The author in 1992 at the age of 12 wearing clothes she’d gotten for her birthday and enjoying one of the rare moments of glee that only came in the presence of her family.COURTESY OF GAIL CORNWALL

At my California high school, my best friend Jeannette and I lived parallel lives: Advanced Placement classes, trivia competitions, swimming and track. We were nerds, sort of, but also jocks, sort of, and as a result were pretty much never invited to parties. Instead, we’d siphon small amounts of liquor out of five or six bottles from her father’s cabinet, combine it all into a Nalgene and go bowling. She felt deeply uncool. I thought we were awesome.

I puzzled over the difference in our perspective for decades, only recently realizing that I felt perfectly acceptable, though not totally accepted, because I knew what it meant to be truly unpopular.

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