Prep For Life
They were the 'in crowd,' the girls everybody else wanted to be. And they weren't even in high school yet.
During fourth grade at Garrett Park Elementary, my friend and I started writing a book together. It was going to be an epic fantasy, though we never got past a few hand-printed sheets of paper.
While we were happy to keep our adventures safely stowed between the pages of our notebooks, other girls in our grade seemed determined to live out their dramas daily. These were the girls everybody knew, the ones who publicly laid claim to boys and wore rhinestone-studded jeans from Limited Too.
We didn’t call them popular back then, just “stylish.”
But soon into my first year at Eastern Middle School, an organized clique, known to everyone as “the Preps,” had emerged.
All the teen movies I’d seen made me certain that the Preps were just practice for the real cliques coming in high school, and maybe that’s what the Preps thought they were preparing for, too. But for me and most of the people
I know, middle school would be the only time we’d encounter a group with such clearly identifiable leaders and a label that everyone used without a trace of irony.
High school had its own hierarchies, I would learn when I went on to National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., but they grew less rigid every year. By age 15, most kids were too self-aware to make such groups institutional.
But for those three years, we had the Preps. And at some point in sixth grade, a new friend and I started writing a book about them.
Having this secret made us feel important. When I sat in art class, listening to the Preps tear someone down, I was actually gathering material. We would get off the bus and run home after school to email each other ideas for new story arcs. Writing it all down, giggling as we drew complicated character diagrams during sleepovers, made it seem as though we were personally involved in the dramas that barely grazed us. At the same time, we felt above it all.
By the end of eighth grade, we had nearly 100 pages double-spaced, a detailed outline for three books and every intention of publishing. Then middle school was over, and we never wrote another page.
When we rediscovered the files on my computer years later, it seemed laughable that we had felt a middle-school clique merited a Lord of the Rings-style trilogy (we had planned one book for each year).
But back then, sitting in the middle school lunchroom, the Preps’ power to command our attention bordered on the supernatural. They seemed somehow more than visible. When we described lunch hour as “a time when wars were waged and love was made,” we weren’t entirely joking.
We knew we couldn’t be the girls at that table—but for a few years we could write ourselves into the story.
Wanting to be one of the Preps wasn’t about having them like you or about being their friend. It was the same longing I’d experienced in fourth grade, when it seemed that every day I was just on the brink of being chosen for some fantastic adventure, happening just out of sight. It was about being part of the plot that you could practically feel in motion all around you—something that, at ages 11, 12, 13, feels terribly, terribly important in a way that no grown-up could possibly understand.
Anya Grenier was a Bethesda Magazine intern. A Kensington resident, she graduated from National Cathedral School and now attends Yale University.