Everybody always wanted to win something. Even as diluted and corrupt as any of us knew the rubric for recognition was, the whole winning moment (the walk, the grin, the handshake, the envy) proved an undeniably seductive experience to our usually horny, one-track imaginations. As cynical as we were, I knew that somewhere inside the icy, apathetic hearts of my friends and enemies alike was the profound desire for approval - the basic, fundamental need for the occasional pat on the back, which was, of course, greatly magnified by our competitive environment.
I was in a cold grocery store one time in the winter of my junior year when I found myself staring into the lobster tank of the seafood department. Independent of any train of conscious thought I was having, a desultory, mental tickle from inside promised me I had been looking in a mirror. Five or six wiggling crustaceans were piled on top of each other in the same corner of the tank, antennas bent against the glass, all fighting to get to the top. Ever seen that? That was my high school. I remember sitting in on the Awards Ceremony that same year, listening for my name and pretending I was too much of a maverick to care about the top of the tank. We were all dumb lobsters, though. Every single one of us was a desperate little sea-bug, our claws rubber-banded just tight enough that we couldn't cause too much damage while climbing on each other. Prep schools are not healthy.
The faces all around me were fairly consistent: jaded, aggravated, but also occasionally hopeful. Hope was an unspoken taboo, though, and if any one of us perked up at a similar first name or a presentation in our respective fields of strength, it was universally understood that the hot sting of reality was to be dealt with as coolly as possible. Eyes dart, ears twitch and a mouth curves for that split second before disappointment, and then everything returns to normal. Bored, uncaring eyes, and straight, flat mouth. A rookie might sigh, but anybody that stupid wasn't going to make it, anyway. The kids that sighed were the punching bags. The runts at the core of the lobster pile. The ones that were missing an eye but were so puny that you wonder how whatever melee had caused the injury didn't turn out worse for them. They were the lobsters your dad bought because they weighed half as much as the others and he was cheap.
And then again, and I'm probably a pansy for saying this, I kinda miss feeling like that. Even if it meant that everybody hated me and looked at me like an outsider (not the cool kind), at least it wouldn't be this. This "inside" thing, where I'm checking myself to make sure it doesn't look like I'm really thinking about anything like this emo girl bullshit. That's kind of a taboo, too. Jesus. Jesus. What the hell is wrong with me? God, I'm a fucker.