as long as I felt good about who I was, age and outside perceptions didn't really matter. I'm still close with a lot of my college friends, and it's kind of nice to reminisce about how being "only 16" wasn't such a big deal. Maybe one day, they'll even tell me if a tomato is a stupid vegetable or not.
Are you younger than your classmates?
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Age-Discrepant Mingling