When I was 10 years old, all I wanted was to be one of the popular kids. One day, on a field trip to the Adler Planetarium, all of my dreams came true. I was sitting in the food court with some of my friends, when I was approached by several girls. It was an unusual for even one girl to talk to me except to borrow a pencil, so my already heightened nerves kicked in to overdrive when they asked me the question: “Do you want to go out with Jenny?” This was huge. Jenny was, quite possibly, the most popular girl in school. I was unable to swallow my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so I simply nodded. Word spread like wildfire, and within minutes this was the center story of the Mokena Elementary Gossip Mill. I stayed cool under the glare of the spotlight by avoiding Jenny like a Lepper for the rest of the afternoon. But inside, I was doing cart-wheels. I had made it. I had arrived.
The next day, I was sitting next to one of Jenny’s friends. In the middle of a Social Studies lesson, she leaned over and whispered, “Jenny doesn’t want to go out with you anymore. She actually never did. We just made everyone think she did because we were playing a joke on her.” I felt something in my chest equivalent to the collapsing of a dying sun. Tears swelled in my eyes. Not only was I not popular, I was so unpopular that the funniest joke the popular kids could think to play on their queen was to make everyone think she was dating me. As I got older, I eventually became apathetic to the social class system that defines growing up, and was a happier young person because of it. But I’ll be damned if 10-year-old Ryan wasn’t sure that the whole world had come to an abrupt and devastating end.